Cover of State-Sponsored Inequality by Shuang Chen
State-Sponsored Inequality
The Banner System and Social Stratification in Northeast China
Shuang Chen


368 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804799034
Ebook ISBN: 9781503601635

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Winner of the 2017 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, sponsored by the American Library Association.

This book explores the social economic processes of inequality in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century rural China. Drawing on uniquely rich source materials, Shuang Chen provides a comprehensive view of the creation of a social hierarchy wherein the state classified immigrants to the Chinese county of Shuangcheng into distinct categories, each associated with different land entitlements. The resulting patterns of wealth stratification and social hierarchy were then simultaneously challenged and reinforced by local people.

The tensions built into the unequal land entitlements shaped the identities of immigrant groups, and this social hierarchy persisted even after the institution of unequal state entitlements was removed. State-Sponsored Inequality offers an in-depth understanding of the key factors that contribute to social stratification in agrarian societies. Moreover, it sheds light on the many parallels between the stratification system in nineteenth-century Shuangcheng and structural inequality in contemporary China.

About the author

Shuang Chen is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa.

"Shuang Chen's study of landownership in north China is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on social inequality, and part of a 'big data' revolution in social history. Anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians will find much of interest in this book."

—James L. Watson, Harvard University

"Shuang Chen uses rich demographic data to raise an original question of continuities from the Banner registration system to the rural hukou system of contemporary China, and refreshingly suspends the usual narrative of the discontinuities of 1912 and 1949."

—Pamela Kyle Crossley, Dartmouth College

"A rare and highly original contribution to the studies of community formation and social stratification in human history. Tracing a community from its very beginning, Shuang Chen offers deep theoretical insights and lucid storytelling to analyze a key social experiment in Chinese history. This book is destined to become a new reference for understanding Chinese society, past and present."

—Wang Feng, University of California, Irvine

"Historian Chen (Univ. of Iowa) has written an exemplar of balanced historical research and analysis...This is the first study in the Chinese history field, and one of the few in Asian studies, to make use of demographic approaches common in the study of European history. Chen also engages broader questions in the humanities and social sciences, such as how to study agency within structuralism. This is a wonderful example of how macro and micro history can reinforce each other without overly privileging one over the other." Rating: Essential—M. J. Wert, Choice

"This monograph is equally an important work of economic and social history and of historical sociology. It satisfies the fundamental expectations and enriches debates in both disciplines by combining rigorous quantitative analysis of data about population transfer and land allocation with keen qualitative interpretations of the experiences of individual persons."

—Loretta E. Kim, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Shuang Chen's State-Sponsored Inequality is a meaty and meticulous work of historical sociology, rich in insights drawn straight from the archives."

—Matthew W. Mosca, Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review

"Chen skillfully tells the story of Shuangcheng's settlement while also wringing broader historical meaning from a single, uniquely-formed cluster of villages...Chen's work contributes to historiographical conversations on issues such as state-led social engineering, frontier settlement, wealth transfer and preservation, and, within the Chinese history field, the nature and evolution of the banner system."––Kate Merkel-Hess, Journal of Social History