“Long Live Keju! The Persistent Effects of China’s Imperial Examination System” by James Kung
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Princeton University and Chiense University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen)
The University of Hong Kong
The effect of China's civil examination system (keju) on human capital outcomes persists to this day. Using the variation in the density of jinshi−the highest qualification across 278 Chinese prefectures in the Ming-Qing period (1368-1905) to proxy for the keju effect, and river distance to a prefecture's nearest locations of pine and bamboo−the main ingredients for producing ink and paper−as instrumental variable, we find that an additional jinshi per 10,000 people during the Ming-Qing period leads to an increase in schooling of 0.7 years in the present day. Moreover, the persistent effect of keju can be explained by the transmission of human capital across generations and a culture of valuing education. Finally, cultural transmission was significantly weakened by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), as parents responded to the deadly attacks on intellectuals by discounting the value of education.