Succession Norms and Autocratic Survival: Evidence from Ancient China


Can succession norms promote autocratic survival? We argue that the institutionalization of vertical succession norms narrows the candidate pool by excluding brothers and cousins from potential rightful successors, which facilitates coordination among the elite and increases the likelihood of agreeing on a successor. Using a novel dataset covering 357 monarchs in 17 states in ancient China during the Spring-Autumn and Warring States eras, we find that the institutionalization of vertical succession norms reduces monarchs' risk of being deposed by the elite. To address the concern of endogeneity, we exploit the ancestral distance of states' founding fathers to the royal families of previous dynasties as an instrumental variable. We further provide evidence that the institutionalization of succession norms works through moderating the adverse effect of elite competition on monarchs’ tenure.

(Under Review)