Thursday, January 21, 2016

Zhao, "The Confucian-Legalist State: A New Theory of Chinese History"

New from Oxford University Press: The Confucian-Legalist State: A New Theory of Chinese History, by Dingxin Zhao (University of Chicago). A description from the Press:
In The Confucian-Legalist State, Dingxin Zhao offers a radically new analysis of Chinese imperial history from the eleventh century BCE to the fall of the Qing dynasty. This study first uncovers the factors that explain how, and why, China developed into a bureaucratic empire under the Qin dynasty in 221 BCE. It then examines the political system that crystallized during the Western Han dynasty, a system that drew on China's philosophical traditions of Confucianism and Legalism. Despite great changes in China's demography, religion, technology, and socioeconomic structures, this Confucian-Legalist political system survived for over two millennia. Yet, it was precisely because of the system's resilience that China, for better or worse, did not develop industrial capitalism as Western Europe did, notwithstanding China's economic prosperity and technological sophistication beginning with the Northern Song dynasty.

In examining the nature of this political system, Zhao offers a new way of viewing Chinese history, one that emphasizes the importance of structural forces and social mechanisms in shaping historical dynamics. As a work of historical sociology, The Confucian-Legalist State aims to show how the patterns of Chinese history were not shaped by any single force, but instead by meaningful activities of social actors which were greatly constrained by, and at the same time reproduced and modified, the constellations of political, economic, military, and ideological forces. This book thus offers a startling new understanding of long-term patterns of Chinese history, one that should trigger debates for years to come among historians, political scientists, and sociologists.
Reviewers say:
"Empirically rich and conceptually clear, Zhao's work combines vast historical evidence, cutting-edge social theories, and rigorous analytical strategy to present a compelling case of why China's pattern of state formation diverged from Europe's more than two millennia ago, creating a Confucianist-Legalist centralized bureaucratic state that lasted into modern times. It is historical social sciences at its best. This book is going to change our view on Chinese history forever." -- Ho-fung Hung

"This book offers an intriguing and not uncontroversial explication for a two-part problem of compelling interest today: (1) why was China able to achieve a unified, bureaucratic empire by the Qin dynasty? and (2) why did the imperial institutions and ideology forged in the Qin-Han period show such great resilience over two millennia? Zhao, in moving away from the simplistic narratives offered in all too many textbooks, provides us a fresh look at complicated historical processes that deserve our reconsideration." -- Michael Nylan
More information is available here.