Elite Kinship Network and State Strengthening: Theory and Evidence from Imperial China
57 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2020
Date Written: February 12, 2020
Existing theories of state strengthening focus on macro-level factors. We know less about the micro-level incentives for elites to support or oppose state strengthening. I develop an argument in which elites choose between the state and private order institutions (e.g., clans, tribes, or ethnic groups) to economize services for their families. When elites’ kinship networks are geographically dispersed, they prefer to strengthen the state because it is more efficient to “buy” services from the state. When elites’ kinship networks are geographically concentrated, they prefer a weak state because they can “make” low-cost private services and evade taxes to the state. I map politicians’ kinship networks using their tomb epitaphs from eleventh-century China and show that, even facing severe external threats, politicians exhibited polarization in their attitudes toward state strengthening, which can be explained by the geography of their kinship networks.
Keywords: State capacity, state building, social network, collective action, China
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