What are the origins of gender-biased social norms? As a painful custom that persisted in historical China, foot-binding targeted girls whose feet were reshaped during early childhood. This paper presents a unified theory to explain the stylized facts of foot-binding, and investigates its historical dynamics driven by a gender-asymmetric mobility system in historical China (the Civil Examination System). The exam system marked the transition from heredity aristocracy to meritocracy, generated a more heterogeneous composition of men compared to that of women, and triggered intensive competition among women in the marriage market. As a competition package carrying both aesthetic and moral values, foot-binding was gradually adopted by women as their social ladder, first in upper class and later by lower class. However, since foot-binding impedes nonsedentary labor but not sedentary labor, its adoption in lower class exhibited distinctive regional variation: it was highly prevalent in regions where women specialized in household handicraft, and was less popular in regions where women specialized in intensive farming, e.g. rice cultivation. Empirically, we conduct analysis using county-level Republican archives on foot-binding to test the cross-sectional predictions of our theory, and major findings are robust and consistent with key theoretical predictions.
Political Conflict and Development Dynamics: Economic Legacies of the Cultural Revolution (with Liang Bai) [pdf]
As one of the most influential socio-political movements in 20th-century China, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) resulted in widespread conflict. This paper investigates its economic legacies, utilizing county-level variation in revolutionary intensity, as measured by the number of resulting deaths. After constructing a county-level panel of industrialization (1953-2000), we use a generalized difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the revolution's dynamic effects on economic development. The results show that worse-affected counties performed at least as well during the pre-revolution periods, but were slower to industrialize afterwards. The effects were largest in 1982, and decline through 1990 and 2000. Further using individual-level census and survey data, and combining cohort and regional variation in revolutionary intensity, we find cohorts with more exposure are less likely to obtain higher education degrees, less likely to take up professional and entrepreneurial occupations.
The Invisible Wound: The Long-term Impact of China's Cultural Revolution on Trust [pdf]
How can political movements affect social trust? As an influential socio-political movement in the history of China, the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) incentivized people to snitch on each other to signal political loyalty. To identify the causal effect of Cultural Revolution on trust, I use two sources of variation in exposure to the revolution: (1) the regional intensity variation, captured by the density of abnormal deaths due to the revolution at county level; and (2) cohort variation, constructed based upon schooling experience during the Cultural Revolution. I find that individuals from counties of higher revolution intensity and schooling cohort during the revolution trust significantly less. Analyzing intergenerational transmission shows that children of parents with more intensive exposure to the revolution do not have a significantly lower level of trust, revealing that the vertical transmission of the traumatic experiences is limited. Furthermore, heterogeneous analysis by class origin and urban/rural dichotomy show that the effect is global across groups. The major findings are stable across robustness checks and placebo tests.
Are Only Children More Depressed? Evidence from China’s One-Child Policy (with Albert Park)
Sib-ship structure plays a significant role in children’s psychological development. This paper examines the causal effect of growing up as an only child on subjective well-being outcomes, with the latter measured by self-rated happiness and depression. Considering the endogeneity issue of fertility choice within family, we take advantage of the exogenous fertility shock of China’s One-Child Policy with both time and regional variation. Since the counterfactual of singletons are first-borns with successive siblings, we closely pay attention to the first-born sample. Our results illustrate that being an only child can significantly decrease one’s subjective well-being, and more intensive exposure to the One-Child Policy makes individuals more depressed and less happy. However, while the One-Child Policy has negative effect on children’s happiness and mental health, its effect on children’s years of schooling does not stand out.