Why did modern nation-states not emerge in China?

This is from Yuhua Wang (highly recommended):

The collapse of the Chinese state in the early twentieth century was surprising. China was a pioneer in state administration: it established one of the world’s most centralized bureaucracies in 221 BCE, two hundred years before the Roman Empire. In the seventh century, it produced a quarter of the world’s GDP (Maddison 2007, 381) and became the first country to use a civil service examination to recruit bureaucrats…

Why, then, did China suffer a dramatic reversal of fortune, given its early bureaucratic development?

… elites’ level of support for state building depends on the geographic span of their social networks. If they must protect a geographically dispersed network, it is more efficient to support state-strengthening policies. These elites have an encompassing interest (Olson 1982, 48). If they need to protect a geographically concentrated network, it is more efficient to rely on private protection and oppose state strengthening. These elites have a narrow interest (Olson 1982, 48).

China…. As the elites’ social networks became localized, they also fragmented; they found it difficult to organize cross regionally. A fragmented elite contributed to a despotic monarchy because it was easier for the ruler to divide and conquer. Historians have noted the shift to imperial despotism during the Song era, as the emperor’s position vis-à-vis his chief advisors was strengthened (Hartwell 1982, 404–405). The trend further deepened when in the late fourteenth century the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty abolished the entire upper echelon of his central government and concentrated power securely in his own hands (Hucker 1998, 74–75). This explains the increasing security of Chinese rulers [see image].

The despotic monarchy and the narrow interest elite became a self-enforcing equilibrium: the rulers were secure, while the elite used the state to protect their local interests and enjoyed their autonomy. Yet this arrangement led to the gradual decline of the Chinese state.

There are so many parallels to the challenges to state-building in Africa throughout the piece (many of which were documented by Catherine Boone in the excellent Political Topographies of the African State).

Read the whole thing here.

Somalia: Police Development as State Building?

International and local power brokers see police as indicators of legitimacy and international recognition, but the international community’s vision of police development as state building is undermined by Somali politicians, officers, and businessmen sharing a political and entrepreneurial under- standing of the police role. The picture is further nuanced by influential Somalis who regard many of the structures and skills associated with Western policing as desirable, even as they manipulate the values and procedures promoted in its name.

The propensity of donors to see police development as a tool for not only state building, but also social engineering is marked. But so is the pragmatic response of Somalis. Officers in Somaliland and Puntland take what they value, manipulate what they can use, and subvert approaches that offend the sensibilities of their conservative society. Meanwhile, the SPF’s primary concern is to acquire the heavy weapons, vehicles, fuel, and communications equipment it needs to survive today.

Somalia’s experience shows that formality is not required for the governance associated with state building, but relative security and stability are, and there are limits to the role police can play in facilitating this: Somalia remains dangerously insecure. That the three forces are subject to the un- predictability that dependence on local power brokers and international funding introduces suggests that success depends on balancing local security levels and politics against international imperatives in a way that goes beyond current conceptions of state-based governance.

That is Alice Hills in a paper on policing in Somalia in the current issue of African Affairs.

the african problem

Sub-Saharan Africa is in dire straights. It is the most sick, hungry, poor and ignorant region of the world. It is a region infested with despots and illiberal democrats who for decades have led their nations to economy ruin and pre-modern tribal divisions and ways of living.

As the world watches one of this region’s promising nations descend into chaos, it is important for us to ask each other hard questions about the African Problem. I say the African Problem problem because it is not by chance that from Senegal to Somalia, Chad to South Africa, there is not much success to talk about. Poverty, disease and ignorance rule supreme.

We need to ask each other hard questions because racially sensitive Westerners (or Easterners for that matter) on whom we depend for most of “our” solutions will not ask us these questions; Is it our culture? Why haven’t we managed to shed the tribe in almost a decade into the 21st century? Why do we tolerate such appalling levels of mediocrity among us? Why don’t we demand more from our leaders? Why don’t we produce real leaders.

Our dictators compare woefully to those from other regions. Pinochet murdered Chileans, enriched himself, but also modernised the economy. Lenin had a weird ideology and some intellect behind his murderous leadership but he modernised Russia. Suharto did not run Indonesia into the ground. And now we turn to Africa: Samuel Doe, “Emperor” Bokasa, Iddi Amin, Obiang, Abacha and all the other Nigerian generals, Mobutu, Mugabe, Charles Taylor…. etc. This is a list of common criminals. Nearly all of them lack (ed) an iota of ideology behind their leadership, nearly all impoverished their people more than they were before, and all are a shame to all Africans. None of them knew what it means to be leader of a people or peoples.

These leaders got obscene amounts of wealth while their country men and women walked around naked, sick, hungry and ignorant.

How hard can it be? Why haven’t we succeeded in having successful socio-cultural and economic institutions that work for us? Does anyone care? Of what use is a million dollars to any African anywhere if Reuters is showing pictures of naked flood victims from Mozambique??? Why are we stuck in pre-modernity?

The many questions aside, the one thing that is clear is that Africa needs to change fast or it will never catch up with the rest of the world. We should not confuse pre-modern subsistence existence with culture. People live in mud houses and roam around with emaciated goats not because they love it but because they can’t afford or do not know any better.