Urban Networks in Ch'ing China and Tokugawa Japan

Urban Networks in Ch'ing China and Tokugawa Japan

by Gilbert Rozman

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Ch'ing China and Tokugawa Japan were unusually urbanized premodern societies where about one half of the world's urban population lived as late as 1800. Gilbert Rozman has drawn on both sociology and history to develop original methods of illuminating the historical urbanization of China and Japan and to provide a way of relating urban patterns to other


Ch'ing China and Tokugawa Japan were unusually urbanized premodern societies where about one half of the world's urban population lived as late as 1800. Gilbert Rozman has drawn on both sociology and history to develop original methods of illuminating the historical urbanization of China and Japan and to provide a way of relating urban patterns to other characteristics of social structure in premodern societies. The author also hopes to redirect the analysis of premodern societies into areas where China and Japan can be compared with each other and with other large scale societies.

The author divides central places into seven levels and determines how many levels were present in each country century by century. Through this method he is able to demonstrate how Japan was rapidly narrowing China's lead in urbanization and show that Japan was relatively efficient in concentrating resources in high level cities. Explanations for differences in urban concentration are sought in: a general discussion of the social structure of each country; an analysis of marketing patterns; a detailed study of Chihli province and the Kant? region; an examination of regional variations; and a comparison of Peking and Edo, which were probably the world's largest cities throughout the eighteenth century.

Originally published in 1974.

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Princeton University Press
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Studies in the Modernization of Japan Series
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Urban Networks in Ch'ing China and Tokugawa Japan

By Gilbert Rozman


Copyright © 1973 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-03082-1



Cities have existed for more than 5,000 years. Originating in the Near East (in Mesopotamia and later in the Nile river valley), they appeared in India and then in China almost 4,000 years ago. The spread of cities in East Asia from their origin in the northwest of present-day China has continued to this century. While, on the one hand, the Chinese have created cities as they have extended their control of the Asian mainland and nearby islands, on the other hand, neighboring peoples have established cities based on the Chinese model. The Japanese were one of the peoples most influenced by the achievements in China, and began to build Chinese-style cities in the seventh century A.D. By the time the Chinese had already completed two-thirds of their premodern urban experience, the Japanese were just building their first cities.

Premodern history can be seen as successive additions of new levels of cities. Note the seven levels of cities given in Table 1. The appearance of cities at each of these levels and the number of levels present are taken to be indicators of the state of urban development. Before the seventeenth century A.D. cities had existed in China for 3,400 to 3,500 years and in Japan for 900 to 1,000 years. Throughout its brief urban history, Japan was gaining on China by adding new levels of cities at a faster rate. During the seventeenth century the urban network of Japan finally caught up with that of China; all seven levels were now present in both countries.

The varying order in which these seven levels of central places appeared in China and Japan indicates differences in their respective processes of urbanization and social change. The hierarchy of cities in China, but not in Japan, was nearly intact at the top when the bottom levels (6 and 7) were added. This may help explain how Chinese marketing settlements were readily integrated into the existing city system while the society remained stable. In contrast, the appearance of levels 6 and 7 in Japan was the beginning of a spurt in urban growth corresponding to a major transformation of Japanese society. More will be said in the summary at the end of this chapter about the consequences of different patterns of building a complete seven-level hierarchy.

The history of cities in China and Japan can be usefully divided into four stages. The first stage is here called ancient China and ancient Japan, periods ending in the 220s B.C. and the A.D. 710s respectively. The earliest Chinese cities were Shang dynasty aristocratic complexes and the centers of fiefs in Shang and Chou dynasty China (level 2). Emerging out of the transformation of Chou feudalism were state capitals (level 2) and hsien (district) cities (level 5). The first Japanese cities were also at level 2 — temporary capitals built and then quickly abandoned. With the exception of close ties joining cities at level 5 with their parent centers at level 2, cities at this early stage of urban history were generally administered independently, with only loose connections between them.

Stage two in the development of cities lasted in China until the A.D. 750s and in Japan until the 1180s. These were imperial periods when long-standing capitals were built in unified China and Chinese-style capitals were introduced in Japan. The number of levels of cities present in China was first three (levels 1, 4, and 5 or 2, 4, and 5) and then four (levels 1, 3, 4, and 5). In contrast, the Japanese imperial center (level 1 or level 2) existed in an environment of few supporting cities at level 5 and later at level 3. The rising commercial economy of absentee landlords, especially in Japan, meant that the imperial government was losing some of its control over the agricultural surplus and correspondingly over cities.

I have termed stage three middle imperial China (— 1360s) and feudal Japan (— 1470s). This was the time when levels 6 and 7 were added in China and Japan. Divergent paths of development indicated by the designations "imperial" and "feudal" were reflected in the existing levels of cities. In China there were five or six levels, including levels 4 and 5 as outposts of central control over emerging commercial growth in levels 6 and 7. In Japan there were three or four levels, but levels 4 and 5 were absent. Central control was lacking.

Ming China (— 1640s) and Sengoku Japan (— 1600s) are singled out as the fourth stage. With the appearance of levels 1 and 2 together in China all seven levels were now present. Administrative divisions, marketing patterns, city walls, and transportation networks were all essentially the same as in the following Ch'ing period. Urban growth proceeded rapidly in Japan — two levels were added and finally the seventh level followed in the early seventeenth century. New planned cities were a physical expression of a recentralized society in Japan.

By dividing history into these four stages, I have tried to identify times when the urban networks of the two countries were most similar. It can be shown that in many respects the history of cities in Japan paralleled earlier developments in China. In the eighth century Japan was 1,000 years behind China in establishing an imperial capital. In the thirteenth century China's lead had been narrowed to 500 years as periodic markets blossomed in Japan. The gap between the urban networks in the two countries continued to narrow through the sixteenth century when China and Japan were about to enter the final phase of their premodern journey roughly equal in urban endowment.

Ancient China

The early development of Chinese cities presumably followed a common progression. With the beginning of agriculture, settlements advanced from hidden clusters of dwellings to shifting villages and finally to permanent farming villages. As improvements in farming techniques spread, larger settlements became possible. By 1850 B.C. in northern Honan province centers emerged among groups of mutually dependent settlements. Concentrations of ceremonial objects uncovered in walled areas testify to the existence of aristocratic complexes whose members had charge of administration, the redistribution of goods and services, and the performance of religious rites for people in the vicinity.

In the centuries after the origin of cities in China walled cities (level 2) served as the seats of prominent lineages. The more important the city, the higher stood its ruler in the hierarchy of Shang dynasty lineage heads. The royal family at the top of the hierarchy resided in the capital city. Of the seven or more capital cities of the Shang period, the best known are Cheng-chou, built about 1650 B.C., and An-yang, the capital after 1400. Rulers in these capitals commanded the allegiance of lineage heads in cities throughout the agricultural areas of north-central China.

Effective control of a local area in highly ritualized Shang China and in early Chou China depended on establishing in a city symbols associated with lineage power. Chang Kwang-chih has described how the walled nucleus of the city was built as a planned unit in which importance was attached to the "construction of the ancestral temples and the placement of the lineage treasures in them." Specialized craft quarters and farming settlements supplying products and labor to the rulers surrounded the planned core of the city. The presence of a wall around the palace and ceremonial centers and the size of the wall were physical manifestations of the spiritual achievement of the ancestors of the ruling lineage. By revering the accumulated achievements of his ancestors the head of each lineage demonstrated his right to rule. Carefully ordering the symbols of rule in the city was an important step in controlling the surrounding territory.

Change in the ruling lineages occurred in approximately 1100 B.C. when the Chou people from Shensi province conquered the Shang territory. Placing their capital farther west, the Chou divided control over a larger area than the Shang had ruled by investing relatives and other warriors with land. The levels of Chou walled cities ranged from the kuo, with the temples of the supreme lineage of the state, to the tu, with the temples of the grand lineages, to the tsung-yi, with the temples of aristocratic lineages. The lords of the tu and the tsung-yi, as vassals of the Chou rulers in the kuo, built rectangular walled cities on level plains near the center of transport of their fiefs. From these cities they provided military support for the Chou claim to territory while ruling the fiefs as their own private property. These three kinds of cities should not be conceived as three levels in a hierarchy of administrative centers, but rather as the centers of separate loosely related fiefs.

By the time the Chou capital was moved to Lo-yang in Honan province during the eighth century B.C. the importance of the capital in the sprawling Chou empire was weakening. Already city-building had been extended to the territories of many provinces of present-day China. Development centered in the mid-Yellow river valley, followed by other areas nearby, and south along rivers connecting to the Yangtze river. In the next few centuries notable cities would appear south of the Yangtze as well. Traditional ties of family relationships and feudal loyalties were losing their effectiveness in binding the lords of separate fiefs together. Although acknowledging the hegemony of the Chou ruler, local lords -fought to increase the size of their own domains. Two new kinds of cities developed out of the transformation of Chou feudalism: state capitals and hsien cities.

During the centuries of internecine wars and shifting administrative boundaries victorious lords set up state capitals (level 2) to consolidate control of larger areas. New classes of ministers (tai-fu) and warrior-officials (shih) congregated in these cities. In addition, artisans and merchants began to gather outside of the walled enclosures. As early as the Shang dynasty groups of craftsmen who concentrated on bronze-casting for the narrow needs of the small number of aristocracy had lived near cities. Now iron was becoming available for more widespread use. Artisans made tools for the rulers to supply large-scale irrigation projects and to distribute to peasants for improved agricultural production. More intensive agriculture was essential for increasing the rulers' incomes, which in turn sustained growing city populations. Rulers depended upon merchants for importing goods not available locally such as salt and luxury items. A second wall was added to expanding state capitals. As before, the palaces and temples were located within the inner walled area, while the added outer wall enclosed new residential zones and areas of crafts and commerce.

To administer expanded territories lords introduced hsien cities (level 5). As the old rules of warfare were abandoned the distance between privileged lineages in the cities and peasants in the countryside was narrowed. Reliance on conscription of peasants became a feature of the military system. Officials in hsien cities organized corvee and military services and sent some tax revenues to their rulers in the state capitals. Construction of networks of roads and canals improved movement and transport between hsien cities and state capitals. Located at communications nexus and at the center of lowland areas, hsien cities provided a means for direct control of local areas from the state capitals. Despite changes in rulers the sites chosen for these local cities were practically continuously occupied until the imperial unification in 221 B.C. and thereafter for 2,000 years. Hsien cities served as nearly constant rungs in the developing hierarchy of cities.

The Warring States period, an era of longer and larger wars, began in about 450 B.C. Development of increasingly populous state capitals corresponded to the growing wealth and territory under successful lords. Large states had capitals with tens of thousands of inhabitants. As the number of state capitals fell, the number of hsien cities increased. Since wars were no longer battles on the open plain but were more and more a series of seiges of cities culminating in the seige of the capital city, granaries, some farm land, a water supply, and a larger population had to be supported within the walls. Thus, in the Warring States period, the inner wall was gradually neglected while the outer wall became the center of defense.

The changing structure of the Chinese city was only in part a reflection of its increasingly diversified population, of more bureaucratic administrative practices, and of defenses against new military tactics. Chinese cosmology even before Confucius was developing toward an acceptance of reality in which man was expected to act harmoniously in order for all the elements of the universe to function together smoothly. Reacting to the breakdown in the customs of Chou society, Confucius helped to universalize ethical conduct, which he attributed to the Chou aristocracy, as harmonious. He valued rituals as devices which insured that ethics were applied. From at least the third century B.C. those influential in carrying on the traditions of Confucius' teachings stressed the use of rituals to organize man's life. The ritualization of society included planning cities so that important elements were arranged according to preconceived regularities. Choosing the site, laying out the city, placing the palace and administrative offices, and specifying areas for marketing activities were all the concern of the developing corpus of rituals. During the Han dynasty, the guide to city planning in the Chou Li incorporated many of the structural features of Warring States cities. This book, together with the body of city-building skills passed down among artisans, preserved methods of arranging cities all the way to the Ch'ing period.

Ancient Japan

Agricultural settlements developed about 2,000 years later in Japan than in China. During the last centuries B.C. the number and size of settlements increased as simple techniques of cultivation were introduced. The extension of Han dynasty influence to nearby Korea was the source of more rapid change in Japan. Wet-field rice cultivation and the use of iron tools spread initially from China to northern Kyushu island and by the first century A.D. large villages existed over much of Honshu island as well. These villages were less self-sufficient and had more division of labor than the earlier hunting and gathering communities in Japan.

During the first centuries A.D. hundreds of small states were formed in Japan. The foundation of each state was an uji, a union of people within adjoining settlements through kinship or fictive kinship ties. From the third century A.D. the custom of erecting large earthen burial mounds for former uji leaders indicated that within many states a great capacity existed for mobilizing labor and material resources.

From the third to the fifth centuries rulers of the Yamato state unified uji throughout Japan. A court formed around the palace of the Yamato ruler. Gathered there were Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and aristocrats upon whom graded ranks were conferred. In contrast to China — where even if a city had to be moved a short distance it retained the same name and identity — the Yamato court locations changed with every new ruler without leaving any evidence of large settlements. Although the efforts of the Yamato court succeeded in reducing warfare and in integrating the uji of Japan, a city had not yet developed at the court's location.


Excerpted from Urban Networks in Ch'ing China and Tokugawa Japan by Gilbert Rozman. Copyright © 1973 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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