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China’s “Referendum” of 1156, Or the Wang Zhiwang Moment in the Global History of Democracy (Shoufu Yin, University of British Columbia)
Thursday, April 20, 2023, 04:30pm - 06:00pm
Contact Nancy Rosario (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

This talk is open to the public. It is generously co-sponsored by Rutgers Global. This is a hybrid event. If you cannot make it in person, please click here to register for online streaming.



In 1156 CE, all the registered households—a total of 333,700 households, representing about 1.5 million population—in the Tongchuanfu Circuit (modern-day Sichuan) voted in the following sense. Each household, whether headed by a male or a female, signaled its preference for one of two plans: either the reformed taxation method or its conventional counterpart. Its chief organizer, a provincial official named Wang Zhiwang (1104–1171), having carefully collected the results, recommended the court to follow the majority choice in each prefecture and proposed specific policies to protect the well-being of the minority. The court approved it. 

While the event is known to a handful of specialists in Song taxation and fiscal policies, Shoufu Yin contends that it still constitutes a key yet largely overlooked episode in the history of democracy. It epitomizes a kind of moment, which Yin calls Wang Zhiwang moment, when an experienced official in a highly bureaucratic state gained a position to broaden political participation by collecting popular opinion, implementing majority choice, and making further arrangements without challenging the existing political norms governing decision-making. Tracing what makes the event of 1156 possible, Yin shows that the Wang Zhiwang moment not only offers access to the specific social, economic, military, and political conditions of Song China but also reveals a sui generis approach to political reforms that aim at and/or result in universal political participation. Ultimately, Yin proposes that a focus on different Wang Zhiwang moments in Chinese, European, and world histories will offer a new starting point for a global history of democratization (and its lack thereof).


Shoufu Yin is an assistant professor in history at the University of British Columbia. A historian of medieval and early modern China and Inner Asia, he is broadly interested in political, institutional, literary, and intellectual cultures. His research utilizes multilingual sources, many of which remain barely tapped, and integrates methods including world philology, comparative philosophy, and digital humanities. His recent publications trace how minor bureaucrats or ordinary individuals theorized politics in their everyday settings and how their philosophization may shed light on themes of theoretical importance.


Location  Rutgers Academic Building West Wing Room 6051