hero working papers

Social Organizations and Political Institutions: Why China and Europe Diverged

Number: 697
Year: 2023
Author(s): Joel Mokyr, Guido Tabellini

This paper discusses the historical and social origins of the bifurcation in the political institutions of
China and Western Europe. An important factor, recognized in the literature, is that China centralized
state institutions very early on, while Europe remained politically fragmented for much longer. These
initial differences, however, were amplified by the different social organizations (clans in China,
corporate structures in Europe) that spread in these two societies at the turn of the first millennium
AD. State institutions interacted with these organizations, and were shaped and influenced by this
interaction. The paper discusses the many ways in which corporations contributed to the emergence
of representative institutions and gave prominence to the rule of law in the early stages of state
formation in Europe, and how specific features of lineage organizations contributed to the
consolidation of the Imperial regime in China.