State Formation and Bureaucratization: Evidence from Pre-Imperial China
How does one build a centralized bureaucratic state? A dominant view is that wars incentivize rulers to directly extract resources, thereby increasing state capacity. The Chinese empire, one of the earliest states to develop a centralized bureaucracy, can provide useful insights. Using hand-collected data, I present the first systematic evidence on patterns of warfare and state-building in pre-imperial China. I then develop an incomplete contract model to study ruler’s and agent’s incentives at war, and demonstrate that ownership of land and type of military conflict both affect state-building. External military pressure dampens centralization, as land-owning agents have more to gain from a successful defense, and therefore are more committed. Centralized districts are more aggressive at offense against weak enemies, as non-land-owning agents are more willing to participate in attacks. A decrease in agents’ bargaining position also facilitates state-building. Empirical tests and historical examples are consistent with model predictions.

Prof. Yuxin Chen received her Ph.D. in Economics from Stanford University in 2019. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Economics at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. Her research interests include political economy, institutions and economic history of China.

Faculty host: Guojun He (
Speaker(s) Prof Yuxin Chen
Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business
Date 19 Nov 2019 (Tuesday)
Time 12:00 - 1:30 pm
Venue Room 3401 (Lifts 17-18), Academic Building, HKUST
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
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