What Should the State Know? Theories of State Information Gathering in Early China

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During the Warring States period, scholars and statesmen spent much time debating the best way to rule a state. While they differed in opinion on many topics, central to most of the political philosophies that emerged at this time was the notion that the sovereign needed to have information about his people and territory in order to rule effectively. While the rulers of the Warring States lacked the technologies of modern states to gather comprehensive, real-time data about the population, they did not lack that ambition. This paper will explore the theories of state-information gathering in early China, through an examination of political treatises written and compiled during this period, including the Mozi, Guanzi, and Shangjun shu. I will discuss not only the types of information these scholars believed should be gathered by the ruler, but the motivations for doing so. A sage ruler, while not expected to be personally omniscient, was expected to maintain an unobstructed flow of information from the smallest villages to the capital, allowing him and his advisors to make informed decisions about how to best use resources. Such flows of information not only enable the ruler to govern benevolently, but, through governing benevolently, he could ensure the continued transmission of information. While the theories of information gathering expressed in these texts often vastly exceeded the state’s capabilities, they can elucidate what these early thinkers thought the state should know, and why the state should know it.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2023
EventAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference 2023 - Boston, United States
Duration: 16 Mar 202319 Mar 2023


ConferenceAssociation for Asian Studies Annual Conference 2023
Abbreviated titleAAS 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

Scopus Subject Areas

  • History


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