From Powerholders to Stakeholders: State-Building with Elite Compensation in Early Medieval China

84 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2021 Last revised: 26 Jan 2024

See all articles by Joy Chen

Joy Chen

Renmin University of China - School of Economics

Erik H. Wang

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Xiaoming Zhang

Department of Sociology, Zhejiang University

Date Written: January 10, 2024

Abstract

How do rulers soften resistance by local powerholders to state-building efforts? This paper highlights a strategy of compensation, where elites receive government offices in exchange for relinquishing their localist interests, and become uprooted and integrated into the national political system as stakeholders. We explore this strategy in the context of the Northern Wei Dynasty of China (386-534 CE) that terminated an era of state weakness during which aristocrats exercised local autonomy through strongholds. Exploiting a comprehensive state-building reform in the late 5th century, we find that aristocrats from previously autonomous localities were disproportionately recruited into the bureaucracy as compensation for accepting stronger state presence. Three mechanisms of bureaucratic compensation facilitated state-building. Offices received by those aristocrats: (1) carried direct benefits; (2) realigned their interests toward the ruler; and (3) mitigated credible commitment problems. Our findings shed light on the “First Great Divergence” between Late Antiquity Europe and Medieval China.

Keywords: State-building, Historical political economy, China, Bureaucracy, Northern Wei

JEL Classification: D73, H70, N45, O1

Suggested Citation

Chen, Joy and Wang, Erik H. and Zhang, Xiaoming, From Powerholders to Stakeholders: State-Building with Elite Compensation in Early Medieval China (January 10, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract= or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3893130

Joy Chen

Renmin University of China - School of Economics ( email )

China

Erik H. Wang (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

715 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://erikhw.github.io/

Xiaoming Zhang

Department of Sociology, Zhejiang University ( email )

:866 Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,
Hangzhou, Zhejiang 310027
China

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