Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China

47 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2016 Last revised: 31 Jan 2019

See all articles by Melanie Meng Xue

Melanie Meng Xue

Department of Economics & Center for Economic History, Northwestern University

Mark Koyama

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: December 8, 2018

Abstract

This paper explores the impact of autocratic rule on social capital -- defined as the attitudes, beliefs, norms, and perceptions that support cooperation. Political repression is a distinguishing characteristic of autocratic regimes. Between 1661-1788, individuals in imperial China were persecuted if they were suspected of holding subversive attitudes towards the state. A difference-in-differences approach suggests that in an average prefecture, exposure to political repression led to a decline of 38% in local charities -- a key proxy of social capital. In line with the historical panel results, individuals have lower levels of generalized trust today in affected prefectures. Taking advantage of institutional variation in 20th century China, and using two instrumental variables, we provide further evidence that political repression permanently reduced social capital. Moreover, individuals in prefectures with a legacy of literary inquisitions are more politically apathetic. More suggestively, there appears to be a self-reinforcing cycle in which autocratic rule becomes entrenched through causing a permanent decline in social capital.

Keywords: Social Capital, Institutions, Autocracy, China

JEL Classification: D73, N45, Z1

Suggested Citation

Xue, Melanie Meng and Koyama, Mark, Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China (December 8, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2856803 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2856803

Melanie Meng Xue (Contact Author)

Department of Economics & Center for Economic History, Northwestern University ( email )

2211 Campus Drive
Office #3197
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Mark Koyama

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mason.gmu.edu/~mkoyama2/About.html

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
445
rank
62,523
Abstract Views
2,507
PlumX Metrics