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Walled Cities in Late Imperial China

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  • Yannis Ioannides
  • Junfu Zhang

Abstract

For thousands of years, the Chinese and many other nations around the workd built defensive walls around their cities. This phenomenon is not well understood from an economic perspective. To rationalize the existence of city walls, we propose a simple model that relates the deimesions of city walls to a set of economic variables. Guided by this model, we conduct an empirical alyalysis using hand-collected and previously unused data on city walls in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. Consistent with the model, we find that the circumference of a city wall is positively correlated with population size in the jurisdiction and that frontier cities subject to a higher probability of attack tended to have stronger city walls. Since a city wall imposes a physical boundary around a city, the land area inside the city wall provides a natural proxy of city size. We examine the physical size distribution of walled cities in late imperial Chian. We find that city sizes above a certain cutoff follow Zipf's law, although the Zipf coefficient is sensitive to the choice of the cutoff point. This result complements findigs in the existing literature that focuses almost exclusively on the population size distribution of cities.

Suggested Citation

  • Yannis Ioannides & Junfu Zhang, 2014. "Walled Cities in Late Imperial China," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0785, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  • Handle: RePEc:tuf:tuftec:0785
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    Cited by:

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    3. Xing, Chunbing & Zhang, Junfu, 2017. "The preference for larger cities in China: Evidence from rural-urban migrants," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 72-90.
    4. Haosu Zhao & Bart Julien Dewancker & Feng Hua & Junping He & Weijun Gao, 2020. "Restrictions of Historical Tissues on Urban Growth, Self-Sustaining Agglomeration in Walled Cities of Chinese Origin," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(14), pages 1-29, July.
    5. Pengfei Wu & Dexin Liu & Jianhua Ma & Changhong Miao & Lingling Chen & Lei Gu & Jiahuan Tong, 2019. "A Geoarchaeological Reading of the City-Overlap-City Phenomenon in the Lower Yellow River Floodplain: A Case Study of Kaifeng City, China," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(4), pages 1-18, February.
    6. Jedwab, Remi & Loungani, Prakash & Yezer, Anthony, 2021. "Comparing cities in developed and developing countries: Population, land area, building height and crowding," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 86(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    City walls; Pareto distribution; Zipf's law; power law; China;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)

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