Roundtable Property Rights, Contracts, and Economic Development in the Late Qing

AHA Session 291
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Room 303 (Hynes Convention Center)
Jonathan K. Ocko, North Carolina State University
Jonathan K. Ocko, North Carolina State University , Kenneth Pomeranz, University of California, Irvine and Taisu Zhang, Yale University
Melissa Macauley, Northwestern University

Session Abstract

This roundtable will discuss the socioeconomic role of property rights and contracts in late-Qing China.  It will first examine the social assumptions that various communities and individuals possessed about law, contracts and property: How did they expect to enforce their contracts?  What kind of behavior would they expect from other parties?  How did they understand the value of property, and how did this impact their economic priorities?  By discussing these questions, the panelists will outline the behavioral patterns and social norms associated with certain kinds of economic agreements, particularly tenancy deeds and mortgage-like land transactions, and, when possible, identify the transaction costs that they impose.  They will then analyze the economic effects of these norms and patterns.  Late-Qing China remained a land of household farming even in its wealthiest regions, despite the presence of active domestic markets, considerable foreign trade, and private ownership of property.  This had powerful consequences for agricultural productivity, labor prices, urbanization, and, perhaps, the development of private industry.  The panelists propose that the scale of agriculture and the general scarcity of wage labor had much to do with customary rights of tenancy and land transaction.  They will also discuss the relevancy of these themes to legal and economic developments in contemporary China.

See more of: AHA Sessions