Econometrica: Mar 2016, Volume 84, Issue 2

Elite Recruitment and Political Stability: The Impact of the Abolition of China's Civil Service Exam

https://doi.org/10.3982/ECTA13448
p. 677-733

Ying Bai, Ruixue Jia

This paper studies how the abolition of an elite recruitment system—China's civil exam system that lasted over 1,300 years—affects political stability. Employing a panel data set across 262 prefectures and exploring the variations in the quotas on the entry‐level exam candidates, we find that higher quotas per capita were associated with a higher probability of revolution participation after the abolition and a higher incidence of uprisings in 1911 that marked the end of the 2,000 years of imperial rule. This finding is robust to various checks including using the number of small rivers and short‐run exam performance before the quota system as instruments. The patterns in the data appear most consistent with the interpretation that in regions with higher quotas per capita under the exam system, more would‐be elites were negatively affected by the abolition. In addition, we document that modern human capital in the form of those studying in Japan also contributed to the revolution and that social capital strengthened the effect of quotas on revolution participation.

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