Legitimating State Power and Social Policies: A Comparative Study of Early Modern England, Tokugawa Japan, and Qing China

Oct 25, 2016 | 12:00 PM

He Wenkai (Associate Professor, Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; HYI-Radcliffe Visiting Scholar)
Chair/discussant: Daniel Ziblatt (Professor of Government, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Asia Center, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

This talk employs comparative historical analysis to examine a crucial linkage between the legitimation of state power and the adoption of social policies in three early modern states, England (1550-1700), Japan (1700-1868), and China (1700-1895). In all three cases, despite their distinct political institutions and histories, states justified their monopoly of coercive force through key normative terms such as public welfare or public good. Importantly, such terms could also be utilized by local officials, local communities, and even commoners to negotiate and bargain with the center over the content of social policies such as poverty and famine relief, resolution of cross-regional conflicts of interests, and infrastructure building. This negotiation process was fundamental to the smooth operation of early modern states with quite weak central institutional capacities. Moreover, it also provided a limited political space for common people to participate in state politics through peaceful collective petitions.