I study the historical processes of state building and state development. My exploration unfolds across three distinct research lines.
1. State Building and State Organizations:
Existing ideas about state building are rulers responding to threats of war to collect more taxes. I take a more encompassing view of state building to better understand how statebuilders construct political order. A particular challenge, which has arisen periodically in Chinese history, is for a new ruling elite to shift from conquest to legitimation and institutionalization. A key element of this is navigating principal-agent problems, including strategic recruitment and the multi-faceted aspects of competence.
State Building after War: Internal Conflicts and the Skill-Based Recruitment of State Agents in Imperial China
I explore state building in the aftermath of war in this paper, enriching the bellicist theory that argues war drives the internal apparatuses of the state. I argue that state builders can establish order by strategically selecting personnel with specific skills and competencies, based on state priorities. During times of peace, the state incorporated elites with legitimacy, while in times of conflict, it relied on individuals with military skills or financial resources. This argument is supported by an original dataset on the appointment of prefects in Imperial China and incidents of conflict. The results indicate a correlation between the appointment of exam-based elites and peace, and the appointment of warriors and office-purchasers with conflict. This paper highlights the critical importance of political order in statehood and the multidimensional nature of competence. It contributes to a deeper understanding of bureaucracy, pre-modern state formation, and state-building.
Ruling after Revolution: Security Challenges and Civilian Control over Military in China, 1949-1976. With Junyan Jiang. R&R, American Political Science Review.
In this paper, we turn to the military as a key wielder of violence to examine postwar reconstruction. A monopoly of violence is a key defining feature of modern statehood. In this article, we document how political leaders reestablish order by making personnel decisions when competing incentives are at play Rulers increase group cohesion within the army to conduct effective military operations against sovereignty threats; yet when the sovereignty threat subsides, the control threats impels civilian leadership to diversify military units, especially for higher-level units. Drawing on comprehensive data on personnel and organizational dynamics inside the Chinese military, we illustrate how this tradeoff played out in the post-revolutionary People's Republic of China (1949–-1976). We show that (1) the higher level units were more heterogeneous than the lower level units within the military hierarchy, and (2) military units that were involved in combating external enemies were less heterogeneous. These findings highlight the fragile nature of postwar order and the importance of political leadership.
Insurgent Empire: The Transition from Conquest to State-Building in Qing China. With Daniel Mattingly.
How do rulers transition from conquest to state-building? In this letter, we advance a theory for how rulers' strategies for staffing the state in the immediate aftermath of conquest can spark backlash --- or, potentially, a stronger state. We make our argument in the important context of the early years of the Qing Dynasty, when Manchu rulers attempted to transition from military to civilian rule of the territory they conquered. We build an extensive new dataset of all prefectural military officers in Qing China. Our core empirical finding is that the installation of a new set of local elites sparked rebellion --- but that where the Qing turned to elites recruited from the competitive civil service exam, the rebellions faded the fastest. Prior works have shown how local elites organize against state-strengthening efforts. By contrast, we illustrate how state strengthening efforts can succeed even when they incur a short-run backlash.
2. State Building and Political Elites:
Current theories regarding state-building depict the rise of early industrialized nations as a political compromise between industrial and agricultural elites. My second line of research challenges the conventional wisdom that elite preferences for state building are fixed.
Class-making as State-making in Great Britain, with Pablo Beramendi and Adriane Fresh.
Pervasive among historical political economy scholarship is the assumption of group separability, and consequently conflict, between incumbent agricultural elites and new commercial and industrial elites at during periods of economic development. In this paper, we revisit this prior in the canonical case of 19th century England. We develop a theory of heterogeneity in the reactions of incumbent elites to processes of economic and political change. Faced with change, incumbent elites choose between reaction or adaptation. The latter constitutes cooperation with new elites that implies a commitment problem. We argue that the solution to that commitment problem involves simultaneous choices on three dimensions: selection of marriage partner, registration of landed assets, and vote choices over public investments. To empirically examine this logic, we assemble a new comprehensive dataset on Members of Parliament (MP) endowments---including their economic activities, investments, and socio-political lineages---new data on the marriages of MPs and their family members; data on individual land registration; and MP roll call votes on key state-building bills. Our analyses aim to show the extent to which class formation, as opposed to intra-elite conflict, was indeed an important force in peacefully producing the modern fiscal administrative state in England.
3. Ideational Foundation of Statehood:
Existing theories on state building are mainly interested in bureaucratic and coercive dimensions of state capacity. Throughout the history, there have been alternative polities to nation-states, how do people accept that they are citizens of nation-states? Such a national identity should not be taken for granted. I advance this line of research by emphasizing the ideational dimension of statehood, the extent to which the subject populations accept the authority of the statehood.
Examination as Socialization: Unravel the Myth of Meritocracy in China. R&R, Journal of Historical Political Economy.
The second paper derived from my dissertation argues that meritocracy helps alleviate the principal-agent problems. It examines the tension between the state-building and political meritocracy literature by questioning whether the Imperial Chinese state was truly meritocratic. I propose a clear definition of meritocracy that includes formal examinations, testing on administrative-technical competence, and equal opportunities of competing for office. I use a novel dataset on Qing China's prefectural governments and text analysis of Confucian classics, to demonstrate that the Imperial Chinese bureaucracy might not have adhered to this definition of meritocracy. Multiple paths to power existed, the exams tested literary and ethical teachings, and access to office was geographically unequal. Nevertheless, I highlight that the Imperial Civil Service Exams served as an ideational foundation of statehood, inculcating political loyalty and homogenized worldviews among elites. This article deepens our understanding of political meritocracy and historical state formation.
From Empire to Nation-state: War, Political Entrepreneurs, and National Sovereignty in China, with Haohan Chen and Yingtian He
This paper investigates why and how non-western states embraced and integrated the Westphalian system, with a particular focus on the shift from empire to nation-state. We propose that political entrepreneurs played a crucial role in promoting the concept of national sovereignty. To test this theory, we analyze novel datasets from newspapers, focusing on China's transition from the Qing Empire to the Republic. Our findings reveal that neither the formal change in government nor the western invasion resulted in a change in the national perception of sovereignty. However, political elites played a vital part in facilitating the adoption and internalization of the Westphalian system. This study emphasizes the critical significance of ideational transformation in state formation and the role of political entrepreneurs. It adds to a deeper comprehension of state-building and nationalism.
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