Clans and Calamity: How Social Capital Saved Lives During China’s Great Famine

56 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2020 Last revised: 17 Jun 2020

See all articles by Jiarui Cao

Jiarui Cao

Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) - School of Economics

Yiqing Xu

Stanford University

Chuanchuan Zhang

Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) - School of Economics

Date Written: May 21, 2020

Abstract

This paper examines the role of social capital in disaster relief during China's Great Famine of 1958-1961. We use the number of genealogies—books recording family trees—as a proxy for family clans, one of the most important vehicles of social capital in rural China. Using a county-year panel from 1954 to 1966, we employ a double-difference identification strategy that exploits the timing of the famine and the cross-sectional differences in the pre-famine measures of social capital. We find that the rise in the mortality rate over time is significantly less in counties with a higher clan density. A nationally representative household survey corroborates this finding and shows that, while individuals born before the famine are more likely to report having experienced hunger than those born after the famine, this difference is significantly smaller in regions with a higher clan density. Investigation of potential mechanisms suggests that social capital's impact on famine may have operated through enabling collective action against excessive government procurement and facilitating inter-household risk-sharing. These results indicate that social capital can reduce the damage of faulty government policies in times of crisis.

Keywords: social capital; disasters; China; family clans; the Great Famine; mortality

Suggested Citation

Cao, Jiarui and Xu, Yiqing and Zhang, Chuanchuan, Clans and Calamity: How Social Capital Saved Lives During China’s Great Famine (May 21, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3574993 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3574993

Jiarui Cao

Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) - School of Economics ( email )

Beijing
China

Yiqing Xu (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://yiqingxu.org

Chuanchuan Zhang

Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) - School of Economics ( email )

Beijing, Beijing 100081
China

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