The Mongol Conquest, State Capacity, and Historical Stagnation of Imperial China



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This dissertation is divided into three chapters about the Mongol conquest of China (1205-1279 AD). The Mongol conquest of China continued to have persistent negative effects on long-term development, even centuries after the war. Using newly assembled war, population, and 16th century county-level agricultural data, I show that regions that were more severely impacted by the conquest are associated with lower granary storage, indicating lower levels of productivity. Regional differences in state capacity are the channels of stagnation. In counties where the conquest lasted longer, the government collected less land tax. The Malthusian mechanism, in contrast to state capacity, does not explain the long-term economic outcomes of China after the Mongol conquest. The first chapter documents the literature and the historical and institutional background of the Mongol Conquest of China. The Mongol conquest was in effect a global conflict launched in the Old World by a single family, that of Genghis Khan. The 13th-16th century was a critical period for the emergence of the West from the rest of the world. A careful investigation of the persistent negative effects of the Mongol Conquest is crucial in explaining comparative development between Asia and Europe. By analyzing the economic, political, and social differences in the Chinese dynasties before and after the Mongol Conquest, the long-term development of Imperial China sheds light on how negative shocks in the past shaped economic and political outcomes. The second chapter studies the effects of the Mongol Conquest and the mechanisms of transition. Using fixed-effects models, I show that an additional year of war is associated with a 1.58 - 2.8% decrease in granary levels. The Mongols intentionally targeted more developed areas in the conquest. Correcting for potential biases, the results of instrumental variable analyses report that granary storage drop from 18.7% to 56.7% with an additional year of war. In particular, I am able to examine two mechanisms of transition - state capacity and the Malthusian mechanism. If the Malthusian mechanism were applied, the population would have recovered in the 16th century. I discover that a longer war duration in the 13th century was associated with lower agricultural productivity, which was later measured by granary storage in the 16th century. As the transition channel, regional differences in state capacity explains lower productivity centuries after the war; but the Malthusian mechanism does not. The granary system is an important historical infrastructure of China for the relief of famines. Areas that were more negatively affected by the conquest had lower state capacity; that is, the government collected less land tax. With less tax, the granary system was not well maintained. When famines occurred, the population and productivity in these areas decreased substantially compared to other areas. The alignment of evidence from OLS models, fixed effects, and instrumental variable analyses suggests that the relationship between Mongol conquest and long-term development is likely causal. The third chapter explores similarities between Imperial China after the Mongol Conquest and modern China. China has adopted more characteristics of an Inner Asian empire after the Mongol Conquest- that is, a static, inward, and non-competitive state. The Belt and Road Initiative, internal circulation, flexible employment, grid-style social management, and the Hukou system in the People’s Republic of China can all be traced back to the corresponding archetypes in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD). By comparing institution, policy, and social control between the Ming dynasty and modern China, I argue that the negative effects of the Mongol Conquest of China persist to this day.