Lee-Campbell group at Social Science History Association meetings, November 17-20, 2016, Chicago, IL

Current and former members of our research group will be presenting a total of 11 papers at SSHA in November. Additionally, James Lee will be a panelist on a book session, and Shuang Chen will be a discussant.

See below for a complete list of our presentations. Names of group members are in bold.

Thursday, November 17: 12:30 PM-02:30 PM

Session: The city in economic history: The big picture (Room 6)

Xiaowen Hao. Risk Sharing with Chinese Characteristics: Partnership Liability of Local Business in Early Twentieth Century Shanghai.

Session: Family Ties in Household and Community (Room 4)

Xiangning Li. Household Hierarchy and Household Division in Northeast China, 1789-1909.

Hao Dong. Extended Family Norms, Post-Marital Co-Residence and Reproduction in East Asia, 1678-1945

Thursday, November 17: 02:45 PM-04:45 PM

Session: Religion in China (Room 16)

Li Ji. Social formation and identity construction of a Catholic village in nineteenth-century Manchuria.

Session: Early life conditions and later life outcomes (Room 5)

Emma Zang, Hui Zheng.  Does the Sex Ratio at Sexual Maturity Affect Men’s Later Life Mortality Risks? Evidence from Northeast China, 1789-1909.

Thursday, November 17: 05:00 PM-07:00 PM

Session: Women, Gender and Social Reproduction (Room 2)

Shuang Chen Discussant

Hao Dong, Satomi Kurosu. Missing Girls and Missing Boys: Differential Effects of Marital Residence, Co-resident Kin, and Household Wealth in Two Japanese Villages, 1716-1870

Friday, November 18: 04:30 PM-06:00 PM

Session: Author Meets Critics: Moring and Fauve-Chamoux, A Global History of Historical Demography: Half a Century of Interdisciplinarity (Room 3)

James Lee Panelist.

Saturday, November 19: 08:30 AM-10:30 AM

Session: Material antecedents to war and revolution (Room 13)

Matthew Noellert, Yingze Hu, Long Xing, and James Lee.  Collectivization and Inequality in Rural China: Evidence from Shanxi Province, 1946-1966.

Session: Marriage, Family and Partner Selection (Room 6)

Hao Dong. Marriages are Made in Heaven? The Influence of Extended Family in East Asia, 1688-1945

Saturday, November 19: 01:30 PM-03:30 PM

Session: The Demographics of Degrees (Room 15)

Veronica Wang, James Z. Lee, Chen Liang. Women’s Entry into Higher Education: China and U.S. in Comparison.

Sunday, November 20: 08:00 AM-10:00 AM

Session: Chinese State Culture and Bureaucracy in Global and Historical Perspective (Room 16)

Cameron Campbell, Bijia Chen, Chen Liang, Yuxue Ren, James Lee. Official Careers During the Qing (1644-1911): Evidence from the jinshenlu.

Sunday, November 20: 10:15 AM-12:15 PM

Session: Disease and Mortality (Room 4)

Shuang Chen. Patterns of Settlement and Migrants’ Long-term Mortality: A Case from Northeast China, 1866-1913

Lee-Campbell group at the Social Science History Association, Baltimore, MD, November 2015

We’ll be at the Social Science History Association meetings in Baltimore, MD November 12-14, 2015. Below are the sessions in which members of the Lee-Campbell research group are involved in some way or another. We have two presentations of papers co-authored with graduate students, I will be serving as a discussant for another session, and then there will be an author-meets-critics session for Similarity in Difference: Marriage in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900, the Eurasia Project comparative study of marriage lead-authored by Christer Lundh and Satomi Kurosu. We look forward to seeing everyone!

A4 Thursday, November 12, 1:00pm – 3:00pm Constellation D 
Kinship and Mortality
Chair: J. David Hacker, University of Minnesota (History & Minnesota Population Center)
The Role of Grandmaternal and Grandpaternal Age on Survival
Heidi A. Hanson, University of Utah (Huntsman Cancer Institute, Pedigree & Population Science)
Ken Smith, University of Utah (Human Development and Family Studies) 
Geraldine Mineau, University of Utah (Utah Population Database) 
Family Influence on Mortality: An East Asian Comparison, 1700-1950 
Hao Dong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Division of Social Sciences)
James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Humanities and Social Science) 
Hundred Years of Repeated Bereavement: Childhood Mortality Clustering in the Netherlands 1812 – 1912
Ingrid Van Dijk, Radboud University Nijmegen (History) 
Discussant: Sven Wilson, Brigham Young University (Political Science)
F5 Friday, November 13, 2:15pm – 4:15pm Chesapeake B 
Forming and Dissolving Marriages and Households 


Chair: Catherine Fitch, University of Minnesota (Minnesota Population Center) 

Household Structure at Early 19th Century Ireland 

Yoshifumi Shimizu, Momoyama Gakuin University (Sociology) 

Marriageability and the Race Differential in the Frequency of Marriage, 1960-2014

Steven Ruggles, University of Minnesota (Minnesota Population Center) 

Determinants of Interethnic Marriage in 19th Century China

Bijia Chen, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Social Science)

Hao Dong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Social Science)

Cameron Campbell, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Social Science) 

Single Gender Households in Mid Nineteenth Century Kyoto, Japan 

Mary Louise Nagata, Francis Marion University / EHESS (History / CRH)

Discussant: Katherine A. Lynch, Carnegie Mellon University (History) 

G2 Friday, November 13, 4:30pm – 6:30pm Constellation C 

Kinship Influences on Reproduction


Chair: Lisa Dillon, Université de Montréal (Démographie) 

Do Grandmothers Influence the Fertility of their Daughters?

Geraldin Mineau, University of Utah (Utah Population Database) 

Alan Rogers, University of Utah (Anthropology)

Kristen Hawkes, University of Utah (Anthropology)

Edward Christensen, University of Utah (Anthropology)

Heidi A. Hanson, University of Utah (Pedigree & Population Science)

Ken Smith, University of Utah (Human Development and Family Studies)

Reproductive Behavior of Landless Agricultural Workers, Small Farmers, and the Economic Elite in the Historical Krummhoern Region (East Frisia, Germany, 1720-1870)

Charlotte Stoermer, Universiteit Utrecht (Department Geschiedenis en Kunstgeschiedenis)

Kai Pierre Willfuehr, Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Demography)

Natural Fertility and Longevity, a review of the literature 

Alain Gagnon, Université de Montréal (Démographie)

Socially Differentiated Fertility Measures from Censuses and Church Records

Hilde Sommerset, University of Tromsø (Norwegian Historical Data Centre) Gunnar Thorvaldsen, University of Tromsø (Norwegian Historical Data Centre) 

Spousal Power Relations and Fertility Careers: Evidence from the Netherlands, 1850- 1940

Hilde Bras, Wageningen University (Social Sciences) 

Reto Schumacher, University of Geneva (Economics) 
Discussant: Cameron Campbell, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Social Science)
K5 Saturday, November 14, 3:45pm – 5:15pm Constellation C
Book Session: Similarity in Difference: Marriage in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900 
Chair: Daniel Little, University of Michigan Dearborn (Philosophy) 
Similarity in Difference: Marriage in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900
Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University (The Collge of Foreign Studies)
Christer Lundh, University of Gothenburg (Economic History)
Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins University (Sociology)
Hilde Bras, Wageningen University (Sociology of Consumption and Households)
Evan Roberts, University of Minnesota (History)

Lee-Campbell group at the American Sociological Association meetings, San Francisco, August 2014

I am happy to report that several members of the Lee-Campbell research group will be presenting at the American Sociological Association meetings in San Francisco over the next few days. Three students are presenting papers in regular sessions, and we have a thematic session devoted to the Eurasia Project with distinguished panelists on Monday morning. See below for information about specific sessions. Names of Lee-Campbell group members are in bold.

Sun, August 17, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Location TBA
241 – Section on Evolution, Biology and Society Paper Session. Integrating Evolutionary and Biological Thinking into Sociological Inquiry Link

Effects of Kin and Birth Order on Male Child Mortality: An East Asian Comparison

Hao Dong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University
Wen Shan Yang, Academia Sinica
James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Human child survival, like many mammals, depends on parental supervision and support. In spite of the recent advances in research on the effects of parents and grandparents on infant and child mortality, studies that directly examine sibling mortality difference according to the presence or absence of specific kin by birth order are still rare. This paper attempts to supplement this literature by using individual level panel data from three East Asian historical populations from northeast China, northeast Japan, and northern Taiwan comprising 2.1 million observations of 0.3 million individuals to examine and compare male infant and child mortality by presence/absence of parents and other kin and their interaction effects with birth order. We apply discrete-time event-history methods on 141,370 observations of 64,733 boys 1 – 9 years-old. We find that in all three populations while presence of parents is important to child survival on average, both presence of parents and presence of grandmothers favors the survival of earlier-born over later-born. These findings underline the importance of birth order in understanding differential parental and grandmother effects on sibling mortality differences.

Mon, August 18, 10:30am to 12:10pm
Hilton Union Square, Plaza B, Lobby Level

371 – Thematic Session. Hard Times and Families in the Past: Lessons from the Eurasia Project Link

This session assesses the implications of the Eurasia Project in Family and Population (EAP) for our understanding of family organization and demographic behavior in past times, and for the conduct of historical and comparative research. For twenty years, EAP participants have engaged in a large-scale, comparative, quantitative investigation of family, community, household responses to hard times in the past via analysis of patterns of demographic responses to economic and other stress in longitudinal, individual-level historical data. Results have provided insight into family responses to hard times in Europe and Asia as revealed by differences in patterns of individual responses according to community, household, and family context. It has produced two volumes on mortality and fertility published by MIT Press. A third volume, on marriage, is forthcoming from MIT Press in 2014. After a brief introduction to the project, four distinguished panelists will assess its implications for historical and comparative sociology, demography, and family sociology.


Jason Beckfield, Harvard University
Cameron Campbell, HKUST
Jack Goldstone, George Mason University
Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University
James Lee, HKUST
Daniel Little, University of Michigan, Dearborn
Andreas Wimmer, Princeton University

Mon, August 18, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Location TBA
442 – Section on Methodology Paper Session. Open Topic II Link

Prospective versus Retrospective Approaches to the Study of Intergenerational Social Mobility

Xi Song, UCLA
Robert Mare, UCLA

Most intergenerational social mobility studies are based upon retrospective data, in which samples of individuals report socioeconomic information about their parents, an approach that provides representative data for offspring but not the parental generation. When available, prospective data on intergenerational mobility, which are based on a sample of respondents who report on their progeny, have conceptual and practical advantages. Prospective data are especially useful for studying social mobility across more than two generations and for developing joint models of social mobility and demographic processes. Because prospective data remain relatively scarce, we propose a method that corrects retrospective mobility data for the unrepresentativeness of the parental generation, and thus permits them to be used for models of social mobility and demographic processes. We illustrate this method using both simulated data and data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. In our examples, this method removes more than 95% of the bias in the retrospective data.

Tuesday, August 19, 2:30 to 4:10pm
589 – Regular Session. The Experience of Social Mobility
Hilton San Francisco Union Square, Lobby Level, Golden Gate 1, Lobby Level Link

Intragenerational Social Mobility and Happiness in China: Does Upward Mobility Make People Happier?

Xiaolu Zang, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
Nan Dirk de Graaf, Nuffield College, University of Oxford

To date, few studies have examined the consequences of intragenerational social mobility. The present analysis investigates the effect of intragenerational social mobility on happiness, using data from the China General Social Survey 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008 waves. We find no support for the traditional hypothesis that social mobility produces higher levels of dissatisfaction, net of prior and current status and controls. Neither upward mobility nor downward mobility has significant effects on happiness. Mobile individuals tend to resemble their current social status more than their prior social status, and no difference of prior and current status’ relative importance has been found according to different mobility patterns or gender.

Presentations related to East Asian historical demography at IUSSP 2013 Busan

I’m trying to put together a list of sessions that include presentations focused on East Asian historical demography at the IUSSP meetings in Busan, South Korea, August 26 to September 31, 2013.

Below is what I have found so far, copied and pasted from the IUSSP online programme.  If the session is focused on East Asia, I have copied information for the entire session.  In other cases where a paper focused on East Asia appears in a session with a broader theme, I only copied over the information about the East Asia themed session.

I probably have missed many presentations because I was searching on the names of people who I already knew were presenting.  If you know of any other presentations focused on historical demography in East Asia, please email me and I will add.  Please email me a link to the session (see below for examples) so I can copy and paste the information easily.


Session 186:
Historical demography of East Asia from household registers

Thursday, August 29th 2013
13:30 pm – 15:00 pm
Room 108, Convention Hall, 1st Floor

Chair: Cameron Campbell, UCLA
Discussant: Zhongwei Zhao, Australian National University

  1. Age patterns of migration among Korean adults in early 20th-century Seoul  •  Bongoh Kye, Kookmin University; Heejin Park, Kyungpook National University
  2. Demographic Responses to Economic Stress and Household Context in Three Northeastern Japanese Villages 1708-1870  •  Noriko Tsuya, Keio University; Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University
  3. Household Context and Individual Departure: The Case of ‘Escape’ in Three ‘Unfree’ East Asian Populations, 1700-1900  •  Hao Dong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University; James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  4. Marriage, household formation and social mobility in colonial Taiwan: A new occupational database for Taiwanese family history.  •  Wen-shan Yang, Academia Sinica; Xingchen C.C. Lin,Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica


Session 264:
Early life stress and later health

Friday, August 30th 2013

15:30 pm – 17:00 pm

Room 102, Convention Hall, 1st Floor
Chair: Tommy Bengtsson, Lund University
Discussant: Alain Gagnon, Université de Montréal

Session 200:
EurAsian history of population and family

Thursday, August 29th 2013
15:30 pm – 17:00 pm
Room 107, Convention Hall, 1st Floor
Chair: Diego Ramiro Fariñas, IEGD-CCHS Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Discussant: Jérôme Bourdieu, INRA-PSE and EHESS

  1. Mortality and living standards in Asia and Europe, 1700-1900  •  Tommy Bengtsson, Lund University; James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Cameron Campbell, UCLA
  2. Migrations in the Adjustment between Population and Resources. Eurasian Contributions  •  Michel Oris, Université de Genève; Martin Dribe, Lund University; Marco Breschi, University of Sassari
  3. Prudence and Pressure: Reproduction and Human Agency in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900  •  Noriko Tsuya, Keio University; Feng Wang, Brookins-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy; George Alter, University of Michigan; James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  4. Similarity in difference in pre-industrial Eurasian marriage  •  Christer Lundh, University of Gothenburg; Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University


Session 270:
Urbanisation, economic development and family transformation through history

Friday, August 30th 2013
15:30 pm – 17:00 pm
Room 108, Convention Hall, 1st Floor
Chair: Lionel Kesztenbaum, Institut National d’Études Démographiques (INED)
Discussant: Jérôme Bourdieu, INRA-PSE and EHESS

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


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.

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

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…




Our paper on trends in the social origins of students at elite Chinese universities

Our paper on the long-term social origins of students at Peking University and Suzhou University has appeared in China Social Science (中国社会科学). The paper’s title is “无声的革命:北京大学与苏州大学学生社会来源研究 1952-2002 (Silent Revolution: Research on the Social Origins of Peking University and Suzhou University Students, 1952-2002).” The lead authors were James Lee/李中清 (HKUST) and LIANG Chen/梁晨 (Nanjing University) and there were six additional co-authors, including myself.

My own role was fairly small, and limited largely on advising on the statistical analysis, and participating in discussions of the implications of the results. But it is an important paper, and I would rather make a minor contribution to an important paper than make a major contribution to an unimportant one. I already do a lot of the latter.

Here is the announcement of the issue that includes the paper at the China Social Science website: http://www.csstoday.net/Item/10020.aspx

Here is a place at the China Social Science website where you can view a complete abstract and download the article:

The paper presents many novel empirical findings on trends in the social origins of the students at these two universities. In my mind, the most important is the demonstration that during the period covered by the analysis, the percentage of students from farming and working class origins was much higher than at national and regional elite universities in the US.

Perhaps the only elite schools in the US in which students from modest socioeconomic origins are so well represented are the University of California campuses, including UCLA. I was just at a meeting yesterday where some basic tabulations were presented on the socioeconomic characteristics of entering freshmen at UCLA and I was pleased to see that we continue to admit and enroll large numbers of students who are first-generation college students, or from families of relatively low socioeconomic status. Based on what I have seen in tabulations from the annual Freshman Survey carried out by the Higher Education Research Institute here at UCLA, in the United States the most selective privates admit a large share of their students from high income families. Only a small portion come from modest origins.

If you can lay your hands on a copy of 中国社会科学, the full reference is

梁晨 (LIANG Chen), 张浩 (ZHANG Hao), 李兰 (LI Lan), 阮丹青 (RUAN Danching), 康文林 (Cameron Campbell), 杨善华 (YANG Shanhua), 李中清 (James Lee). 2012. “无声的革命:北京大学与苏州大学学生社会来源研究 (1952-2002) (Silent Revolution: Research on the Social Origins of Students at Peking University and Suzhou University, 1952-2002).” 中国社会科学 (Chinese Social Science). 2012(1):98-118.
For those of you who can read Chinese, here is the abstract:

1949 年以来, 中国高等教育领域出现了一场革命。高等精英教育生 源开始多样化, 以往为社会上层子女所垄断的状况被打破, 工农等社会较低阶层子 女逐渐在其中占据相当比重, 并成功地将这一比重保持到20 世纪末。基础教育的 推广、统一高考招生制度的建立以及重点中学的设置等制度安排共同推动了无声革 命的出现。这场革命虽然不及社会政治革命那样引人瞩目, 却同样意义深远。本研 究利用1952 — 2002 年间北京大学和苏州大学学生学籍卡片的翔实材料, 力图将这 一革命及其成就呈现出来, 为中国高等教育改革与发展提供借鉴.

Because much of the online discussion of our article has focused on what appears to be an increase in the share of students whose father and/or mother are cadres, James Lee and Liang Chen have provided some additional details on this trend to help clarify some key underlying features.  Below, I have added this material to this blog entry, on 3/26/2012.  We are preparing additional materials to help ‘unpack’ the findings in the article and clarify some of the key trends.
Additional points re the increase in the proportion of students whose father and mother was a cadre (from James Lee and LIANG Chen) 

Recently there has been considerable interest in our research finding that the proportion of cadre children at PKU increased during the last quarter of the twentieth century from 11 percent in 1976 to 38 percent in 1999.

This finding which was published in《无声的革命:北京大学与苏州大学学生社会来源研究(1952-2002)》中国社会科学杂志 2012 年 1 期 is based on an analysis of the social origins of some 150,000 undergraduate students who entered Peking University and Suzhou University in the last half of the twentieth century.

The article also shows several other important discoveries.

1. Based on the analysis of Suzhou University undergraduates, while the overall proportion of cadre children similarly increased, the proportion of cadre children who are from explicitly political cadre families in fact declines from 85 percent in 1965 to fewer than 45 percent in 1999

2. The proportion of Suzhou University cadre children who are from commercial enterprise cadre families, however, increases from 3.4 percent in 1976 to over 43 percent in 2001.

3. At the same time, the proportion of children of factory workers also increases from 13 percent in 1992 to 22.4 percent in 1999 at Peking University and from 11.4 percent in 1989 to 24.4 percent in 2001 at Suzhou

In fact, overall the proportion of children from blue collar families remains roughly stable at Peking University during the last quarter of the twentieth century and increases during this period at Suzhou University.

Overall by international standards, Chinese elite university admissions as demonstrated by these two universities were and continue to be remarkably open to children from non-elite families.


最近,我们的一项研究发现,北大学生中干部子女的比例从1976年接近11%增加到了1999年的近38%,这引发了社会各界地广泛关注和持续讨论。实际上,这是我们对上世纪后半叶北京大学和苏州大学招收的共约15万名本科生社会来源研究的发现之一,该研究名为《无声的革命:北京大学与苏州大学学生社会来源研究(1952-2002)》,发表在《中国社会科学》杂志 2012 年第1期上。 其实,我们的研究至少还有其他三个重要发现值得注意:

1.              同北大类似,苏大学生中的干部子女在改革开放以后也有持续的增长,但在干部群体内部,党政干部的比例已经从1965年的85%下降到了2001年的40%
2.              与此相反,苏大干部子女中的企业干部子女比例却从最低谷1976年的3.4%增加到了2001年的43%,超越党政干部成为干部子女的最大来源。
3.              同时,两校的工人子女比例也都有明显增长。其中,北大的工人子女比例从1987年的13%增加到了1998年的22.4%;苏大的工人子女比例从1989年的11.4%增加到了2001年的24.4%