The Rise and Fall of Imperial China: The Social Origins of State Development

Author: Yuhua Wang, Professor of Government, Harvard University

About the book

This book “seeks to unite Chinese history with social science” (Mark Jacobsen, The Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs) by offering a new theory for understanding the process of state-building in imperial China. Why did short-lived emperors often rule over a strong state while long-lasting emperors governed a weak one? Wang believes that the answer to a question that’s long puzzled Chinese historians may lie in the construction of kinship networks of social elites, and the different dynamics created between coherent and fragmented elites. His thesis, termed the sovereign’s dilemma, refers to the oppositional relationship between the strength of the collective state and the potential that this creates for deposing the current emperor. He also explores various exogenous shocks, like the Taiping Rebellion, that have occurred throughout Chinese history and allowed for restructuring the social order to benefit rulers — and weaken the state. The book examines how distinct social orientations shaped the Chinese state, and vice versa, and looks at how the ruler’s pursuit of power by fragmenting the elites became the final culprit for imperial China’s fall.

ISBN 0691215162

October 11, 2022 Princeton University Press

352 Pages

The Rise and Fall of Imperial China offers up a readable, persuasive, and provocative account of state success and failure that taps into major debates in social science and history. Ambitious, wide-ranging, and theoretically innovative, this superb book makes important contributions to the literatures on state building, historical political economy, and Chinese politics.”

—Daniel Mattingly, author of The Art of Political Control in China

“This rigorous and innovative examination of the state in China shows how states can be durable even when they are weak. Yuhua Wang’s analysis of how elite networks mediated the relationship between rulers and society transforms our understanding of state formation and survival.”

—Anna Grzymała-Busse, author of Sacred Foundations