Classicism and Modern Growth: The Shadow of the Sages

51 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2022

See all articles by Chicheng Ma

Chicheng Ma

The University of Hong Kong

Date Written: November 7, 2022


This paper examines how the worship of ancient wisdom affects economic progress. The research sample is historical China, where the learned class embraced classical wisdom for millennia but encountered the shock of Western industrial influence in the mid-19th century. I use the number of sage temples to measure the strength of classical worship in 269 prefectures, and instrument for the distribution of sage temples using the distribution of sages’ birthplaces. I find that classical worship discouraged intellectuals from appreciating modern learning and thus inhibited industrialization between 1858 and 1927. By contrast, industrialization grew faster in regions less constrained by classicism.

Suggested Citation

Ma, Chicheng, Classicism and Modern Growth: The Shadow of the Sages (November 7, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Chicheng Ma (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK

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