Laboring for the State: State Formation and State Employment during the Song-Yuan-Ming Transition
This thesis investigates state employment – that is, how the state recruited, managed, and remunerated its personnel – during the Song-Yuan-Ming period. By studying government policies concerning entry into officialdom, opportunities for advancement, and emoluments for civil and military officials and common soldiers, I argue that the method of service was greatly impacted by the Mongol invasion, shifting from the incentivized method of the Song (960-1279) to the semi-incentivized civil bureaucracy and hereditary military system of the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644). The increasingly non-incentivized nature of service was paralleled by a decrease in state capacity and innovation among the officials. While previous scholars have related this phenomenon to other issues such as under-taxation, I argue that the failure to incentivize the officials also played a major role.
Civil and military service in the Song was characterized by generous financial and political compensations. During the Yuan, owing to ethnic prejudices and a desire to maintain their traditional steppe institutions and customs, the Mongols could only incentivize a small number of officials. Furthermore, the hereditary military system provided officers with far too many unintentional incentives that allowed them to take advantage of their positions and ultimately undermine the entire military system. Such problems not only did not disappear with the Ming, but in some instances became worse. Methods of state employment is also tied to state institutions and institutional capacity. Because the hereditary military system was cost-effective, the Yuan and Ming states did not develop any complex financial institutions. The Ming in particular was also hampered by a dynastic constitution that prevented any serious reform. Moreover, the officials were not properly incentivized to tackle the problems. Ultimately, this thesis highlights the important role of state employment in the study of state formation and institutions.