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Chinese Bronze Age Political Economies: A Complex Polity Provisioning Approach

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Abstract

In this article we argue that several of the dominant narratives concerning the political economy of the Chinese Bronze Age are in need of major revision, including its chronological divisions and assumptions of unilineal development. Instead, we argue that for many parts of China, the Bronze Age should begin in the third millennium BC and that there was significant political economic heterogeneity both within and between regions. Focusing on the issues of centralization and commercialization, we argue that, in spite of the tendency in the Chinese archaeological literature to equate complexity with centralization and hierarchy and to posit top-down redistributive economic models, there is little evidence of such institutions. To the contrary, our survey of nearly 2000 years of development turns up significant investment in public goods, especially before the Anyang period, as well as ample evidence of horizontal exchange and increasing commercialization.

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Campbell, R., Jaffe, Y., Kim, C. et al. Chinese Bronze Age Political Economies: A Complex Polity Provisioning Approach. J Archaeol Res 30, 69–116 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10814-021-09158-0

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