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Essay 2

Empire Building and Maintenance: Factors for China’s Decline

Submitted by: David J. LeCount On: July 12, 2008 To: Professor David Pizzo Global Issues

Road Map: Thesis Statement:

It is an eternally fascinating question why china once led the worlds, but only failed to industrializeeven in the first half of the twentieth century. Various factors can be sought out as plausible reasons and they can be put under the framework of empire maintenance. This essay tries to explore the interplay between the factors, and their connections through one common theme.


Introduction: China is the largest survivingempire from ancient times, and there are unique economic consequences to this. China was not a poor country before the Europeans made significant contact with her: that China once led the world before it fell to the power of the Western colonizers is now a widely recognizedfact. Yet the reason to this fateful twist seems to provide external fascination for academicians. This essay will analyze several factors of premodern Chinese economic development, as well as their interplay, in light of the empire building framework.

Empire Maintenance and the Decline of China: The basicreasoning behind the argument is that an empire is hard to build and to maintain. While the area provides vast land for agriculture and enough distance for commerce, and to some degree the economy of scale for the bureaucracy and national defense, etc. there is always more risk of instability. China has always had the problem of instability, but the empire nevertheless survived many short periods of disintegration, which implies that the integrity of the country was much more cherished by the Chinese than by the Westerners.

There is no over-simplification in this empire-building framework, because it is actually a summary of the interplay among several specific theoretical block. namely, the state, state ideology, social mobility and technology.

The State The Chinese state was a mixture of centralization and decentralization. Centralization was important to internal and external stability, both were “crucial to the survival of the empire”1 Decentralization was needed because it was hard to manage such a big empire: and it became possible by adopting a pre-stability, pro-harmony ideology (specifically, Confucianism which is discussed in the following section). Deng suggests that the centralized state had some positive influences over the economy in providing infrastructure; the effect seems to be cancelled out by the antimerchant policies. Considering that the policy towards merchants was not always the same across history, its interaction with the positive factors mentioned above might partially explain the twist in performance before and after the Song dynasty. However, it is not likely that such fluctuation in merchant policy could explain much. Speaking of the other side, there are damaging consequences to this emphasis on stability. Deng suggests that the Chinese economy was under governed, given the lack of initiatives on the side of the state beyond social order and national defense. The Chinesestate experienced difficulty even in balancing internal and external security. China had not been free from the plundering of the Northern nomads since the Han dysnaty.2 despiteof several successful campaigns, against the nomadic people, China had to pay tem to keep them off her land. There were also piratical harassment even during the Ming dynasty3and the Chinese state responded not so successfully by military actions as by refraining from seafaring. The defense problem was exacerbated by the need to care about rebellions. When dynastic succession wars were over, military leaders (most notably, those at the beginning of the Song and Ming dynasties) were oftenpurged for the fear that they might weaken the authority. The ratio of the armed force at 1800 was about 0.2% and


A large, centralized, single state also means that there was not enough political competition. Compared with the scattered nations of Europe, there was less incentive for the Chinese rulers to take risks in order to develop. Also, the consequence of having a incapable ruler is worse for China, as in Europe such rulers typically causes the transition of economic activities from one nation to another and not a total stagnation.4

State Ideology