Political Elites and Human Capital Formation in Pre-Imperial China

40 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2020

See all articles by Joy Chen

Joy Chen

Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business

Date Written: February 2, 2020


I examine the activity of political elites during a period of intensive state-building in pre-imperial China. Using a novel hand-collected dataset on 1,075 political elites, I find that civil unrest was responsible for a majority of the deaths of elites, that there was substitution away from incumbent nobles towards commoners in administrative roles, and rising competition over administrative office-holding among clans. I argue that such substitution was made possible by the rise of a class of literate commoners as a new source of administrative human capital, and propose a model to explain their emergence. I postulate that civil unrest improves commoners' access to learning by displacing a fraction of literati and learned nobles and forcing them to make a living out of teaching, and enhanced productivity enables more commoners to acquire literacy to enter state services. I discuss mechanisms through which human capital can facilitate state-building.

Keywords: Institutions, Human Capital, China

JEL Classification: N45, D73, D02

Suggested Citation

Chen, Joy, Political Elites and Human Capital Formation in Pre-Imperial China (February 2, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3530279 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3530279

Joy Chen (Contact Author)

Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business ( email )

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