Noel Butlin Lecture

February 17, 4:45pm - 6:00pm
Mānoa Campus, Shidler A101

Professor Zhiwu Chen will present the 2024 Noel Butlin Lecture. He is Chair and Cheng Yu-Tung Professor in Finance at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), and currently serves as director of both Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (HKIHSS) and Centre for Quantitative History (CQH). His research covers finance theory, the sociology of finance, economic history, quantitative history, emerging markets, as well as China’s economy and capital markets. Professor Chen has successfully led efforts to construct historical financial, archaeological and social databases from China’s historical archives and has written on economic/social history topics. In 2013, he started the annual Summer School for Quantitative History cum International Symposium on Quantitative History at Tsinghua University and continues to organize them at Peking University, with the goal of promoting quantitative historical research in China and beyond. TITLE AND ABSTRACT WAR AND THE ORIGINS OF CHINESE CIVILIZATION Why did complex societies, characterized by densely-populated walled cities, first arise in northern China, jump-starting early Chinese civilization? We explore this question in three steps. First, the North, especially the alluvial plains along the Yellow and the Yangtze Rivers, had generally flatter terrains than the South. Second, by dividing China’s landmass into 100 km ×100 km grid-cells and using our archaeological database, we demonstrate that cells with flatter terrains faced higher war threats in prehistoric and early historic times, where war threats are respectively proxied by each cell’s number of excavated military grave goods for the Neolithic period (8000−1700 BCE) and by its number of recorded conflicts for the Eastern Zhou (770−221 BCE, the earliest period for which war data are available). Third, we establish that during both the Neolithic and the Eastern Zhou, higher war threats led to the construction of more settlements with defensive walls and moats, resulting in more complex societies, i.e., early cradles of civilization. Thus, warfare was a key trigger of the civilizational process. This finding is robust after controlling for irrigation potential, agricultural productivity and threats from the steppe, as well as under alternative specifications.

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Open to the general public

Event Sponsor
College of Social Sciences and Center for Chinese Studies, Mānoa Campus

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Sumner La Croix, 8089567061,, 2024 Noel Butlin Lecture (PDF)

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