Revisiting Markets and Institutions in Early Modern East Asia: Beyond Exceptionalism and Generalization

Mar 6, 2015 | 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM

A workshop organized by Kuroda Akinobu (U Tokyo/Harvard) and David Howell (Harvard) in cooperation with the Harvard-Yenching Institute and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Project No. 26285073)


Part 1 10:00 am – 11:25 am

Chaired by Sun Joo Kim (Harvard University)

Kuroda, Akinobu – The Characters of Market: Comparison between China and Japan in 19th Century

Rhee, Young Hoon (Seoul National University) – What Were Prices in the 19th Century Seoul, Korea?

Part 2  11:35 am – 1:00 pm

Chaired by Elizabeth Perry (Harvard University/Harvard-Yenching Institute)

David Howell (Harvard University) – Market Troubles in a Collapsing Regime: Night Soil in Edo, 1867

Takatsuki, Yasuo (Kobe University) – Property Rights Protection in 18th century Japan Revisited; the Case of Rice Backed Security Exchange Market

Lunch  1: 00 pm – 2:00 pm

Part 3  2:00 pm – 3:25 pm

Chaired by Elisabeth Köll (Harvard Business School)

Elisabeth Kaske (Carnegie Mellon University) – From Privilege to Market: Conceiving Government Bonds in Qing China and Meiji Japan

Maura Dykstra (UCLA/Harvard University) – Anonymity, Place, Authority, and the Court of Chongqing: Exploring the Relationship between Qing Long-distance Commercial Practices and Imperial Jurisdiction from 1750 to 1911

Part 4  3:35pm – 5:30 pm

DISCUSSION  Chaired by Michael Puett (Harvard University)


Jane Guyer (Johns Hopkins University) Anthropology, African Studies read by organiser
Craig Muldrew (University of Cambridge) European Early Modern History
Peter Perdue (Yale University) Chinese Early Modern History


To find a difference between societies is one thing, to locate the difference either in negative direction or positive is another. If a human cluster in certain period deserves to be called a society, it must have a characteristics of its own. Characteristic of human cluster itself sounds unsuitable to be taken advanced or backward. Only a teleology provides a measure to commensurate a difference as a transformation from something ‘primitive’ to something ‘sophisticated’. Along this sense a viewpoint such as the evolution of the market has played a role as a kind of teleology behind historical interpretations, typically, in a way as follows.

Exchange between persons, households, groups and regions depending on comparative advantage should increase the productivities. Decrease of cost such as that for transportation should strengthen the efficiency of trade, in other words, intensify the extent of the market. Technological innovations like railroad should be crucial for the market to advance the process into a new stage, while social relationship among people and administrative connections should be exogenous. They should often work to intervene the evolution of the market, consequently cause the market activities to deviate from their nature. In other words, without intervention, trades should eventually bring an equilibrium in which demand and supply of goods and services should be adjusted by a single set of prices in the most optimal proportion.

In tandem with the presumption above, a dichotomy between profit orienting market and ethic orienting society and a contrast between pro freedom market and pro regulation state have ignored that, even within a society or under a state, an exchange might have a background with an institutional factor while another exchange might have precluded another institutional factor.

Here let us define market activities fulfilling exchanges through making price. However, in reality, market activities might have a multiplicity in nature. Although behaviours by peasants in rural market could not be perfectly independent from actions by merchants who dealt with large size consumptions, their activities did not always synchronise in the same direction. For example, increasing dependence on market places by peasant households might have brought a special monetary demand among them which were incompatible with money available for interregional settlement or large size transactions. Ubiquitous presence of multiple monies across the world and through human history proves a nature of money which differentiated itself according to situation.

A price should be made in terms of a money. Arbitrage between a price of a commodity in a region and a different price of the same commodity in another region would make sense only in a condition that money should be provided in the same way to both. The compatibility or incompatibility between a currency in a region and that in another region was determined by a combination of various factors such as mint system, taxation and its remittance, exchangers, network of long distance traders, etc.

Even if a single money worked across regions, in a society cash payments might have dominated in rural markets while credit supply or clearance through account books might have prevailed among merchants in the same town, in contrast, in another society, villagers might have depended on mutual credit or rarely used cash while merchants, especially for long distant trade, might have preference to settle their transactions by precious metal currencies. Currency provides anonymity, or freedom in choosing opponents, in making transactions, while named relationship behind credit provides certainty to deals. How to combine both anonymous relationship and coherent one depended on society and period.

All in all, market activities and institutions are inseparable. Before assuming a framework relating entire the market to entire institutes, decompose market activities partially enough to reveal a multiplicity of mutual dependence between a pattern of exchange and an institutional framework. A characteristic of society appeared with how to assort various attachments between an exchange and an institution. In nature, it must be far from measuring advanced or backward.

Sharing geographical conditions, basic technology, and ideological context, comparison of East Asia in early modern period vividly shows us how variously exchange and institutions woven each structure characteristically.