Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1792061
 


 



Property Rights in Land, Agricultural Capitalism, and the Relative Decline of Pre-Industrial China


Taisu Zhang


Duke University - School of Law; Yale University

March 21, 2011

San Diego International Law Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011

Abstract:     
Scholars have long debated how legal institutions influenced the economic development of societies and civilizations. This Article sheds new light on this debate by reexamining, from a legal perspective, a crucial segment of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century economic divergence between England and China: By 1700, English agriculture had become predominantly capitalist, reliant on “managerial” farms worked chiefly by hired labor. On the other hand, Chinese agriculture counter-productively remained household-based throughout the Qing and Republican eras.

The explanation for this key agricultural divergence, which created multiple advantages for English proto-industry, lies in differences between Chinese and English property rights regimes, but in an area largely overlooked by previous scholarship. Contrary to common assumptions, Qing and Republican laws and customs did recognize private property and, moreover, allowed reasonably free alienation of it. Significant inefficiencies existed, however, in the specific mechanisms of land transaction: The great majority of Chinese land transactions were “conditional sales” that, under most local customs, guaranteed the “seller” an interminable right of redemption at zero interest. In comparison, early modern English laws and customs prohibited the redemption of “conditional” conveyances - mainly mortgages - beyond a short time frame. Consequently, Chinese farmers found it very difficult to securely acquire land, whereas English farmers found it reasonably easy. Over the long run, this impeded the spread of capitalist agriculture in China, but promoted it in England.

Differences between Chinese and English norms of property transaction were, therefore, important to Qing and Republican China’s relative economic decline. By locating the causes of key global economic trends in customary property rights, the Article also has ramifications for influential theories of social norm formation and law and development.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 72

Keywords: Property Rights, Land Use, Agricultural Capitalism, Economic Divergence, Comparative Legal History

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Date posted: March 26, 2011 ; Last revised: January 15, 2012

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Taisu, Property Rights in Land, Agricultural Capitalism, and the Relative Decline of Pre-Industrial China (March 21, 2011). San Diego International Law Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1792061

Contact Information

Taisu Zhang (Contact Author)
Duke University - School of Law ( email )
Box 90360
Duke School of Law
Durham, NC 27708
United States
Yale University ( email )
New Haven, CT 06520
United States
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