Theses Doctoral

The Common Good: Property and State-Making in Late Imperial China

Luo, Weiwei

The Common Good offers new perspectives on the early modern global revolution in ideas of economy and the polity. It argues that the modern Chinese state emerged from the disenchantment of a moral economy that had dominated since the sixteenth century. Monetization and commercialization produced both concepts of public goods and institutions pertaining to public properties that drew from medieval prototypes. Having no place within the formal legal system, the governance of these resources relied on supernatural justice, rituals of generosity, and a rhetoric of virtue that brought together popular practice and learned culture. By the nineteenth century, however, these moral and supernatural elements were superseded by new modes of accountability that replaced gods with notions of the public or the people, and by new technologies of public writing and reckoning that privileged numbers and calculations as reliable evidence. This shift in arbiters of trust generated what can be called an “accountable managerial state,” in contrast with the “agrarian legislative state” that persisted throughout the previous centuries in imperial China. At first glance, this trajectory bears a superficial resemblance to that of Europe during the early modern period. My analysis reveals, however, that these were native developments, originating at the level of local societies in China before working their way upward to the state level. In short, my research has brought entirely indigenous set of Chinese ideas and institutions into a global history of the state and political economy, as well as opened the way for rich comparative study with other parts of the world.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Zelin, Madeleine H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 5, 2019