Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China

54 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2016 Last revised: 26 Jan 2018

Melanie Meng Xue

Department of Economics & Center for Economic History, Northwestern University

Mark Koyama

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

Date Written: January 8, 2018

Abstract

This paper explores the impact of autocratic rule on social capital. Political repression is a distinguishing characteristic of autocratic regimes. Between 1660--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 those literary inquisitions led to a decline of 38% in local charities---a key proxy of social capital---in subsequent decades. Consistent with the historical panel results, we find that in affected prefectures, individuals have lower levels of generalized trust in modern China. Taking advantage of institutional variation in 20th c. China, and two instrumental variables, we provide further evidence that political repression permanently reduced social capital: the Qing persecutions led to the under provision of basic education in a decentralized schooling system, long after the collapse of the Qing regime. Furthermore, we find that individuals in prefectures with a legacy of literary inquisitions are less interested in communal affairs and are more politically apathetic. These results indicate a potential vicious cycle in which autocratic rule becomes self-reinforcing 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 (January 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

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

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

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