chapter  8
25 Pages

Institutions in market economies of premodern maritime BILLY K . L . S O


Maritime trade became prosperous in coastal China beginning in the Han dynasty (210 bce-ce 220), but it was not until Song times (960-1276) that coastal regions began to form economies with noticeable integrative market characteristics. Two regions on the coast have been studied intensively in the light of this thesis of Chinese economic transition from the Song. They are South Fujian of the Song-Yuan period and the Lower Yangzi Delta, especially Songjiang 松江 Prefecture, of the Ming and Qing periods. Both witnessed wellintegrated, widely spread, and highly developed market-oriented production sectors of protoindustries, the former in export ceramics and the latter in cotton textiles, among others. Being among the most notable marketization cases in the premodern Chinese economy, they provide important observations on the functioning of market economic behaviors in traditional Chinese society and culture. By “maritime China” I mean the regions on the China coast that witnessed prolonged and dynamic market economic developments, for which a land-based, agrarian, isolated, and monolithic narrative of Chinese history may not be entirely applicable (So 2002). In the following sections, I will first recap some recent discussions on institutional factors in the understanding of Chinese economic history and revisit the main features of the conceptual framework of “historical new institutional economics” represented by Douglass C. North, which constitutes the theoretical underpinning of this study. Following will be a brief account of the two empirical cases of South Fujian and Songjiang. Further section draw on my previous research on those two cases to contextualize the concepts of formal institution (law) and informal institution (culture), respectively (So 2000, 2006). The last section will revisit the issue of institutional changes in economic development, which constitutes a key component in an institutional framework of historical inquiry.