Sociological forum (Fall 2020-2021): Ancient roots of financial and social divergence between China and the West

By Professor Zhiwu Chen, HKU

Tue 1 Dec 2020


Money was introduced in the Shang dynasty (1600 – 1046 B.C.) or earlier, while paper money invented in China during the Song dynasty. Evidence also indicates that the practice of lending and borrowing was quite widespread at least as of Zhou (1046 – 256 B.C.). However, securities markets and other finance did not develop in China until the 19th century after Europeans came. In contrast, way before modern securities markets re-emerged in the 16th century Europe, ancient Rome started and traded stocks of shareholder companies, called the societas publicanorum. Also in the Roman Empire, Ulpian (A.D. 170 – 223) constructed a life table for pricing life annuity contracts, with insurance products well developed. According to Greif & Tabellini (2016), the clan and the corporation have been the loci of co-operation in China and Europe, respectively, over the last millennium. In this talk, Zhiwu Chen will explore possible reasons for this bifurcation between China and the West.

Professor Zhiwu Chen is Director of the Asia Global Institute (AGI), Chair Professor of Finance and Victor and William Fung Professor in Economics at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Professor Chen is a former Professor of Finance at Yale University (1999-2017). His research covers finance theory, the sociology of finance, economic history, quantitative history, emerging markets, as well as China’s economy and capital markets. He was also a Special-Term Visiting Professor at Peking University (School of Economics) and Tsinghua University (School of Social Sciences).

Professor Chen is a frequent contributor to media publications in China on topics of economic policy, market development, institutional reform and historical research. His work has been widely published and regularly featured in major newspapers and magazines in the United States, Hong Kong, China and many other countries. He is currently working on a book manuscript, The Logic of Civilizations, that explores a number of human innovations, including mythology or magic and supernatural beliefs, technologies, social structures, cultural norms, religions, financial markets, and the welfare state. In Burson-Marsteller’s 2012 “G20 Influencers” report, Professor Chen was listed as one of the top ten political influencers in China.

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