Chinese Bronze Age Political Economies: A Complex Polity Provisioning Approach

Roderick Campbell, Yitzchak Jaffe, Christopher Kim, Camilla Sturm, Li Jaang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-116
Number of pages48
JournalJournal of Archaeological Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature.


  • Centralization
  • Chinese Bronze Age
  • Commercialization
  • Political economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • General Arts and Humanities


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