Elite Kinship Networks and State-Building Preferences in Imperial China
60 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019 Last revised: 23 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 22, 2021
A long tradition in social sciences scholarship has established that kinship-based institutions undermine state building. I argue that kinship networks, when geographically dispersed, cross-cut local cleavages and align the incentives of self- interested elites in favor of building a strong state, which exhibits scale economies in providing protection and justice throughout a large territory. I evaluate my argument by examining elite preferences during a state-building reform in 11th century China. I map politicians’ kinship networks using their tomb epitaphs and collect data on their political allegiances from archival materials. Statistical analysis and narrative evidence demonstrate that dispersed kinship networks align elites’ family interests with state interests and incentivize elites to support building a strong central state. My findings highlight the importance of elite social structure in facilitating state development and help understand state building in China – a useful, yet understudied, counterpoint to the Euro-centric literature.
Keywords: State building; kinship network; state–society relations; cross-cutting cleavages
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