Prioritizing Stability over Productivity: How Confucianism Facilitated Population Growth in Preindustrial China

26 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2021 Last revised: 14 Feb 2022

See all articles by Zhiwu Chen

Zhiwu Chen

University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Business Economics (HKU Business School); Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong

Chicheng Ma

The University of Hong Kong

Date Written: February 14, 2022

Abstract

This paper applies a new perspective to reassess the economics of Confucianism—risk mitigation, rather than productivity as emphasized in the literature. As a conservative philosophy of life, Confucianism prioritized stability over productivity, forming tightly-knit clans with supportive norms to make intra-clan resource pooling and risk sharing credible. Such efforts effectively expanded the Malthusian limits to population growth in preindustrial China, even in the absence of productivity gains. Using historical data from 269 prefectures for the 976–1851 period, we find that prefectures with stronger Confucian clans had significantly higher population density because of clan-enhanced resilience during natural disasters.

Keywords: Confucianism, clan, population growth, risk-sharing institution, China

JEL Classification: N35, O43, Z12

Suggested Citation

Chen, Zhiwu and Ma, Chicheng, Prioritizing Stability over Productivity: How Confucianism Facilitated Population Growth in Preindustrial China (February 14, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3859796 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3859796

Zhiwu Chen

University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Business Economics (HKU Business School) ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong ( email )

Room 328-348, Main Building
The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam
Hong Kong

Chicheng Ma (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

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