The Feudal Revolution that Never Happened: Elite Reproduction and Political Power in Medieval China, 386-534AD

Erik Wang ( IAST)

24 novembre 2020, 14h00–15h00


Salle Zoom Meeting


The Migration Period in Europe had profound long-term implications for economic and political development, as invasions of the Roman Empire by the frontier peoples led to prolonged fragmentation of political power with aristocratic families exercising constraints on monarchical rulers. A similar migration wave in the 4th century brought about the collapse of political order in China and coincided with the rise of a medieval Chinese aristocracy (shizu). Although the era of aristocracy would last for another 600 years, China was soon re-unified under absolute imperial rule and a centralized bureaucratic state. Why were emperors able to centralize political power and oversee rapid state-building without the resistance by the nobility? We investigate this puzzle from the perspectives of coalition formation and political co-optation. We build a unique dataset that combines biographic information of bureaucrats from official historical records and recently excavated epitaphs with geographic information about armed conflicts and natural disasters in the Northern Wei regime, a dynasty that laid the foundation of China’s eventual re-unification. Our individual-level and province-level analyses document three main findings: 1) the regime was able to renegotiate the societal definition of aristocracy so as to alter the political fortunes of otherwise powerful families, 2) relatedly, the regime was able to expand its “selectorate” by reducing the ability of the political elite to reproduce itself, and 3) the regime utilized local armed conflicts as a pretext to co-opt aristocrats with local stronghold.


Erik Wang ( IAST), « The Feudal Revolution that Never Happened: Elite Reproduction and Political Power in Medieval China, 386-534AD », IAST Lunch Seminar, Toulouse : IAST, 24 novembre 2020, 14h00–15h00, salle Zoom Meeting.