A Cultural History of Chinese Economic Decline (and Rise)
Stanford Center for Law and History
518 Memorial Way, Stanford, CA 94305
This talk examines how academic perspectives on China’s 18th and 19th Century economic decline change when the decline is not viewed in temporal isolation, but instead in conjunction with the country’s more recent economic rise. It argues that merging the two histories yields a new explanatory account in which capital accumulation—as opposed to, for example, markets, property rights, labor prices, coal endowments, or scientific culture—played a central role. Behind the unusually weak capital accumulation that characterized the pre-1911 Chinese economy and the much more robust waves of capitalization that emerged after the 1920s lies a fundamental change in sociopolitical culture. This cultural change gradually moved China from a small-state, decentralized, and socially egalitarian institutional paradigm into one of centralized statism, thereby accelerating both its capitalization and industrialization.
About the speaker:
Taisu Zhang is a Professor of Law at Yale Law School and works on comparative legal and economic history, private law theory, and contemporary Chinese law and politics. He is the author of two books, The Ideological Foundations of Qing Taxation: Belief Systems, Politics, and Institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2023), and The Laws and Economics of Confucianism: Kinship and Property in Pre-Industrial China and England (Cambridge University Press, 2017). These are the first two entries in a planned trilogy of books on the institutional and cultural origins of early modern economic divergence. The final entry, tentatively titled The Cultural-Legal Origins of Economic Divergence, is currently in progress.