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War and Bureaucratization in Qin China: Exploring an Anomalous Case


Kiser, Edgar & Cai, Yong (2003). War and Bureaucratization in Qin China: Exploring an Anomalous Case. American Sociological Review, 68(4), 511-39.


Why did a partially bureaucratized administrative system develop in Qin China about two millennia before it did in European states? In this paper, comparative historical arguments about war and state-making are combined with agency theory to answer this question. The Spring and Autumn and Warring States eras that preceded the Qin unification of China created the necessary conditions for bureaucratization by weakening the aristocracy, creating a bureaucratic model, facilitating the development of roads, and providing trained and disciplined personnel. Comparative analysis shows that the main factor differentiating Qin China from other states and empires was the extreme weakness of the aristocracy produced by an unusually long period of severe warfare. Although Qin China was more bureaucratic than any other state or empire prior to the seventeenth century, it was far from completely bureaucratic. The persistence of monitoring problems prevented its full development, necessitating deviations such as the use of severe negative sanctions, the creation of redundant positions, and limiting bureaucratization to the top of the administrative system. The further development of the bureaucratic administrative system in the Han dynasty is also discussed.

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Journal Article

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American Sociological Review


Kiser, Edgar
Cai, Yong

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