Faculty & Research


One of top economics journals, The American Economic Review, has officially accepted a paper on the positive effect on China's rural education when some 16 million urban youths were sent to the countryside in the 1960s. The paper reveals a link between events of this period, the ensuing increase in rural human capital stock, and increases in the country’s economic growth in later years.

Based on datasets compiled from local gazetteers and population censuses, the paper, co-authored by Li-An Zhou, Professor of Applied Economics and Associate Dean at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, demonstrates that greater exposure to the sent-down youths significantly increased rural children’s educational achievement, shedding new light on the event’s unintended long-term consequences on human capital accumulation in rural areas and China’s subsequent economic growth.

The “Send-Down Movement” was launched In 1968, two years after the start of the Cultural Revolution, and lasted until the late 1970s. Mostly junior and senior high school graduates, these “sent-down youths” (SDYs) were temporarily resettled in poor villages where few people received more than a primary school education. While some were assigned farming activities, many of them were assigned to teaching posts, benefiting about 245 million school-age rural children.

While previous research on China’s Send-Down Movement primarily focuses on the impact of the Movement on the SDYs themselves, this paper serves as a systemic effort to review the Movement as a large-scale flow of human talent rarely seen in human history. Analyzing the event through this lens, the paper’s research gauges the impact these young urban talents had on the educational attainment of millions of rural children. From the vibrant Township and Village Enterprises that emerged in rural areas during the 1980s and 1990s to China’s transformation into a “world factory” after joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, a rural workforce with moderate skills levels has played a crucial role in driving the country’s economic progress. Most of these people were beneficiaries of the Movement.

According to the paper, the resettlement of SDY was orchestrated as a top-down requirement; most urban youths could not choose whether or where to go. Migration to other areas was also highly restricted under the household registration (hukou) system and subject to government approval. The Movement was also temporary — by the time rural children grew up, the vast majority of SDYs had left, excluding the possibility that the better-educated SDYs (and their offspring) were counted as rural residents.

Through meticulous analysis of more than 3,000 book-length local gazetteers and individual-level population censuses, the paper concludes that the arrival of SDYs significantly increased local rural children’s years of schooling, made rural children more likely to attain an education beyond the junior high level, increased the likelihood they would pursue higher-skilled occupations, including teaching occupations, and caused them to hold more positive attitudes towards education, marry later, and have smaller families. The impact created by the SDYs was greater among less-educated groups and regions (specifically, girls and less-developed counties), suggesting that the SDYs also played a role in reducing socioeconomic inequality.

Known for his pioneering research on governance mechanisms and the behavior and promotion incentives of government officials, Professor Zhou’s research focuses on the fields of political economics, industrial organization, and economic transformation and development. He has published more than 60 papers in leading economics and management journals worldwide, earning widespread influence in both domestic and international academic circles.

Zhou ranked first in the Top 600 Most Cited Researchers in Chinese Universities in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences (2006-2018) with his paper "Governing China's Local Officials: An Analysis of Promotion Tournament Model" being cited 4,005 times.

Published in 2007, the paper "Governing China's Local Officials: An Analysis of Promotion Tournament Model" systemically analyzes the incentive and governance model for China's local officials, especially the promotion tournament created by the model, and sheds light on the relationship between this particular model, China's fast economic development, and its unique issues. His "promotion tournament theory" provides a new lens for examining the governance and incentive mechanisms for China’s local officials while also offering an explanation of China's economic miracle.

Zhou also devotes time to researching topics that address current social needs. He led a crucial research project proposed by China’s National Development and Reform Commission on key measures for the country’s market-led allocation of production factors, including labor, land, capital, technology, and data as a reference in the drafting process of China’s 14th five-year plan.

"I've done a lot of academic research in the past, but now I want to focus more on practical implications of research. Only by exploring real-life events can I uncover the details and stories hidden behind these events and understand their deeper logic so as to better tell Chinese stories from the perspective of a researcher," Zhou said previously.

With academic research based on science and a solemn attitude as the root for all thinking, Guanghua has seen its papers published in numerous high-profile overseas publications include Academy of Management Journal, American Economic Review, Journal of Finance, Journal of Political Economy, Management Science and Marketing Science. In 2019 alone, more than 100 Guanghua papers were released by leading publications, topping most Asian counterparts.

Established in 1911 by the American Economic Association, the AER is a leading general-interest scholarly journal in economics.

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