Millet, Rice, and Isolation: Origins and Persistence of the World's Most Enduring Mega-State

34 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2022

See all articles by James Kung

James Kung

Department of Economics, The University of Melbourne; The University of Hong Kong

Ömer Özak

Southern Methodist University - Department of Economics; IZA; Global Labor Organization (GLO)

Louis Putterman

Brown University

Shuang Shi

The University of Hong Kong

Abstract

We propose and test empirically a theory describing the endogenous formation and persistence of mega-states, using China as an example. We suggest that the relative timing of the emergence of agricultural societies, and their distance from each other, set off a race between their autochthonous state-building projects, which determines their extent and persistence. Using a novel dataset describing the historical presence of Chinese states, prehistoric development, the diffusion of agriculture, and migratory distance across 1° × 1° grid cells in eastern Asia, we find that cells that adopted agriculture earlier and were close to Erlitou – the earliest political center in eastern Asia – remained under Chinese control for longer and continue to be a part of China today. By contrast, cells that adopted agriculture early and were located further from Erlitou developed into independent states, as agriculture provided the fertile ground for state-formation, while isolation provided time for them to develop and confront the expanding Chinese empire. Our study sheds important light on why eastern Asia kept reproducing a mega-state in the area that became China and on the determinants of its borders with other states.

Keywords: state, agriculture, isolation, social complexity, stickiness to China, Erlitou, East Asia

JEL Classification: F50, F59, H70, H79, N90, O10, R10, Z10, Z13

Suggested Citation

Kung, James Kai-sing and Özak, Ömer and Putterman, Louis and Shi, Shuang, Millet, Rice, and Isolation: Origins and Persistence of the World's Most Enduring Mega-State. IZA Discussion Paper No. 15348, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4134131 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4134131

James Kai-sing Kung (Contact Author)

Department of Economics, The University of Melbourne ( email )

Level 4, FBE Building
111 Barry Street
Melbourne, Victoria 3053
Australia
0437799398 (Phone)

The University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Ömer Özak

Southern Methodist University - Department of Economics ( email )

Dallas, TX 75275
United States
+1-214-768-2755 (Phone)
+1-214-768-1821 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://omerozak.com

IZA

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Global Labor Organization (GLO) ( email )

Collogne
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Louis Putterman

Brown University ( email )

Box 1860
Providence, RI 02912
United States

Shuang Shi

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

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