First publication using the CMGPD-LN public release!

Congratulations to Wang Lei at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Labor and Population Economics!  Wang Lei has just published what we believe is the first publication using the public release of the CMGPD-LN that doesn’t have one of us as a co-author: http://www.cnki.com.cn/Article/CJFDTotal-RKJJ201302006.htm The paper is a study of bachelorhood in northeast China in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, taking advantage of the excellent data on marital status available in the CMGPD-LN. It appeared in 人口与经济 (Population and Economics), which is one of China’s major social science journals.

We all expect that this will be just the first of many publications by others that make use the CMGPD-LN.

Here is the full citation for anyone who is interested:

Wang Lei.  2013.  清代辽东旗人社会中的男性失婚问题研究-基于中国多世代人口数据库—辽宁部分( CMGPD-LN) (A Study of Males’ Out-of-marriage in Bannerman Society of East Liaoning in Qing Dynasty: Based on CMGPD-LN).  人口与经济 (Population and Economics).  2013(2):35-43.

And for anyone who is interested, here is a paper we published on male marriage, which Wang Lei was kind enough to cite: http://sjeas.skku.edu/upload/200905/17-42JamesLee-1.pdf

 

Reflections on the NYT article on education in China

The New York Times recently published a very nice article on the challenges that a rural family in China faced as it sought an education for its daughter:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/business/in-china-families-bet-it-all-on-a-child-in-college.html?pagewanted=all

I liked the article, and commend it to everyone’s attention.  That said, reading the article inspired me to think about the importance of assessing the situation in a comparative context.

In particular, the article would benefit from some comparative context, and perhaps some reflection on inequities in access to education here in the United States. Not to say that the situation in China is great, but we should keep in mind that we have serious problems in terms of access here as well. In other words, I don’t have any specific critiques or complaints about the content of the article, but want to put it into some perspective.

Specifically, the article correctly identifies many of the challenges that poor families in China face as they pursue an education for their children, but fails to note that in some form or another, there are similar or even more serious problems here.

As difficult as it is for someone from a poor family to attend a top university in China, given the enormous inequities in the quality of primary and secondary education in the United States, opportunities for tertiary education are probably even more uneven.

The educational system in China has many problems, which almost anyone in China will be happy to tell you about, but one thing it does remarkably well at the primary and secondary level is providing a solid foundation in math, reading, and writing that at least makes it possible for a family like the one described here to entertain a realistic hope for a college education for their child. And as problematic as the examination system is, it is much more transparent than the peculiar and opaque practices of private universities here. While it is true that wealthy parents can buy tutoring that will yield some improvement their children’s scores on the exams, if the child is a dud, it is probably easier for the parents to buy a place for them at an Ivy League or other elite private university (and believe me, that is possible) than somehow turn them into successful exam takers. Indeed, in China, wealthy families with debauched, lazy or dim offspring generally send them abroad to obscure private schools with flexible admissions criteria rather than waste their time and money trying to prepare them for the exams.

How many families in the United States of modest means and background like the ones described in the article would even dare to hope for a college education for their child? In my experience traveling in China for the last twenty years and meeting people from all walks of life, even middle school graduates generally have levels of numeracy and literacy comparable to high school and frankly even many college graduates here. When I taught undergraduates last summer at Shanghai Jiaotong University, one of China’s top universities, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of them were from poor, rural families in interior provinces. At the end of the class, several of them described their plans for their trips home for summer break, and many of them involved long train rides (in one case, three days to Xinjiang) and then long bus rides back to their villages.

While the article notes that students at elite institutions in China are more likely to come from relatively well-off families, according to research that I have participated in, and my own experience, the share of students at elite institutions in China who are first-generation college students and/or from poor families is much, much higher than at the elite privates in the United States, and perhaps even at some elite public institutions. As an aside, I am proud that relative to other elite research universities in the US, the UC system does have an excellent record with respect to the proportions of students from low-income families, or who are first-generation college students. Last time I checked, my alma mater, Caltech, also had the highest proportion of undergraduate students who were Pell Grant recipients (generally a marker of low-income) of any of the elite privates.

In research by James Lee, Liang Chen, and other members of our research group that I helped out with that was published last year in one of China’s top journals and generated considerable discussion, it was clear that well into the 1990s, the share of students at Peking University and Suzhou University who were from working-class or farming origin families was much higher than the share of students at elite privates in the United States who were from low-income families.

As for the expenses that the article notes, what about the private and especially for-profit educational institutions here in the U.S. that leave their students saddled with loan debt, and hand them a diploma that doesn’t do anything for their job prospects? And what of the seemingly unlimited amounts of time and money that middle- and high-income families in the United States are willing to spend on tutoring, enrichment, and other activities that will increase their offspring’s chances of getting in to the ‘right’ college?

My main point is to not to suggest that things in China aren’t as problematic as the article suggests – the problems are real – but to suggest we keep some perspective and keep in mind that there are similarly serious problems here in the United States with regard to quality of education, and socioeconomic differences in access to higher education.

Meritocracy in Imperial China: a reflection on Mark Elliott’s Op-Ed in the New York Times

Mark Elliott, a Qing (1644-1911) historian at Harvard, achieved something incredible:  he published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times devoted almost entirely to processes of elite recruitment in imperial Chinese history.  He shared his views on the question of whether the selection of officials in Qing China was meritocratic, and introduces readers to excellent relevant research by Ben Elman and others.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this were the first New York Times Op-Ed ever that went into such detail about empirical results on a specific feature of late imperial Chinese history, in this case, the procedures for selecting officials.

I hope that Mark’s piece sets a precedent that will allow me and my collaborators to publish Op-Ed pieces about Qing history.

In the meantime, I was inspired to write a response here on my blog.

I’ll begin by putting Mark’s piece in context.  There is actually a  longstanding debate in Chinese historical studies about the issues raised in Mark’s piece, and I’ll introduce some of the relevant work, some of it by me and my collaborators.  Mark’s piece is itself a contribution to a debate over meritocracy in contemporary China triggered by some rather controversial claims by Daniel Bell and Zhang Weiwei that the current system for appointing and promoting officials in China is meritocratic.  China Digital Times has a nice summary of the debate, with links to various pieces.  Bell, Zhang and others have invoked the examination system in imperial China as a precedent for the current system, and Mark is offering an important and needed corrective to some of the overheated claims made about the virtues of examination system.

I will offer my own take on the issue, which is that we need to think about the issues involved in a comparative fashion.  Rather than assessing whether China was a meritocracy by comparing it to what Weber referred to as an ideal type, that is a hypothetical society that might exist only in Plato’s world of forms or a Star Trek episode, assessment has to be made by comparison to other societies.  I’ll identify what I think the relevant dimensions are for comparison between China and other societies.  I’ll conclude with some comments about Chinese studies and stratification research.

I originally intended this to be a short piece inspired by Mark’s Op-Ed that would focus on my favorite subject: me.  Or rather, my published collaborative work.  As I began writing, though, this evolved into a larger meditation on what I think the appropriate approach is to addressing the issues raised in Mark’s Op-Ed, and the work he is responding to.  At some point I wondered if perhaps I should spend a few weeks to turn it into a formal academic essay, and publish it.  The problem with that is that I would spend a lot of time on it, it would take a year or two to appear, and then only five people would ever read it, most of them friends of mine who already agreed with me, or were afraid to disagree openly with me.  Hastily posting this core dump from my brain to the web is probably not going to do much for me professionally in the bean-counting world of modern academics, but given the wider attention to processes of elite recruitment in historical China generated by Mark’s piece, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to introduce a wider, non-specialist audience to some of the issues and debates in stratification research in historical China, and perhaps attract some of them to the field.

Mark’s Op-Ed piece on meritocracy is embedded in a longstanding debate in the study of Chinese history about whether the social composition of political elites was ‘open’ or ‘closed’.  This much broader debate about whether the system was open or closed, fluid or rigid, is more important than the narrower one about whether the political appointment system was meritocratic or not, and indeed subsumes that debate.  I would argue, and I think Mark and others would agree, that the technical details of the examination and appointment system are less important than their implications for broader patterns of access and participation, and for long-term patterns of turnover among elites.

Before I proceed, I want to note that I will limit the scope of my discussion to the openness of processes for recruiting political elites in past times, and largely ignore contemporary issues, as well as other important issues in historical stratification and inequality.  Thus I’m not even going to touch Zhang Weiwei’s controversial claims about ‘meritocracy’ in the process for political appointments and promotions in contemporary China.  I think that Zhang Weiwei’s claims are dubious at best, and I may opine on them at some future point in time, but for right now, I’ll stick to what I know best, which is historical China.  I’m also going to sidestep the issue of overall social fluidity in the past, since for the most part the sorts of data we would really like to have as a basis for comparison in largely rural historical societies are still rare.

I’m also going to skip the important issue of whether an examination system, or ‘meritocratic’ systems in general, are actually optimal from the perspective of recruiting a political elite that does the best possible job of governing the country.  I doubt there is a universal agreement on what the appropriate objective measure of ‘merit’ is when it comes to recruiting political elites.  It isn’t clear to me that mastery of Confucian classics was a reliable predictor of leadership ability in the past, any more than academic credentials predict leadership ability now.  Most people who hold a PhD, including myself, shouldn’t be trusted to manage a hot dog stand, let alone a country.

As Mark notes, imperial Chinese ideology was that the reliance on the examination system (keju) made for an ‘open’ system in which advancement was based on merit, not ancestry or personal connections, and in which everyone, or at least every male, had a chance to succeed.  At least in principle, the examination system selected candidates for office in an objective and meritocratic fashion, mainly based on their mastery of a set of classic texts as demonstrated in a rigorous exam.  In theory, any male who was not specifically disqualified from eligibility could sit for the exam.  Chinese history is accordingly replete with remarkable Horatio Alger stories of talented men from humble backgrounds who succeeded on the exams as a result of diligent study, and ended up attaining high office.  It is this tradition that forms the context for the contemporary emphasis on standardized exams for access to high school, college and civil service, as well as the more general concern with the accumulation of credentials such as degrees, prizes, licenses, certificates and so forth that are perceived to be awarded in an objective fashion.

One of the earliest systematic efforts to assess whether the examination system was indeed ‘open’ was Ping-ti Ho’s (何炳棣) classic The Ladder of Success in Imperial China, Aspects of Social Mobility (1962).  Inspired by his reading of studies of Western societies in the then-new study of social mobility and stratification, Ho carried out a remarkable and pioneering study of the family histories of successful exam candidates in successive dynasties.  He found that substantial proportions of successful exam takers in various dynasties were ‘new blood’ in the sense that neither their father nor their grandfather had held an exam degree.   Based on this finding, Ho argued that the openness of the system was not an illusion sustained by Horatio Alger stories of the occasional poor boy made good, but a reality, in the sense that the system was not dominated by a small number of elite families.  This is the work that was the basis of Mark’s possibly cryptic reference to “ladders of success.”

My own relevant work with James Lee (HKUST) on the transmission of status in northeast China during the Qing reached broadly similar conclusions (Campbell and Lee 2003, 2008; Lee and Campbell 1997).  Our focus was on the composition of a regional or even local political elite, not a national one.  We examined determinants of the attainment of salaried official positions in a largely rural population in part of what is now Liaoning province from the mid-eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century.  These are relatively mundane positions in a local administrative hierarchy, not to be confused with the sorts of national-level positions that might be attained by the successful candidates in Ho’s study.

We found that individuals who held official posts had a relatively difficult time transmitting their status to their sons.  Men whose fathers held a position certainly did enjoy an advantage, and were themselves roughly 7-10 times more likely to themselves attain a position, but the baseline chances of obtaining a position were so low than even multiplying them by 7 to 10 yielded a probability that was still quite low.  As a result, the overwhelming majority of the male offspring of men who held position did not attain positions of their own.  Conversely, something like half of men in each generation who attained position were ‘new’ in the sense that they from families in which no one had held position in recent generations.  Again, while certain families clearly had an advantage, there is little evidence of the system being monopolized by a small set of elite families, and considerable indication of social fluidity.

As an aside, the basis of our analysis was a database we constructed from household registers, and which we have now publicly released as the China Multigenerational Panel Dataset-Liaoning (CMGPD-LN).  If you are interested enough in this topic to want to carry out your own analysis, you can download the data at ICPSR and access the most up to date news and documentation via entries at my blog.  It is especially important to check my blog for the latest editions of the User’s Guide and Training Guide since updates tend to take quite a while to appear at our ICPSR site.  Our public release of these data at ICPSR was supported by NICHD R01 HD057175-01A1 “Multi-Generation Family and Life History Panel Dataset” with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

As Mark notes, the national examination system had a variety of features that had the effect of limiting access to a relatively small segment of the late imperial Chinese population. Elman (1991), the source of one of Mark’s quotes, provides a comprehensive yet elegant review of the relevant literature while making the point that the system served the state well by creating the appearance of openness.  As in many historical societies, half the population was ineligible because of their gender.  The focus on demonstrating mastery of Confucian classics via a written essay in a standardized format further limited the pool of exam-takers to men who were lucky enough to grow up in a family or lineage that had the resources necessary to provide them with a classical education, or live somewhere where they had access to a charitable school.  Elman (2000) is a book-length study of the same topic, and commended to the attention of anyone seeking additional depth.

A specific critique of Ho’s (1962) suggestion that the large proportions of ‘new’ men in each generation were indicative of openness that has inspired some of our own recent work on this issue is the one by Robert Hymes (1986), who pointed out that many of the men who in Ho’s study appeared to be ‘new’ because neither their father nor grandfather held position, may have been from elite families, and may have had other kin who held position.  In other words, a sole focus on correspondence between son’s and father’s or grandfather’s attainment may overstate openness by obscuring the fact that disproportionate numbers of the men who made up the exam elite were from a small number of especially successful families.  Hymes’ empirical basis was a study of local elites in Fuzhou, Jiangxi during the Sung.

Our own recent work with the Liaoning household registers confirms Hymes’ suggestion that shifting the focus from the individual or father-son dyad to the larger kin network or lineage reveals a deep, persistent, kin-based structure that is invisible in an analysis of correlations between father’s and son’s outcomes (Campbell and Lee 2011).  We found evidence of subtle and systematic differences between descent groups in the chances that members would attain official position.  These patterns were distinct from the father-son correlations we reported in Campbell and Lee (2008).  That said, these differences were not so pronounced as to suggest that certain descent groups monopolized opportunities, and that others were shut out.  We also found that the relative standing of descent groups was remarkably stable, in the sense that rankings of descent groups according to their success in obtaining position were highly correlated from the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century.  Even more intriguingly, we reported evidence based on contemporary follow-up of a small subset of the historical descent groups that the relative status of the descent group in the eighteenth and nineteenth century was associated with descent group status in the late nineteenth century.

Another serious critique of Ho (1962) that Mark mentions is that success on the exams qualified a candidate for appointment to office, but did not by itself guarantee an appointment.  Since there were more successful candidates than there were offices, the process of deciding which of the successful candidates would be appointed to an office was much more vulnerable to the sordid or at least tawdry manipulations that complicate the selection of individuals to appoint to potentially lucrative or at least powerful positions in most societies, historical or modern.  The work by Lawrence Zhang that Mark cites sounds intriguing, and I look forward to reading it.  I don’t have expertise in this area so don’t have much to say about it.

My own take on the overall debate is that as is often the case in the humanities and social sciences, the underlying empirical facts are not in dispute, and what is contested is their interpretation.  The empirical findings of Ho, James Lee and myself, Elman, and others do not necessarily contradict each other because each one individually is one facet of a much larger and more complex process which is difficult to discern or comprehend in its entirety.  As James Lee and myself have shown in our analysis of northeast Chinese data, there is evidence both of weak father-son correlations suggestive of considerable openness consistent with Ho (1962), and strong intra-lineage correlations consistent with the suggestions in Hymes (1986).  Arguably, the debate is at heart a ‘glass half-full/glass half-empty’ debate or perhaps more charitably ‘tastes great/less filling’ debate in which all the participants have different interpretations of the implications of the same underlying body of facts.

The appropriate question, therefore, is how do we move forward, and avoid an endless back and forth that is little more than a repeated and contentious restatement of specific positions?

One problem with the current debate is that it occurs in a vacuum.  The participants, including me, justify interpretations of empirical results on China by explicit or more likely implicit reference to a society imagined from a Weberian ideal type, without comparison to actual societies.  Claims of openness by Ho and others, including myself, seem entirely reasonable if the reference for comparison is a hereditary aristocracy, or caste-based society with rigid, hereditary status distinctions.  There was clearly much more upward and downward mobility among the elites generated by the examination system than would be expected in a system where elite status was explicitly hereditary, or formal restrictions limited eligibility for office to only a tiny segment of the population that was defined by ancestry.

Conversely, claims of rigidity by Elman and others are compelling if the reference is the other extreme: a society in which the criteria for selection do not explicitly or implicitly limit the pool of eligible candidates based on their heredity or other characteristics, and where the distribution of wealth and parental education is sufficiently egalitarian that all families have the means to equip their children to compete.  While a few contemporary societies might come close to this ideal, few historical societies did.  Neither of these idealized frames of reference is entirely plausible as a basis for comparison or interpretation of results from historical societies, and the debate is unlikely to be settled if everyone involved continues to make use of them.

A more useful approach would be to anchor the interpretation of empirical results in detailed comparisons of quantitative or qualitative dimensions of recruitment into political elites across historical societies.  Instead of debating whether historical China conformed to one favorite ideal type or another, it would be useful to specify multiple meaningful and historically metrics of openness and access for different historical societies, and compare them.  While it is highly unlikely that China and other societies could be arrayed on a single, agreed-upon dimension of ‘openness’ or ‘meritocracy’ and then ranked to produce a conclusive result, it is more plausible that several relevant dimensions could be identified, and meaningful comparisons made.

I’ll try to get the ball rolling by identifying some basic dimensions for historical comparison of based on the criteria apparent in the work by Elman, myself and Lee, Hymes, and others.  In my somewhat open-ended and rambling specification of criteria, some possibly qualitative, I am departing from what seems to be the reigning orthodoxy in contemporary stratification research, according to which it sometimes seems that all meaningful variation in social openness can be reduced to parameters from a log-linear model, or coefficients from a regression of child’s attainment on parental characteristics.

The first would be the share of the population explicitly excluded from participation solely on the basis of what stratification researchers call ascribed characteristics: gender, race, ethnicity, caste, and other dimensions that individuals have little control over, but are the basis for labeling and categorization by others.  Almost every historical society was characterized by such formal restrictions based on heredity or other ascribed characteristics, though the size of the affected population varied.  One might imagine arraying societies on a spectrum ranging from monarchies governed by a hereditary aristocracy and/or nobility, to some contemporary developed societies in which there are no criteria for entry into the elite that are explicitly based on an inherited or other ascribed status.

The second would be the share of the population that was implicitly excluded from participation because the process by which political or other elites were recruited in each generation favored the offspring of families that had the resources necessary to invest in education or other activities that increase children’s chances of success.  Again, one might think of arraying societies on a spectrum that ranged from an imagined perfectly egalitarian society in which the resources that prepared candidates for an examination or other meritocratic selection process were equally distributed, to a perfectly unequal society where only one family had the resources needed to prepare children for the otherwise meritocratic selection process.

The third would be the extent to which parental status predicted child success in the population that remained after imposing the previous criteria.  This is essentially what most contemporary studies of inter-generational mobility focus on: statistical associations in parent and child outcomes as a measure of social openness.  Again, one could imagine arraying societies on a spectrum that ranged from one extreme in which all eligible adults had equal chances of being selected into a political elite, to another imagined extreme where only the children of elite were themselves able to enter the elite.

Right now we don’t have the quantitative data that would allow a rigorous comparison between China and other historical societies on these dimensions, but at least in my opinion, a casual comparison of qualitative features of the processes for elite recruitment in the past  suggest that China would come out looking reasonably well.

On the first criteria, the share of the population that was explicitly forbidden from participating, I speculate that China would come out of a comparison reasonably favorably.  As Mark notes there were periods when specific categories of people were excluded from eligibility for the exams, for example children from merchant were excluded during the Ming, and prostitutes, singers, entertainers and other “degraded” or “mean” occupations were excluded from eligibility during other periods.  For better or worse, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Al Franken all would have been forbidden from holding office in imperial China, at least in certain eras.  And of course each dynasty was ruled by an Emperor drawn from the imperial family.

The question is not whether privileged or excluded categories existed in China, but rather how their share of the population contrasted with the shares of the population accounted for by excluded groups in other societies.  I suspect it was overall much smaller, especially later in the Qing after the last remaining hereditary degraded statuses were largely abolished.   Most other historical societies were characterized by systems in which membership in the political elite was explicitly hereditary, and/or very large segments of the population were assigned to hereditary status categories that not only precluded participation in the competition to join the political elite, but also precluded participation of any sort.

On the second criteria, the implicit exclusion of individuals because their family circumstances didn’t allow for the investments in education necessary to make someone a viable candidate for recruitment into the political elite, I doubt China was much different from other societies.  Literacy and numeracy were formal or at least practical prerequisites for high office in most historical societies.  Before the advent of public education in the West in the nineteenth century, only a small proportion of families had the wherewithal to endow their children with the education necessary to prepare them for high government office, let alone fairly mundane office.  China may not have stood out in this regard, but it is unlikely that did especially poorly.

On the third criteria, the association between parent’s status and children’s outcomes in the population that was not explicitly excluded by virtue of membership in a particular category, or implicitly excluded by lack of resources, my own take based on Ho (1962) and my own work with James Lee on Liaoning is that China probably did reasonably well.  In Campbell and Lee (2003) we compared the associations we observed in Liaoning with ones we calculated from published results for Western populations, mainly urban, and found that the associations in Liaoning were much weaker.  Similarly, while Ho’s (1962) calculations are difficult to convert into a metric that would allow direct comparison with the West, I would speculate that the proportions of successful exam candidates from undistinguished families who went on to attain office were still higher than the proportions of children of modest origins who went on to hold important political office in the West.  Again, this is an empirical question.

What’s my conclusion?

While the recruitment of political elites in China may have had all of the problems that Mark identifies, it isn’t at all clear to me that it was any worse than any other society, and it certainly isn’t clear to me that empirical results justify Mark’s rather harsh judgment that ‘…among much of Chinese society before the 20th century the belief prevailed that “anyone could make it,” and the state connived at this; but literary sources make it clear that only the naïve clung to such a fantasy.’

First of all, it isn’t clear to me that non-literary sources confirm that the belief that “anyone could make it” was more of a fantasy in China than it was in the West, or anywhere else in the world.  It might have been more of a fantasy in China than in some imagined perfect society that exists only in Star Trek episodes in which everyone had equal chances of joining the political elite, but I’m not sure I understand the value of comparison with ideal types, or societies that only exist in Plato’s world of forms.  The same logic of comparisons to ideal types that is used to show that China was not a meritocracy could be used to show that the most Western countries are not democracies or even capitalist, and that the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China were not communist, or even socialist.

Indeed, much of the non-literary and even literary evidence suggests the possibility that the system was at least as open in China than it was in the West, if not more so.  If we look at Western literary evidence, the assumption that social status depended heavily or almost entirely on ancestry is pretty clear in almost all of Western literature until the late nineteenth century.   I haven’t read Jane Austen for a while, but I don’t remember any characters not born into the gentry being described in particularly appealing terms.

In my own opinion, according to Rawlsian criteria, “behind the veil of ignorance”, an individual who had the choice of being born in China or the West before the nineteenth century but didn’t know what status he or she would have been born into, but who sought membership in the political elite, might have been indifferent between born in China or the West.

What are my conclusions?

The first is that to the extent the study of Chinese history wants to move beyond historiography and description, it has to be comparative.  It simply isn’t sufficient to assemble a collection of empirical facts about a society, and then based on those facts, make some general assessment of the properties of that society, for example, assess whether it was a meritocracy, or a democracy, or a theocracy, or a plutocracy, or some other -cracy.  To make such a statement in the absence of comparisons with other societies is an exercise in comparison with ideal types, and while intellectually stimulating, unlikely to resolve any debates.

The appropriate question isn’t whether China was a meritocracy overall, but whether the system for the recruitment of political elites was more or less meritocratic than other historical societies.  By that standard, China was probably comparable to other societies, and certainly not much worse.  The fact of the matter is that no society before the last half of the eighteen century was meritocratic by the high standards implied in Mark’s piece.  By the standards suggested in Mark’s piece, it isn’t even clear to me that most Western democracies would be considered meritocracies.  China probably deserves some credit for at least having articulated a ideology of meritocracy well before the West was even aware of the concept.

A related concern I have is that in this important discussion of the social origins of elites, sociologists who engage in quantitative studies of stratification are AWOL.  Stratification researchers appear to have become so fixated on applying log-linear models or estimation regressions on population-representative survey data in which substantively important but numerical few elites account for a small proportion of the sample that it seems to have abandoned interest in understanding the social origins of the people in the top tail of the distribution.   This is unfortunate.  Now, more than ever, it is urgent to understand the processes the lead to the formation of the elites whose decisions have a disproportionate impact on social organization, yet there are relatively few such studies.

I am grateful to Mark not only for bringing attention to the important work by Elman and others to the attention of a much wider audience, but also throwing some cold water on the extravagant claims about the system for the recruitment of political elites in historical China made by various parties.  I would suggest that in some ways access to entrance into the political elite in historical China was as open or perhaps more open than in the historical West, but that is a long way from concluding as some have that the system was an ideal or even an attractive one for selecting and promoting officials.  Whether the system actually worked as claimed and produced a talented and effective bureaucratic elite that governed effectively is an entirely different question from the one I am addressing here.

Campbell, Cameron and James Lee. 2003. “Social mobility from a kinship perspective: Rural Liaoning, 1789-1909.” International Review of Social History.  47:1-26. [LINK]  doi:10.1017/S0268416098003063

Campbell, Cameron and James Lee.  2008.  “Kinship, Employment and Marriage: The Importance of Kin Networks for Young Adult Males in Qing Liaoning.”  Social Science History.  32(2):175-214.  [LINK]

Campbell, Cameron and James Z. Lee.  2011.  “Kinship and the Long-Term Persistence of Inequality in Liaoning, China, 1749-2005.”  Chinese Sociological Review.  44(1):71-104. Pubmed[/a]

Elman,Benjamin A.  1991.  “Political, Social, and Cultural Reproduction via Civil Service Examinations in Late Imperial China.”  Journal of Asian Studies.  50(1): 7-28 http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021911800045617

Elman, Benjamin A.  2000.  A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial
China.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ho Ping-ti.  1962.  The Ladder of Success in Imperial China, Aspects of Social Mobility 1368-1911.

Hymes, Robert P. 1986.  Statesmen and gentlemen: The elite of Fu-chou, Chiang-hsi, in Northern and Southern Sung. Cambridge University Press.

Lee, James and Cameron Campbell. 1997.  Fate and Fortune in Rural China: Social Organization and Population Behavior in Liaoning, 1774-1873.  Cambridge University Press. [Link]

李中清 (Lee, James) and 康文林 (Campbell, Cameron).  2008. “中国农村传统社会的延续 – 辽宁(1749-2005)的阶层化对革命的挑战 (The Persistence and Challenges of Rural Social Stratification in Liaoning 1749-2005)”  清华大学学报哲学社会科学版  (Journal of Tsinghua University: Philosophy and Social Sciences).  23(4):26-34.

East Asia themed sessions at the SSHA 2012

There are three sessions focused on East Asia at SSHA this November organized under the auspices of the Family/Demography network.  There is a fourth session organized under the auspices of the Macro-historical Dynamics. I have listed them below as a convenience for anyone looking for sessions focused on East Asia.

I am just listing the ones I helped organize, or am otherwise aware.  I didn’t comb through the program to look through other sessions.

The presence of four sessions devoted to East Asia reflects how new sources and new methods have energized the study of the social science history of that region.  Databases constructed from historical household registers and genealogies allow for ambitious new studies of population and family history.  In China, newly-accessible archival sources, primarily qualitative, allow for the study of questions of longstanding interest in other societies.

Family and Life Course in East Asia

A7 Thursday, 8:00 – 10:00am Chairman

FAMILY/DEMOGRAPHY

Chair: Hyunjoon Park, University of Pennsylvania (Sociology)

Adoption, Family Succession, and Demographic Behaviors in the Pre-industrial Korea
Byung-giu Son, Sungkyunkwan University (East Asian Studies)
Sangkuk Lee, Ajou University (History)

Adoption and Uxorilocal Marriage in Northeastern Tokugawa Villages
Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University (Foreign Studies)

Uxorilocal marriage in three peasant communities in Northwestern Taiwan, 1906-1945
Wen-shan Yang, Academia Sinica (Sociology)
Meng-zhu Zhang, National Central University, Taiwan (Humanities)
Shih-Hsiu Chen, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (Sociology)

Migration, Population Change and the Life Course in Late Tokugawa Kyoto, 1842-1869
Mary Louise Nagata, Francis Marion University / EHESS (History / CRH)
Kiyoshi Hamano, Kansai University (Economics)

Discussant: Wiebke Schulz, Utrecht University (Sociology)

Stratification and Inequality in East Asia

J4 Friday, 4:30 – 6:30pm Coquitlam

FAMILY/DEMOGRAPHY

Chair: Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University (Foreign Studies)

Long-Term Trends in Intergenerational Status Mobility in Jeju, Korea: 1765-1894
Hyunjoon Park, University of Pennsylvania (Sociology)
Kuentae Kim, Seoul National University (Korean History)

The Social Status Change of Korean Women and the Change of Their Titles in 17th – 19th Centuries
Naehyun Kwon, Korea University (History Education)
Cha Jaeeun, Kyonggi University (History)

Upward Mobility of Status in 19th Century Korea: Analysis of the Seosang- myŏn Household Registers
Youjin Lee, Seoul National University (Korean History)

Social Determinants of Descent Line Growth and Extinction in Historical China
Xi Song, University of California, Los Angeles (Sociology)
Cameron Campbell, University of California, Los Angeles (Sociology)
James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Humanities and Social Science)

Discussant: Joseph Ferrie, Northwestern University (Economics)

Migration in East Asia

 L7 Saturday, 10:15am – 12:15pm CapilanoFAMILY/DEMOGRAPHY

Chair: Sangkuk Lee, Ajou University (History)

Social Class and Migration in Two Northeast Japanese Villages, 1716-1870
Norkio Tsuya, Keio University, Tokyo (Economics)
Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University (The Collge of Foreign Studies)

Age patterns of Migration among Korean Adults in the Early 20th Century
Bongoh Kye, Cornell University (Cornell Population Center)
Heejin Park, Kyungpook National University (Economics)

Similarities and Differences: A Comparison on Migration Behaviors of Chinese and Korean Historical Populations in 18th and 19th century
Hao Dong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Social Sciences)
James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Humanities and Social Science)
Cameron Campbell, University of California, Los Angeles (Sociology)

To Move or Not To Move: Seasonal Migration in a Taiwanese Fishing Village, 1895-1945
Hsieh Ying-hui, Tzu-chi University (Human Development)
Wen-shan Yang, Academia Sinica (Sociology)
Ying-chang Chuang, National Chiao Tung University (Anthropology)
Discussant: Martin Dribe, Lund University (Economic History)

State Categories and Their Social Consequences in Chinese History
N4 Saturday, 3:15 – 5:15pm Thompson 

MACRO-HISTORICAL DYNAMICS, States and Society
Chair: James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Humanities and Social Science)

State Categories and Durable Inequality: Wealth Stratification in Northeast China, 1815-1913
Shuang Chen, University of Iowa (History)

Staying in Touch: State Recording and State Making in Northeast China, 1900-1949
Matthew Noellert, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Humanities)

The Formation of the “Urban” and “Rural” Categories in the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s
Jie Deng, Queen’s University (History)

Imagined Boundaries: Ethnic Boundary-Making and State-Building
Byungho Lee, University of Michigan (Sociology)

Discussant: Andreas Wimmer, University of California, Los Angeles (Sociology)

Relocated my blog

I relocated my blog from Google’s Blogger to WordPress.  The transition was pretty smooth.  However, I didn’t see an easy way to have WordPress Permalinks for blog entries match the ones at Blogger.  Blogger caps URL length, thus truncates the title of the blog entry in the URL if it is too long.  Wordpress doesn’t, so the URL includes the entire title of the blog entry.  This means that links to specific posts are now broken.  If you arrived here by following a link to a specific post, you can probably find it by entering some of the words from the URL into the search box.

I relocated my blog to ensure that it was accessible in China.  In China, access to my Blogger hosted blog was erratic.  Some people could access it in its entirety, some couldn’t access it at all, and some people could access it, but the posts were broken up and missing content.  I decided to relocate it to a hosted website at GoDaddy that has its own unique and stable IP address.

At the same time, I also moved over my personal website.  Previously I had it hosted at Google Sites.  It was inaccessible, or only occasionally accessible, in China.  Now it is also at my GoDaddy hosted site.  In case anyone it is interested, I am using Joomla.  So far I like Jooma.

How much do we learn about public opinion in China from Weibo posts?

It seems like every piece of reporting on China these days cites as evidence of the import of some event some kind of reference to a particular Weibo post, usually one that included a photo or video of an incident, and then a count of how many times it was forwarded or commented on.  And for evidence on the public reaction to said event, it now seems de rigeur to translate observations and comments made by Weibo users.

As much as I like finding out what is on Weibo, I can’t help wonder whether we really learn much about public opinion from counts of the number of times a post was forwarded, or translations of comments made by occasional users.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple years as I have spent more time in China, and had more opportunity to talk to people who aren’t academics.  People certainly have lots of concerns, and strong general opinions about issues like pollution, food safety, corruption, and so forth, but what I find striking is the disconnect between the level of intensity of reactions to specific events suggested by reliance on evidence from Weibo and other social media sources, and what I see in day to day conversation.  Whereas over the last few years we have had one incident after another presented to us as transfixing the Chinese public and having tremendous import and significance, always with Weibo or social media traffic as evidence, in my own experience people are aware of these incidents, and may even be somewhat interested, but don’t seem to obsess about any one them the way that studying social media traffic would suggest.

One issue is whether Weibo users who post on current events are representative of China’s population, or even Weibo users overall.  From Weibo traffic, I suppose we learn something about the opinions of Weibo users who are active and who like to post about current events, but I don’t know if they are any more representative of the population at large in China than the people who comment anonymously on news articles at the New York Times are representative of the U.S. population.

Weibo users may be better off, or at least better educated, than China’s population.  I actually wonder if that gives the appearance of more bifurcation in the population than there actually is.  In my experience in China, my experience is that the better off or at least better educated articulate more views on most subjects that are more extreme in one direction or another than the people I run into who are not doing as well.  Perhaps the fact that they are doing well and in some extreme cases completely disconnected from the realities of day to day life allows them more opportunity to think abstractly and see the world in black and white.  Such abstraction isn’t unique to China, of course.  Here in the United States, my own observation is that the people who tend to spout the nuttiest and unrealistic political views, whether on the  left or right, tend to be people whose situation insulates from contact with people who think differently form themselves, and presents the fewest challenges to a neat and tidy view of the world as a Manichean struggle between the forces of dark and light.

Weibo users who post on current events may not be representative of Weibo users overall.  They may be braver, more engaged, or simply more rash and foolhardy, than most Weibo users.  Of the Weibo posts I see, the overwhelming majority seem to cover the same territory as Facebook status updates: complaints about how busy or tiring their day was, reposts of quotes, links to odd bits of news, commentaries on celebrities, cars and gadgets, and of course, pictures of cats, flowers, sunsets, people at tourist sites smiling and flashing V signs, and so forth.  The people who routinely post on serious subjects seem to be a distinct minority.

A specific concern I have about counts of Weibo reposts as evidence of the attention paid to an event is the lack of a basis for comparison.  When I see a statement that a post about some misbehaving official was reposted 500 times, I don’t know if 500 is a lot, or a few.  Recitation of counts of the number of times a post was reposted are almost never accompanied by any background on how many posts each day are forwarded even more times.  Nothing I have posted on Weibo, has ever been posted more than a few times, so at first glance 500 seems like a lot to me, but then again I don’t have many followers, and most of what I post is mind-numbingly boring.  If pictures of unusually fat, fluffy cats sprawled on their backs are routinely forwarded 50,000 times, then 500 seems like a very small number for something that is being presented as being of social significance.  One of these days, I’d actually like to see a distribution of counts of reposts that would tell me if 500, 5000 or even 50,000 is really an unusually large number of reposts.  Maybe such a tabulation exists somewhere, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I find the presentation of translations of posts by specific users as evidence even more questionable.  I don’t know what the views of a single user tell us, even if whatever they say is presented as being ‘typical’ of Weibo users.  I certainly wouldn’t rely on comments on articles at the New York Times or Washington Post as evidence about public opinion in the United States, unless I thought the United States was made up of ungrammatical, tin-foil hat wearing nuts who have their CAP LOCK key glued down.

Where does this leave me?  I actually do enjoy following Weibo, and I like hearing about what happens to be trending there.  The counts of reposts are interesting, and I like to see examples of what people are posting.  But I am wary of inferring much about Chinese society in general from Weibo or other social media.

I guess I wish we applied the same level of skepticism to interpreting trends on Weibo that we apply to trends on Twitter, Google+ Facebook.  It certainly is fun to see what is trending in social media, and always entertaining to see clever posts that individuals have come up with, but I don’t think we learn much that is deep or profound about the United States from whatever happens to be a popular topic of discussion on social media.  Media here generally don’t bother summarizing trends in Twitter or Facebook traffic when they’re reporting on public reaction to major events.  If they do, they present the results as more of a curiosity than anything else.

I’m not suggesting that Weibo and social media be ignored.  They’re fun and interesting.  And given the difficulties of reporting in China, and the probable impossibility of carrying out surveys on reactions to sensitive subjects, it is certainly true that there aren’t many alternatives for gauging public opinion.  But I’d like to see presentations of evidence from Weibo or other social media accompanied by some caveats about possible problems with representativeness.

Hurray for the ENCODE project

I can’t help but thinking that the results of ENCODE and perhaps the recent analysis of the human biome in the long run will turn out to be much, much more significant than the sequencing of the human genome a few years back, because it will shed light on the processes downstream from the genes themselves like gene regulation that actually lead to disease, and differences between humans more generally. 

I wonder if the following analogy between the body and a computer would be appropriate: the genes that code for proteins are sort of like a microprocessor that provides fundamental capabilities, but the rest of the DNA that control when genes are expressed and also manage RNA, are like the operating system and software on top that actually govern the body’s operations on a day to day basis, and are responsible when things go badly wrong. I wish ENCODE and the biome sequencing had received as much attention as the original sequencing of the geno

me. Perhaps the leaders of ENCODE and the biome analysis are simply not as flamboyant as the key personalities in the sequencing of the genome.

I also can’t help but wonder if as evidence on gene regulation, RNA activity, the biome, and other processes downstream from genes piles up, it may finally drive a nail in the coffin of the naively reductionist genetic determinism that was so popular a decade or two ago in the run-up to the sequencing of the human genome. Since the completion of the sequencing, it seems like the mutations that have been located that have clinical significance either tend to be very low frequency with very strong effects, or in some cases, higher frequency but with relatively weak effects. We certainly haven’t seen the explosion in understanding of complex outcomes like personality, cancer or chronic disease that glib optimists predicted a decade or two ago. I suspect that this is simply because most of what ails us isn’t in the genes that code for proteins, but rather in other sections of DNA that control gene expression and RNA activity, whose activities may be subject to environmental influences.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times article that inspired this meditation

Slides introducing use of STATA to organize and analyze CMGPD-LN data

 

UPDATE: This post is out of date. The most recent CMGPD-LN Documentation is available at the ICPSR study site: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/DSDR/studies/27063. The slides referred to here have been added to the Training Guide available there (2016 October 18).

I have posted the slides from my methodological lectures at the CMGPD short course that I taught in July at Shanghai Jiaotong University.  These slides introduce many of the STATA operations necessary to carry out advanced operations with the data, most importantly using bysort, merge and certain other commands to construct complex household, life course and kinship variables.  The slides also introduce the basic ‘pre-packaged’ outcome variables and the social status variables.  They also provide examples of using STATA to produce descriptive tables and figures using the data.

http://www.soc.ucla.edu/faculty/campbell/Outgoing/SJTU_CMGPD_2012_Methodological_Slides.zip

Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.  The slides are in essence a draft of the Training Guide that we will release soon.

Online education and higher education

I recently attended a meeting at which the subject of online education came up.  Indeed, over the past few months, the possible impact of online education on higher education has come up a number of times in conversation.  There seems to be a widespread feeling that as the technology for online education improves, it will have an enormous impact.  As is usually the case with disruptive technologies, no one knows what form that impact will take.

I seem to remember reading predictions in the last few weeks that online education augured the end of the university as we know it.  Somehow, the availability of free online courses available from a small number of elite universities like Stanford and MIT would lead to a collapse in demand for attendance at brick-and-mortar universities.  To some, this is a wonderful prospect.  To others, it is horrifying.

To me, the wild speculation over the implications of online education sounds like the same schizophrenic combination of undue optimism and pessimism that greeted television.  To optimists, television would be a civilizing influence because it would universalize access to lectures, concerts, and plays.  People would no longer need to be well-off residents of a large city to see lectures given by distinguished scholars and statesmen, plays performed by the greatest actors and actresses, and concerts performed by the best musicians.  All of this would be piped into living rooms across the country, drowning the population in endless flood of high culture and elevating the tone of civic discourse.

Of course, we just have to turn on the television to know how misplaced this optimism was.  To put it mildly, television content is diverse in terms of its high-mindedness.  For every educational and uplifting nature show or documentary, there are ten Jersey Shores.  And television has done an especially poor job of presenting reasoned debate on key issues.

To pessimists, especially in the movie studios, television was a threat.  Given the opportunity to stay home and watch in the comfort of their living room, why would families visit the cinema?  Of course, this pessimism turned out to be misplaced.  Cinema not only survived the television, but the video recorder, as well as most other advances in recording formats.

To me, the example of television, and other disruptive advances in technology for interaction and delivery of content, suggests that online education is unlikely to obliterate brick-and-mortar universities.  So I’m not ready to bail out on my teaching career yet.  In general, I don’t think we should be throwing up our hands in panic and running for the exits.

Some might go so far as to claim that universities offer a special and unique experience that can’t be replicated online, and might even argue that no one should even try.   The most absurd claim would be that whatever we do is so mysterious and special that it it can’t be bottled and sold by anyone except our own wonderful selves:  its effects can’t be measured objectively, and there is no way of distilling the process into something that can be replicated by someone else.  Such claims resemble the ones made by long line of disreputable professions that includes alchemists, faith healers, psychics, temple priests, charlatans, quacks, and management consultants.  The common element is an objection to competition, evaluation or external scrutiny on the grounds that they have some kind of special knowledge deriving from their unique personal experience that cannot be quantified or described, replicated, or even understood by others.  I don’t know that anyone has made such extreme claims about the special role of universities and the skills of professors, but I’m sure someone will.

A more plausible claim is that higher education will be hard to move online because it is about branding, and is that what parents and students really seek and are willing to pay for is the diploma from a famous university that allows students to access to jobs at prestigious employers, and allows parents to brag to the members of their social circle.  This may hold for elite institutions.  For certain families, and certain employers, the name of the institution on the diploma is more important than the content of the education provided by the university.  If Harvard or the other Ivies gave diplomas to monkeys, management consulting firms and investment banks would still hire them because they don’t really care what they know or what they can do.  They are more interested in being able to tell a new client that the team of new hires they are dealing with are all Ivy League graduates.

I doubt that branding or credentialing will insulate non-elite institutions from the effects of .  Employers that are more reality-based than management consultancies and investment banks might very well come to the conclusion that someone who performed well in a series of well-designed online courses that taught specific skills needed by the employer is just as qualified as someone who has a diploma from a second- or third-tier school.

Overall, I don’t think complacency on our part would be wise.  Online education may not destroy universities, but it will have powerful effects that universities need to address.  If we stick our heads in the sand and claim that the university experience is so unique and special that nothing could possibly augment or replace it, we’re doomed.  And if we stand in the way and actively seek to block inevitable change through clumsy, ham-handed efforts to take advantage of our current status and limit competition, we’ll be run over, much like the music labels have been run over as the result of their bungled response to the rise of the internet as a medium for distributing content, and studios and cable companies are about to be run over.

Assuming that online education will have powerful, perhaps transformative effects on higher education, but will probably still leave universities standing, what is to be done?

The response of musicians to changes in the music business may be instructive.  As I understand it, revenues from traditional sources such as royalties are declining or disappearing.  The old model in which a band or musician struggled in obscurity until they landed a contract with a label and then made money off of royalties seems to be dead.  Instead, musicians are generating much of their income from other sources where they have a comparative advantage and which involve direct human interaction.  Such activities are by definition almost impossible to replicate online.  The most important of these are ticket and merchandise sales at their live performances.  Obviously this has been a struggle, but it does seem like a new model is evolving.

Higher education needs to evolve in a similar fashion.  We need to transform the higher education experience so that faculty spend most of their time engaged in activities in which they have a comparative advantage, and less of their time in activities where online education is more effective, or at least more efficient.

Faculty have a clear comparative advantage in activities that require substantial and substantive interaction with students: responding to student questions, engaging small groups of well-prepared students in discussion, providing conceptual feedback on written work, and mentoring individual students or groups of students on projects.  The common thread here is that the teaching is high-level, and focused more on training students to think independently and carry out research and less on the transmission of basic facts and concepts.  Conversely, I believe online approaches may eventually turn out to have a comparative advantage in tasks currently served by large lecture courses: communication of basic theories and facts, and explication of basic methods.  It wouldn’t surprise me that almost anything in which mastery can be assessed via a multiple choice or short answer test could be taught online.

I propose we replace adapt a new model that recognizes the potential contributions of online education and the comparative advantage of faculty.  We should replace the current model of teaching introductory material in giant lower division courses and advanced material in smaller upper division classes and seminars with a model in which  basic facts, concepts, theories, and methods currently taught in large lecture courses are taught in modular fashion in online courses common to many or all universities, faculty and teaching assistants focus on seminars and small classes that emphasized projects, open-ended discussion, and other activities that make best use of the opportunity for interaction.  The college experience would change fundamentally from the current one in which students enroll in large and probably alienating lecture courses for two years, then take smaller lecture courses in their last years, to one in which students in all four years combined online learning of the basic concepts now taught in large lecture courses and enrollment in small seminars, labs and courses.   What is probably the least rewarding feature of the college experience for everyone involved, the large lecture course, could become a thing of the past, and students and faculty could spend more of their time interacting directly in a more rewarding and productive fashion.

Introductory science and math classes that focus on method and basic theory would be especially good candidates to be outsourced to online courses shared by multiple universities.  Certain introductory courses in the social sciences, especially economics, might also be good candidates for outsourcing.  The fact that these introductory courses are already taught as enormous lecture courses and look very similar across different universities suggests that they should be amenable to automation and outsourcing.  At some point, for the entire country we might end up with a fairly small number of online introductory science and math courses that vary mainly in terms of intensity and rigor and to which universities could ‘outsource’ at least some of the lower division teaching that is now done in large lectures.

Remaining introductory courses in the social sciences and humanities will likely require a hybrid approach.  Lower division social sciences and humanities courses differ more from one campus to another, and even from one instructor to another.  The major exception, of course, is economics.  It might be that we could never settle on the content of a small number of introductory sociology courses that every university in the county would refer its freshmen to.  While basic exposition of key facts, ideas and concepts might be moved from the lecture hall to the internet, introductory courses might still remain university specific, and taught as hybrids, in which students still gathered in small groups with faculty or teaching assistants to engage in open-ended discussion of readings, or work together on projects.

Colleges could also increase access to experiences that are available now but not yet widespread, and for which an online substitute is inherently unfeasible.  These could include time more spent abroad, either in travel study courses taught by their own faculty, or as an exchange student.  Hopefully this could be integrated with online coursework.  For example, a boring lecture course about Chinese society like the one I teach could be replaced with an experience that begins with an online course that teaches basic facts and introduces important scholarly research, and then concludes with a visit to China and perhaps a short seminar or project there.

More speculatively, perhaps we should revisit the whole notion of the standard academic calendar, in which the year is divided into semesters or quarters, and courses have fixed lengths, and in which the same material is taught in roughly the same week of the course every time it is taught.  Perhaps we will transition to a more flexible system in which basic material that is now taught in well-defined lecture courses of fixed length are instead taught as a series of online modules that students complete at their own pace, and in which students enroll in a series of short seminars or labs organized around very specific topics, or work over long periods of time on individual or collaborative projects mentored by faculty or teaching assistants.

Going even further out on a limb, I wonder if online education could alter the relationship between secondary and tertiary education by increasing the preparation and qualification of applicants.  In an ideal world, more of the material that is now being taught in freshmen year at college would be taught in secondary school.  This is especially the case for basic math and science, which seem to require a great deal of what amounts to remedial teaching in these subjects.  If online education makes it possible to offer more rigorous and advanced teaching to students at high schools that are not currently capable of delivering it, that would certainly be a good thing.  This could be especially important for talented students who are not fortunate enough to attend a school that can offer honors or Advanced Placement courses, or even rigorous instruction in basic subjects.

Overall, I am pretty sure universities will survive online education, but may end up looking very different.  Hopefully they will take advantage of the opportunities offered by online education to offer a much better and more rewarding experience to students.

Apparently I’m a member of the California School (加州学派)

In a fit of narcissism, I was searching for my name in Chinese. I was pleased to find a few recent scholarly pieces in China that list me as a member of the ‘California school’ (加州学派) of economic and social historians who work on China.  I guess if I am to be listed as the member of a faction or school, better to be listed as a member of the California School than a member of the Saskatchewan, Rhode Island, or Wyoming School.  If you’re part of a named school or faction, hopefully it is named after a place that is exotic and evocative.  If you hear ‘California school’, you imagine a band of open-minded, edgy and perhaps hip professors dressed in khaki pants and white linen shirts hashing out their differences down by the beach.

That said, I’m not sure those of us who are so listed would all agree that we have enough in common to be considered a ‘school’ or academic faction.

I guess the idea on the part of those who have lumped us all together into the ‘California school’ is that we are distinguished by pursuing new approaches to the study of Chinese social and economic history, including use of new methods and data, and a perspective that is less beholden to the influence of traditional thinking associated with European or North American scholars.  The origin of the label appears to be that almost everyone involved either teaches at a university in California, or used to.

Oddly almost everyone who disagrees with the various views espoused by members of the ‘California school’ also has some kind of California connection: they either teach somewhere in California, used to teach in California, or earned their degrees.  I guess this speaks to the dominance of California universities in the English-language scholarly literature on the social and economic history of China.  Even if you violently disagree with the ‘California school’, you’re probably still connected to California.  Unfortunately within California, affiliations don’t line up neatly, so we can’t really speak of opposing ‘Northern California’ and ‘Southern California’ schools.

Anyway, here are a few of the academic essays that discuss the ‘California school’, and list me as one of its members…

http://www.sixiang01.com/?action-viewnews-itemid-305

http://ywlw.net/article/53/2569.Html

http://www.cawhi.com/show.aspx?id=1293&cid=8