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The Long-Term Effects of Protestant Activities in China


  • Chen, Yuyu
  • Wang, Hui
  • Yan, Se


Does culture, and in particular religion, exert an independent causal effect on long-term economic growth, or do culture and religion merely reflect the latter? We explore this issue by studying the case of Protestantism in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Combining county-level data on Protestant presence in 1920 and socioeconomic indicators in 2000, we find that the spread of Protestantism has generated significant positive effects in long-term economic growth, educational development, and health care outcomes. To better understand whether the relationship is causal, we exploit the fact that missionaries purposefully undertook disaster relief work to gain the trust of the local people. Thus, we use the frequency of historical disasters as an instrument for Protestant distribution. Our IV results confirm and enhance our OLS results. When we further investigate the transmission channels over the long historical period between 1920 and 2000, we find that although improvements in education and health care outcomes account for a sizable portion of the total effects of missionaries’ past activities on today’s economic outcomes, Protestant activities may have also contributed to long-term economic growth through other channels, such as through transformed social values. If so, then a significant amount of China’s growth since 1978 is the result not just of sudden institutional changes but of human capital and social values acquired over a longer historical period.

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  • Chen, Yuyu & Wang, Hui & Yan, Se, 2014. "The Long-Term Effects of Protestant Activities in China," MPRA Paper 53531, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:53531

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 531-596.
    2. Nathan Nunn, 2008. "The Long-term Effects of Africa's Slave Trades," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 139-176.
    3. Loren Brandt & Debin Ma & Thomas G. Rawski, 2014. "From Divergence to Convergence: Reevaluating the History behind China's Economic Boom," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(1), pages 45-123, March.
    4. Jack, William & Lewis, Maureen, 2009. "Health investments and economic growth : macroeconomic evidence and microeconomic foundations," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4877, The World Bank.
    5. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce I. Sacerdote, 2008. "Education and Religion," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(2), pages 188-215.
    6. Stulz, Rene M. & Williamson, Rohan, 2003. "Culture, openness, and finance," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 313-349, December.
    7. Benito Arruñada, 2010. "Protestants and Catholics: Similar Work Ethic, Different Social Ethic," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 120(547), pages 890-918, September.
    8. Melissa Dell, 2010. "The Persistent Effects of Peru's Mining Mita," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(6), pages 1863-1903, November.
    9. Rachel M. McCleary & Robert J. Barro, 2006. "Religion and Economy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(2), pages 49-72, Spring.
    10. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Yuchtman, Noam, 2017. "Teaching to the tests: An economic analysis of traditional and modern education in late imperial and republican China," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 70-90.

    More about this item


    Protestantism; Economic Growth; Education; Health Care; China;

    JEL classification:

    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • N15 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Asia including Middle East
    • N35 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Asia including Middle East
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion

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