University of Cambridge > > Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History > The Capacity of Commerce: The Political Participation of Merchant Groups during the Taiping Rebellion

The Capacity of Commerce: The Political Participation of Merchant Groups during the Taiping Rebellion

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How could commercial groups and individual merchants participate in politics and influence the allocation of political resources? Using 253 prefectures from late Qing China as the historical context, this paper examines the effect of commercial development (as measured by the number of guilds) in reshaping the distribution of quota for shengyuan (this regulated fixed number of county-level exam passers experienced an unexpected increase during the shock of Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864)). By looking into this natural background, the study finds that one more commercial guild in the prefecture would lead to a 0.833 increase in the quota for shengyuan during Taiping time, indicating the more commercially developed areas would earn more opportunities for examination candidates to participate in political bureaucrats. The positive relationship between commercial guilds and the increase in quota can be attributed to a reward mechanism: the indirect taxation (lijin), which was initially established to collect militaryexpenditures for Taiping during this war period, simultaneously provided merchants with a channel through which they could make monetary donations. It demonstrates that prefectures with one more lijin station raised the quota for shengyuan by 0.2 in Taiping-affected prefectures, indicating that when driving the quota for shengyuan reallocation, the capacity of commerce occurred through the indirect taxation system. However, the efforts made by merchants pursuing political upward mobility did not work as expected: this paper uses a difference-in-difference model to test how the increase in quota for shengyuan was related to the change in actual number of jinshi within the same prefecture from1850to the abolishment of civil service exam in 1905. It shows that in the prefecture where the quota for shengyuan increased noticeably, successful passers at the final stage did not exhibit a matching increase. So merchants’ capacity truly stopped at the first stage while attempting to engage in the examination selection procedure, showing a failure to obtain upward mobility for continued political participation in late Qing China.

This talk is part of the Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History series.

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