Class 02

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Economics 274

Class 02: maps and empire

• we spent class pondering the implications of maps of China’s empire, supplemented by a map of rainfall patterns.

– who were the threats that led to shifting boundaries of empire?

= central asia and in some periods manchuria

= oceans not important: Japan not unified until late, by Chinese standards. Korea long divided, then kept at arms length as a “tributary”.

– what held empire together?

= suggestions: military, trade, natural resources [a subset of trade??]

› where did the rivers run? largely east-west so tendency to fragment into north [great China plain] and middle [Yangtze River valley]. south even more difficult, and not always part (or firmly a part) of the various empires 

› trade? but transport a challenge!

› lack natural boundaries need keep frontier peoples happy / at bay

» so all the tools of statecraft were at play: military power, diplomacy, trade (especially luxury goods cf. what we learn at the Reeves Center).

= one aspect we did not bring up: ideology. with disparate language and religion, and strong regional culture, maintaining a common ideology was important. cf. the Roman Empire’s attempt to make Greco-Roman culture central and to try to co-opt various local religions into its the rather flexible pantheon of gods. the big exception was the Jewish religion.

= a second component was an imperial examination system that dated back centuries but took on a central role from the 9th century, and its full elaboration in the early 900s under the Song dynasty. this civil service exam required knowing the (authorized) Confucian classics and writing structured essays on them from memory. they were in principle open to all men, and helped create a rule of an educated gentry elite (even if the Emperor was heir to one or another conqueror).

this provided a route to power and wealth. China did not have a centralized tax system so relied upon local officials to collect taxes – tax farming – whose only mandate was to forward some minimum amount to the capital, and fund various local services. so successful business families would sponsor the most promising of their extended family to prepare for the exams.

one key component: geographic rotation. an official could not serve more than some maximum number of years in a given province, and could never serve in their home province. this was in the hope of keeping officials from developing a power base independent of the bureaucratic hierarchy.

» this begs the question of how the military was controlled. one bottom line: not always well enough!

» likewise the independence of local officials did lead to problems, underprovision of local public goods, entrepreneurship in developing revenue sources outside the control of the Emperor.

– economic implications

= transportation fragmented the various empires into “macroregions” that were “natural” units whereas the empire was not

= public goods were subject to indifferent provision, eg, irrigation systems, dikes [we’ll read about these in Village China], monetary systems, military / local security, justice systems. no public education system. 

= China is fragmented! – geographically, ethnically, linguistically

For good maps see the following link, which provides some information on the empires or alliances of local rulers & elites on the frontier. keep in mind that “nation state” is a modern concept, and frontier regions might operate very differently in their economy and local government from core parts of the various empires. they seldom had “borders” as we think of them in the context of Europe and associated empires from 1500 on.

Note that maps from Wikimedia Commons are repeated in many places (thanks to minimal copyright restrictions). This animated gif presents a much, much more expansive definition of empire with boundaries drawn in a manner that tend to reinforce current PRC claims of what has always been “Chinese.”