Constraints that Bind? A Comparison of Ruler Longevity in Merit and Feudal Institutions

Schmidt, Cody
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Research Projects
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Political Science
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This study examines the theory that veto players constrain executives and create a more stable political environment. This study extends previous research by looking at two new cases, the empires of China and Japan. I focus on the unconstrained rule of Chinese Emperors compared to their Japanese counterparts in part because of the existence of a developed feudal society in Medieval Japan, but also because China represents one of the earliest forms of meritocratic recruitment for higher offices in the government. Using data on imperial rule, this thesis analyzes the constraining effect of feudal institutions in a context found outside typical literature. I show that constraining the executive this way decreases the probability of being removed from office in both cases, yet has an ambiguous effect on duration of rule once time trends are taken into account. Unexpectedly, the effect of other institutions—namely merit-based—increased the duration of rule for Chinese Emperors. In times when bureaucrats were recruited solely based on merit, Chinese emperors ruled for a longer duration of time and enjoyed a decreased probability of being removed from office. I conclude by theorizing that the merit system created an independent power base that insulated the bureaucracy from executive reprisal, yet still created a powerful centralized state apparatus that undermined feudal elites.