How were state formation and early modern politics shaped by the state’s proclaimed obligation to domestic welfare? Drawing on a wide range of historical scholarship and primary sources, this book demonstrates that a public interest-based discourse of state legitimation was common to early modern England, Japan, and China. This normative platform served as a shared basis on which state and society could negotiate and collaborate over how to attain good governance through providing public goods such as famine relief and infrastructural facilities. The terms of state legitimacy opened a limited yet significant political space for the ruled. Through petitioning and protests, subordinates could demand that the state fulfil its publicly proclaimed duty and redress welfare grievances. Conflicts among diverse dimensions of public interest mobilized cross-regional and cross-sectoral collective petitions; justified by the same norms of state legitimacy, these petitions called for fundamental political reforms and transformed the nature of politics.
Wenkai He (Ph.D., MIT, 2007), is associate professor of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Before joining the Division of Social Science of HKUST, he was An Wang postdoctoral fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. His research interests include comparative historical analysis in social science, political economy of state formation, and the political and economic history of China. His manuscript, The Paths toward the Modern Fiscal State: Early Modern England, Meiji Japan, and Qing China, is published by the Harvard University Press in 2013. His current research project, funded by Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council (RGC), is a comparative study about legitimation of state power through social policies such as plague prevention, famine relief and river works in early modern England and 18-19th century Japan and China.