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Quantification and fiscal governance in China, 1400-1800

Liu, Ziang (2021) Quantification and fiscal governance in China, 1400-1800. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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How did the state obtain, use, and keep numbers for governing purposes? State governance requires knowledge of those to be governed, and good governance requires the state to build up the capacity to gather and utilise knowledge in the form of numbers. In both the premodern and modern world, numbers and calculative practices serve as an instrument to visualise and capture the world far removed from the centre of administration on paper. They transform physical entities into abstract symbols, and they simplify complex things into readable marks. To explore the roles of numbers and calculative practices in fiscal governance, I turn to early modern China as my case of study, tracing back to the fifteenth century when fiscal institutions began to develop alongside changes in social settings. From the mid-fifteenth century onwards, silver became a more stable numeraire for valuing transactions in the Chinese market. This changing socioeconomic circumstance initiated a century-long process of fiscal monetisation, transforming China’s fiscal system from in-kind-based to money-based. The introduction of silvertaelas a standard numeraire in the state’s statistical and accounting system enabled the central government in China to measure incomes and expenditures in local administration, to intervene in the details of fiscal management in local governments, to build up a local budget system, and to predict and monitor local spending with rigid regulations on the use of tax resources. In the face of warfare and fiscal pressure, local budget figures became the basis for actions, enabling the state to reconfigure fiscal revenues between the central and local authorities. When social order was eventually restored in the late seventeenth century, the Chinese state established a more centralised fiscal system. However, state investments in the local government became too low afterwards, causing fiscal governance in China to repeatedly linger between policy targets and real situations encountered in local administration.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Ziang Liu
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Morgan, Mary and Volckart, Oliver and Deng, Kent

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