Proposal preview

Building a Global History of Economic Divergence

This panel will reexamine 18th and 19th Century global economic divergence—which led to the ascendancy of Western Europe over other traditional powers—from a truly global perspective. Technical work in this area focuses, more often than not, on one binary comparison: China and Western Europe, Japan and Western Europe, the Middle East and Western Europe, and so on. The primary goal of this panel is to bring these comparative fields into serious dialogue with each other, something that has largely been absent up to this point. Such dialogue will allow scholars to consider whether, and to what extent, the theories that have gained acceptance within a specific binary can contribute to a more general narrative and framework of global divergence. At the same time, approaching the question from a truly global perspective will help scholars develop a sharper sense of the idiosyncrasies of each regional economy, thereby facilitating the production of more analytically rigorous regional history.

In terms of specific themes, panelists will pay special attention to issues of political economy. Several of the papers touch upon state capacity, elite behavior, military mobilization, and class politics. Their authors tend to propose a top-down, state-oriented approach to economic divergence. Thus, global economic history is inextricably tied to issues of government structure, political culture, and law.

The panel will devote around half an hour to each specific paper, and then leave the remaining time for general discussion, during which panelists–and, hopefully, the audience–will exchange general ideas concerning the future development of this long-existence yet in many ways still nascent field.

Organizer(s)

  • Taisu Zhang Yale Law School taisu.zhang@gmail.com

Session members

  • Debin Ma, LSE
  • Timur Kuran, Duke University
  • Kaoru Sugihara, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
  • Peter Perdue, Yale University
  • Taisu Zhang, Yale Law School
  • Prasannan Parthasarathi, Boston College
  • Bozhong Li, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Discussant(s)

  • Prasannan Parthasarathi Boston College prasannan.parthasarathi@bc.edu

Papers

Panel abstract

This panel will reexamine 18th and 19th Century global economic divergence—which led to the ascendancy of Western Europe over other traditional powers—from a truly global perspective. Technical work in this area focuses, more often than not, on one binary comparison: China and Western Europe, Japan and Western Europe, the Middle East and Western Europe, and so on. The primary goal of this panel is to bring these comparative fields into serious dialogue with each other, something that has largely been absent up to this point. Such dialogue will allow scholars to consider whether, and to what extent, the theories that have gained acceptance within a specific binary can contribute to a more general narrative and framework of global divergence.

1st half

The Changing Anatomy of Power in Ottoman Istanbul, 1600-1850

Aslı Cansunar, Oxford University; Timur Kuran, Duke University

Using data from the registers of Istanbul’s Islamic courts between 1600 and 1850, along with subsidiary data on Istanbul’s public services over the same period, this paper studies how economic and legal power shifted over time among groups defined by gender, religion, profession, social status, and residential neighborhood. It shows that over a period that stretches from the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire to its modernization drive of the 19th century, economic and legal power shifted from traditional elites (who held traditional honorific titles) to commoners, from Muslims to non-Muslims, and from neighborhoods around the Ottoman Sultan’s Palace to areas situated around European embassies and around the city’s new financial center. In providing a novel methodology for measuring power shifts in pre-modern urban contexts, the paper also sheds light on the motives of the Ottoman ruling class to launch, beginning in 1838, fundamental institutional reforms that started the dismantling...

Using data from the registers of Istanbul’s Islamic courts between 1600 and 1850, along with subsidiary data on Istanbul’s public services over the same period, this paper studies how economic and legal power shifted over time among groups defined by gender, religion, profession, social status, and residential neighborhood. It shows that over a period that stretches from the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire to its modernization drive of the 19th century, economic and legal power shifted from traditional elites (who held traditional honorific titles) to commoners, from Muslims to non-Muslims, and from neighborhoods around the Ottoman Sultan’s Palace to areas situated around European embassies and around the city’s new financial center. In providing a novel methodology for measuring power shifts in pre-modern urban contexts, the paper also sheds light on the motives of the Ottoman ruling class to launch, beginning in 1838, fundamental institutional reforms that started the dismantling economic, and political structures grounded in Islamic law. It thus contributes to the literature on the divergence between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean basin. The paper also contributes to the methodology of studying interactions between social, economic, political and legal transformations using locational historical data.

Paradox of Power: Chinese state formation and state capacity in comparative perspective

Debin Ma, LSE

This paper examines the history of state formation and warfare in imperial China and tackles the central question on the emergence of a unitary centralized state in China and how it impacts the fiscal and financial capacity in comparison with the European experience. Tax extraction in Qing China was low relative to Western Europe. It is not obvious why: China was much more absolutist and had stronger rights over property and people. Why did the Chinese not convert their absolute power into revenue? We propose a model, supported by historical evidence, which suggests that i) the center could not ask its tax collecting agents to levy high taxes because it would incentivize agents to overtax the peasantry; ii) the center could not pay agents high wages in return for high taxes because the center had no mechanism to commit to refrain from confiscating the agent’s resources in times of crisis....

This paper examines the history of state formation and warfare in imperial China and tackles the central question on the emergence of a unitary centralized state in China and how it impacts the fiscal and financial capacity in comparison with the European experience. Tax extraction in Qing China was low relative to Western Europe. It is not obvious why: China was much more absolutist and had stronger rights over property and people. Why did the Chinese not convert their absolute power into revenue? We propose a model, supported by historical evidence, which suggests that i) the center could not ask its tax collecting agents to levy high taxes because it would incentivize agents to overtax the peasantry; ii) the center could not pay agents high wages in return for high taxes because the center had no mechanism to commit to refrain from confiscating the agent’s resources in times of crisis. A solution to this problem was to offer agents a low wage and ask for low taxes while allowing agents to take extra, unmonitored taxes from the peasantry. This solution only worked because of China’s weak administrative capacity due its size and poor monitoring technology. This analysis suggests that low investment in administrative capacity can be an optimal solution for an absolutist ruler since it substitutes for a credible commitment to refrain from confiscation.

The Ideology of Fiscal Restraint in Qing China

Taisu Zhang, Yale Law School

Contrary to the still surprisingly prevalent notion of "oriental despotism," the Qing state was characterized by limited power as a result of fiscal weakness, especially after the mid-18th Century. The central element of state revenue, the agricultural tax, remained stagnant in total volume from the mid-18th Century to the end of the 19th, despite a near-tripling of China’s population and economy. Ultra-low levels of extraction from the rural economy helped mire the late-Qing state in a perpetual state of fiscal crisis and administrative weakness, stunting its industrial development. Using this as an impetus, this paper provides a new account of Qing fiscal legislation and policymaking that focuses on the interplay between political ideology and state institutions. It argues that the stubborn refusal to raise agricultural taxes was not merely a pragmatic response to the state’s material circumstances, whether geopolitical, economic, or demographical, but also, and probably more importantly, an ideological...

Contrary to the still surprisingly prevalent notion of "oriental despotism," the Qing state was characterized by limited power as a result of fiscal weakness, especially after the mid-18th Century. The central element of state revenue, the agricultural tax, remained stagnant in total volume from the mid-18th Century to the end of the 19th, despite a near-tripling of China’s population and economy. Ultra-low levels of extraction from the rural economy helped mire the late-Qing state in a perpetual state of fiscal crisis and administrative weakness, stunting its industrial development. Using this as an impetus, this paper provides a new account of Qing fiscal legislation and policymaking that focuses on the interplay between political ideology and state institutions. It argues that the stubborn refusal to raise agricultural taxes was not merely a pragmatic response to the state’s material circumstances, whether geopolitical, economic, or demographical, but also, and probably more importantly, an ideological and intellectual choice. Qing lawmakers locked agricultural tax quotas at very low levels largely because their ideological worldview advised—vigorously—against raising them.

2nd half

The Great Convergence: War (and) Capitalism in late Qing China

Peter Perdue, Yale University

Economic historians and theorists have debated the relationship between war and capitalism for more than a century. Joseph Schumpeter (1919), argued that imperialism was a feudal atavism, incompatible with the principle of open markets; Werner Sombart (1913), by contrast, argued for a close connection between capitalism and military investment. Recent studies by Sven Beckert, Philip Hoffman, and Priya Satia connect the industrialization of European powers closely with mobilization for war; others disagree. Most of these authors, however, do not cite East Asian examples. In late 19th century China and Japan, under the slogan of “rich country strong military”, many officials promoted the simultaneous development of industrial and military forces. But these self-strengtheners faced resistance from defenders of the dominant tradition of political economy, which advocated low taxation, a hands-off state, and civil rather than military virtues. China, however, did contain an alternative discourse, which closely linked military and commercial growth,...

Economic historians and theorists have debated the relationship between war and capitalism for more than a century. Joseph Schumpeter (1919), argued that imperialism was a feudal atavism, incompatible with the principle of open markets; Werner Sombart (1913), by contrast, argued for a close connection between capitalism and military investment. Recent studies by Sven Beckert, Philip Hoffman, and Priya Satia connect the industrialization of European powers closely with mobilization for war; others disagree. Most of these authors, however, do not cite East Asian examples. In late 19th century China and Japan, under the slogan of “rich country strong military”, many officials promoted the simultaneous development of industrial and military forces. But these self-strengtheners faced resistance from defenders of the dominant tradition of political economy, which advocated low taxation, a hands-off state, and civil rather than military virtues. China, however, did contain an alternative discourse, which closely linked military and commercial growth, and merchant capital supported military campaigns in times of expansion. In addition, officials like Zuo Zongtang knew the imperialist discourse of the nineteenth century well and responded to it with their own versions. I will investigate two questions: how did the self-strengtheners draw on historical analogies to justify their programs? and what was the relationship of these programs to the global discourse of imperialism in the late nineteenth century?

Intra-Asian Trade and Asia’s Economic Development in the Long Nineteenth Century

Kaoru Sugihara, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature

In 1820 most of Asia’s GDP came from China and India (according to Maddison, China 59% and India 29% excluding the Middle East), reflecting the large population size. By 1950 Japan and Southeast Asia became major economic forces, claiming 19% and 17% of regional GDP respectively, while China took 29% and India 33%. Within China and India too, activities in coastal areas grew. Thus the economic gravity shifted to maritime Asia. This presentation outlines how this shift occurred through the growth of regional trade, reflecting the enforcement of the regime of ‘forced’ free trade. It suggests that it was a network of sea- and river-front nexus that helped reduce transportation costs, mitigate local and regional resource constraints, and facilitated labour-intensive industrialization. They redefined the comparative advantage of each locality, originally rooted in the socio-ecological characteristics of Monsoon Asia, and created a development path on a regional scale.

In 1820 most of Asia’s GDP came from China and India (according to Maddison, China 59% and India 29% excluding the Middle East), reflecting the large population size. By 1950 Japan and Southeast Asia became major economic forces, claiming 19% and 17% of regional GDP respectively, while China took 29% and India 33%. Within China and India too, activities in coastal areas grew. Thus the economic gravity shifted to maritime Asia. This presentation outlines how this shift occurred through the growth of regional trade, reflecting the enforcement of the regime of ‘forced’ free trade. It suggests that it was a network of sea- and river-front nexus that helped reduce transportation costs, mitigate local and regional resource constraints, and facilitated labour-intensive industrialization. They redefined the comparative advantage of each locality, originally rooted in the socio-ecological characteristics of Monsoon Asia, and created a development path on a regional scale.

The closing of the Silk Road in the Late Ming (Abstract)

Bozhong Li

In 1524, the imperial court of the Ming made a decision: to relocate seven frontier garrisons in the country’s northwest border areas关西七卫 from their original stations outside the Great Wall to their new stations within the wall. Though this decision with its implementation hasn’t attracted much attention of historians, it is a significant in world history: it marked the closing of the Silk Roads on the land across Eurasia which served as a “great channel of international trade” regarded by many scholars. This decision was not an indiscretion of the Chinese emperor, but the result of much thought of the Chinese policymakers as a group: years earlier, memorials were submitted to the throne to suggest to “Close the door [to the barbarians in the west of China] and Suspend the tribute trade [with them] and will never have dealings with them 闭关绝贡,永不与通.” The suggestion was supported by the War Ministry....

In 1524, the imperial court of the Ming made a decision: to relocate seven frontier garrisons in the country’s northwest border areas关西七卫 from their original stations outside the Great Wall to their new stations within the wall. Though this decision with its implementation hasn’t attracted much attention of historians, it is a significant in world history: it marked the closing of the Silk Roads on the land across Eurasia which served as a “great channel of international trade” regarded by many scholars. This decision was not an indiscretion of the Chinese emperor, but the result of much thought of the Chinese policymakers as a group: years earlier, memorials were submitted to the throne to suggest to “Close the door [to the barbarians in the west of China] and Suspend the tribute trade [with them] and will never have dealings with them 闭关绝贡,永不与通.” The suggestion was supported by the War Ministry. Though it was not indorsed by the crown then, it heralded the decision. Some deep-seated reasons stood behind the decision. 1. Economic consideration In terms of trade volume and size, the trade of the Silk Roads was not important as thought. One of the main restrains of the expansion of the trade was the unendurably high costs of the trade, which were caused with not just the extremely poor transportation, but very high risks that the merchants suffered from the unsafety caused with political instability in this area. Second, the trade was highly unbalanced: China’s export dwarfed its import and made the trade a one-way trade in some sense. Third, the trade was mainly official for political purposes and in charge of the Chinese state, and its destiny depended on policies of the Chinese state. Moreover, during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, two great changes happened: climate changes and the rise of the maritime trade. Both of them, in particular the later, had great effect on the trade of the Silk Roads and accelerated the fall of the Silk Roads trade. Second, security considerations. The traditional threat to China’s security came from the steppes of Inner Asia, Central Asia and Manchuria. The sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw the second great wave of expansion of Islam, which reached Central Asia and reshaped the political and cultural map of this region completely. Though the plan of conquest of China of Tamerlane (“Timur the Lame”, 1336-1405) did not succeed because of his sudden death en route in the march of his massive army to China before ever reaching the Chinese border, the rulers of different muslin regimes in this region did not abandon their goals to convert China into Islamic, and some of them took actions and waged jihads against the Ming. Since these nomads enjoyed the initiatives in battle fields thanks to their excellent cavalries, it should be the best strategy for the Ming to resist the offenses of the enemies with the help of the formidable Great Wall, as it did in the defense against the Mongols in the east. For this consideration, the Ming state decided to withdraw its garrisons back into the Great Wall, which means that it abandoned its political claim over this region. Accordingly, the tribute trade which had been the majority of trade of the Silk Roads was suspended. Therefore, the withdrawing marks the end of the Silk Roads as a major international trade channel.