Sons and Lovers: Political Stability in China and Europe Before the Great Divergence
33 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2017 Last revised: 27 Oct 2018
Date Written: October 25, 2018
Rulers’ long duration in the medieval period had contributed to the rise of Europe. But what explained premodern ruler duration? While the extant answers focus on formal, political institutions, I examine the role of marriage and inheritance norms in affecting ruler survival. Using a novel dataset of over 1,000 monarchs in China and Europe from 1000 to 1800 CE, I obtain two findings that have been overlooked by the existing literature. First, contrary to the view that European rulers had exceptional stability, I find that Chinese monarchs stayed in power longer than their European counterparts. Second, I find a strong effect of family practices on ruler survival. More liberal marriage and inheritance norms provided Chinese emperors with sustained availability of male heirs, which reduced palace coups. But the Church’s control of royal marriage and inheritance in Europe decreased the number of male heirs, which increased the probability of a deposition.
Keywords: Ruler duration, succession politics, informal institutions, China, Europe
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation