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Human capital in Qing China: economic determinism or a history of failed opportunities?

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  • Xu, Yi
  • Foldvari, Peter
  • Van Leeuwen, Bas

Abstract

The traditional education system in Qing China has been widely debated over the past decades. Some have argued it was efficient and furthered economic growth, while others have stressed its inefficient nature, which led to the introduction of the modern education system in the closing decades of the 19th century, followed by its total collapse in 1905. In this paper we make a first try to quantify above debate. Starting from the observation that below the well-known civil examination system there existed a whole system of popular and vocational education, we find that years of education in the population were still lower than in many European countries. More interestingly, whereas in European countries years of education increased strongly in the 19th century, our estimates of average years of education and the ABCC indices show that the level of education remained stable well into the 1920s when it accelerated. However, the main rise only occurred during the late 20th century. This finding leads to an interesting question since per capita income only started to grow significantly since the 1950s. This means that the rise of education since the mid-1920s was not as such driven by per capita income. Apparently this was the same for both the traditional and modern education since the latter had already started to transform Chinese education from the 1890s onwards. Hence, we have to look at the question why persons decided to follow education, i.e. was it individually profitable to follow education (positive private returns)? However, testing for this latter hypothesis shows that, after correction for foregone earnings, life expectancy, and probability of passing the exams, only the below shengyuan level students actually had positive returns. For an ordinary person it was therefore uneconomical to join in the civil examination system. Apparently this did not change, not even after the introduction of the modern education system, until the 1950s.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 43525.

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Date of creation: 02 Jan 2013
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:43525

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Keywords: human capital; China; private returns; economic development;

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References

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  1. Paul M Romer, 1999. "Endogenous Technological Change," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2135, David K. Levine.
  2. O Rourke, Kevin H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2002. "When did globalisation begin?," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(01), pages 23-50, April.
  3. Bas van Leeuwen & Peter Földvári, 2013. "Capital Accumulation and Growth in Central Europe, 1920-2006," Eastern European Economics, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 51(5), pages 69-93, September.
  4. Jörg Baten & Jan Luiten van Zanden, 2007. "Book production and the onset of modern economic growth," Economics Working Papers, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra 1030, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  5. Baten, Joerg & Ma, Debin & Morgan, Stephen & Wang, Qing, 2010. "Evolution of living standards and human capital in China in the 18-20th centuries: Evidences from real wages, age-heaping, and anthropometrics," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 47(3), pages 347-359, July.
  6. van Zanden, Jan Luiten & van Leeuwen, Bas, 2012. "Persistent but not consistent: The growth of national income in Holland 1347–1807," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 119-130.
  7. Van Leeuwen, Bas & van Leeuwen-Li, Jieli & Foldvari, Peter, 2011. "Regional human capital in Republican and New China: Its spread, quality and effects on economic growth," MPRA Paper 43582, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  8. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  9. Debin Ma, 2004. "Growth, institutions and knowledge: a review and reflection on the historiography of 18th-20th century China," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 44(3), pages 259-277, November.
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Cited by:
  1. Gabriele Cappelli, 2013. "Escaping from a human capital trap? Italy’s regions and the move to centralized primary schooling, 1861 - 1936," Department of Economics University of Siena, Department of Economics, University of Siena 688, Department of Economics, University of Siena.

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