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Seminar: State legitimation and popular political participation in the early modern era – England (1560-1640), Japan (1660-1868), and China (1720-1840)

By Dr He Wenkai, HKUST

Tue 14 Nov 2017
1:00pm - 2:15pm


Room 929, 9/F, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus

Domestic governance is an important yet under-studied aspect in state formation. As the early modern state evolved into an impersonal governing institution, the divine source of monarchical power or the personal charisma of the monarch could no longer legitimate state power. Instead, the protection of public welfare embodied in concrete social policies such as famine relief and the building and maintenance of cross-regional infrastructure was vital for the early modern state to justify its coercive power to society.

This paper examines the political process by which the ruled utilized the norms of state legitimation to lodge grievances and make demands on the state collectively in Tudor and early Stuart England, Tokugawa Japan, and Qing China. The harsh reactions from the state across these three cases show the political limits of “rightful resistance”. Nonetheless, collective petitions or lawsuits by one social group against another social group were relatively tolerated by the state, which had proclaimed itself as an impartial guardian of public welfare. Such collective petitions included disputes between lead miners and landlords or over drainage in early modern England; lawsuits organized by large number of villagers against urban merchants in Tokugawa Japan; and cross-regional disputes over using water in Qing China.

These collective petitions, which lawfully engaged with the state on issues closely related to the public good, represented an important means of political participation in the early modern world and their implications for political change deserve further exploration.

He Wenkai received his PhD from the Department of Political Science at MIT in 2007. In 2007-08, he was the An Wang Post-doctoral F​ellow in the Fairbank Center for the Chinese Studies at Harvard University. In 2016-17, he was the Radcliffe/Yanching Fellow at Harvard University.

His book, Paths toward the Modern Fiscal State, England, Japan, and China published by Harvard University Press was the co-winner of the Barrington Moore Book Award of the American Sociological Association in 2014.

This talk is part of our Sociological colloquium seminar series.

HKU Sociology

Main Language