Evolutionary Game Theory, Dynamical Systems, and the Institutional Evolution of Chinese Footbinding



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Footbinding was a convention in ancient China that involved binding girls' feet at a young age to prevent further growth. The process is excruciatingly painful and sometimes lethal, but for at least nine centuries of Chinese history, the focus of many young girl's life was fixed upon the convention of footbinding to achieve successful marriage. Curiously, the then deep-rooted and wide-spread convention ended within a generation's time at the turn of the 20th Century. We build a stochastic evolutionary game theoretic model to understand the evolution of the footbinding convention in ancient China. Our deterministic model results identify the inequalities between payoffs across conventions and genders as important factors that influence the evolution of convention. The simulations of the stochastic model realize switches of the convention. Our study gave an example of using stochastic evolutionary game theory to simulate and explain social phenomena. The results of the research have meaningful implications for solving contemporary social and economic issues due to coordination failure in general.



evolutionary game theory, social coordination failure, institutional evolution, convention, Chinese footbinding