Family Matters: Education and the (Conditional) Effect of State Indoctrination in China

Public Opinion Quarterly

60 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2020 Last revised: 28 Jun 2021

See all articles by Jay C. Kao

Jay C. Kao

University of Texas at Austin

Date Written: September 10, 2020


When and how does state indoctrination work? Building upon research on motivated reasoning and family socialization, I argue that only those individuals whose parents have connections to political patronage are subject to state indoctrination because their pro-regime biases transmitted from parents induce higher receptivity ex ante to government messages. Focusing on political education in China, I conduct a quasi-experimental analysis exploiting the sharp variation in textbook content generated by China's most recent curriculum reform. Results based on a national survey show that the new politics textbooks successfully affected only those individuals whose parents had worked for the government. The finding survives extensive robustness checks and falsification tests. I also consider several alternative explanations of the effects: preference falsification, selective attention, parental indoctrination, and educational quality. This paper not only highlights the role of intergenerational transmission in moderating the effectiveness of state indoctrination but also casts doubt on the actual degree to which regimes can change minds by changing educational content.

Keywords: state indoctrination, propaganda, public opinion, China

Suggested Citation

Kao, Jay C., Family Matters: Education and the (Conditional) Effect of State Indoctrination in China (September 10, 2020). Public Opinion Quarterly, Available at SSRN: or

Jay C. Kao (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin ( email )

United States

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