Ruixue Jia, Gérard Roland, Yang Xie, 21 February 2021

Property rights and the rule of law were weaker in Imperial China than in premodern Europe. And yet, ordinary people in Imperial China had more access to elite status than their European counterparts. This column makes sense of the seeming contradiction by employing a theory of power structures in which a more symmetric relationship between elites and ordinary people stabilizes autocratic rule. If a ruler’s power is absolute, this stabilising effect will be stronger, and the ruler’s incentive to promote such symmetry will be greater. 

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