The Economic Origins of Piracy: “Experiments” by Chinese Emperors and European Explorers
The most powerful episode of piracy to have occurred in the history of the world took place in the coastal waters of Ming China around 1550, but quickly receded after only two decades. In this essay, I document that the occurrence of this great wave of piracy was primarily due to the unprecedented growth of European trade with China around 1550 being impeded by Ming China’s prohibition on private foreign trade (the sea ban). After the sea ban was lifted in 1567, piracy plummeted and was replaced by the rapid development of private foreign trade. My findings indicate that piracy was promoted mainly by economic incentives resulting from disequilibrium between supply and demand in the maritime market, and highlight the importance of trade liberalization in reducing maritime crime.
Can State Ideology Reduce Civil Conflict? Confucianism and Peasant Rebellion in Qing China
This essay examines the role of Confucianism—the state orthodoxy that has inculcated morality and social harmony for several millennia in imperial China—in mitigating the impact of crop failure on the incidence of peasant rebellions. Drawing upon county-level data from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), and exploiting exogenous variations in the distance to Confucius’ birthplace as the instrumental variable for the strength of Confucianism, my findings indicate that the positive link between crop failure and peasant rebellions could not be alleviated by the Confucian ethos. This conclusion indicates that economic shocks, rather than cultural norms, play a fundamental role in conflict determination.