The World’s First Meritocracy Through the Lens of Institutions and Cultural Persistence
James Kai-Sing Kung ()
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James Kai-Sing Kung: The University of Hong Kong
Chapter 7 in The Palgrave Handbook of Comparative Economics, 2021, pp 159-184 from Springer
Abstract China was the first in the world to have developed a meritocratic bureaucracy in the form of keju, a civil exam system through which top government officials were selected on a competitive basis. As an institution, keju provided room for social mobility as evidence shows, although “family background” also mattered. More interestingly, keju nurtured a culture of valuing learning and educational achievements that persists to this day in terms of higher human capital and entrepreneurial outcomes as proxied by years of schooling and occupational choice. However, a potentially worrying sign of this persistence is local elite entrenchment, as keju culture is transmitted via the channels of educational infrastructure, social capital, and political elites alongside human capital, suggesting meritocracy may have cast a “long shadow”.
Keywords: Meritocracy; Evolution; Civil exam (keju); Institutions; Cultural persistence; China (search for similar items in EconPapers)
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