China's remarkable economic expansion in the eigteenth century - propelled by large-scale changes in agriculture, demographics, land use, and property rights - had far-reaching social consequences. One important result of the growing population and deepening commercialization of the rural economy was a relative scarcity of land. Just as this problem increased, the new complexity of property rights in land outgrew the customary law, challenging long-held traditions and the shared ideology that governed economic exchange and land ownership in rural China.
In this book, Thomas Buoye reconstructs and analyzes the everyday struggles of the common people to cope with changing concepts and laws regarding property rights in this shifting social landscape. Drawing on a large body of documented homicide cases originating in property disputes during the Qianlong reign (1736-1795), he vividly reveals the competing visions of social justice and economic self-interest that existed in rural society at this time. This window onto Chinese society allows insight into China's protracted struggle, beginning in the late Ming and continuing through the Qing dynasty, to come to grips with the increasing privatization of land and to refine and enforce property rights accordingly.
Buoye's historical analysis challenges the "markets" and the "moral economy" theories of economic behavior. Applying the theories of Douglass North to this subject, the author uses an institutional framework to explain seemingly irrational economic choices. He examines demographic and technological factors, ideology, and political and economic institutions in rural China to understand the link between economic change and social conflict.



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Thomas Buoye
Cambridge University Press