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Grandpa State Instead of Bourgeois State: Patrimonial Politics in China’s Age of Commerce, 1644–1839

Patrimonial Capitalism and Empire

ISBN: 978-1-78441-758-1, eISBN: 978-1-78441-757-4

ISSN: 0198-8719

Publication date: 31 March 2015


From the sixteenth to eighteenth century, China underwent a commercial revolution similar to the one in contemporaneous Europe. The rise of market did foster the rise of a nascent bourgeois and the concomitant rise of a liberal, populist version of Confucianism, which advocated a more decentralized and less authoritarian political system in the last few decades of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). But after the collapse of the Ming Empire and the establishment of the Qing Empire (1644–1911) by the Manchu conquerors, the new rulers designated the late-Ming liberal ideologies as heretics, and they resurrected the most conservative form of Confucianism as the political orthodoxy. Under the principle of filial piety given by this orthodoxy, the whole empire was imagined as a fictitious family with the emperor as the grand patriarch and the civil bureaucrats and subjects as children or grandchildren. Under the highly centralized administrative and communicative apparatus of the Qing state, this ideology of the fictitious patrimonial state penetrated into the lowest level of the society. The subsequent paternalist, authoritarian, and moralizing politics of the Qing state contributed to China’s nontransition to capitalism despite its advanced market economy, and helped explain the peculiar form and trajectory of China’s popular contention in the eighteenth century. I also argue that this tradition of fictitious patrimonial politics continued to shape the state-making processes in twentieth-century China and beyond.



Hung, H.-f. (2015), "Grandpa State Instead of Bourgeois State: Patrimonial Politics in China’s Age of Commerce, 1644–1839", Patrimonial Capitalism and Empire (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 115-135.



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