Education and human capital

Pei Gao, Bas van Leeuwen, Meimei Wang

Research output: Chapter in book/volumeChapterScientificpeer-review


A rich literature documents the important role of education and human capital for economic development in the modern world. China has a very long educational history, but the rapid expansion of mass education and modernization in curriculum started relatively late, only after the early twentieth century. Over the period studied in this volume (1800 and 1949), the drastic changes occurred in education system, and this chapter attempts to survey several milestones.
The traditional Confucian teaching system had been operating in China for over one thousand years. Under this system, the state bureaucrats and social elites were recruited using a merit-based examination. The provision of education was mainly taken on by private parties and the Confucian classics were used as teaching content. The major transformation in the education field during the period of study was the shift from this long-lasting traditional Confucian teaching system to a modern one that was approximating a Western model. This change was a slow and difficult process that started in the 1860s, and generated the following three important improvements: public provision of mass education, curriculum reforms, and an increase in educational opportunities for girls. The new system educates millions of students, formed professional human capital, cultivate new intellectual elites, and encouraged modern economic growth in China.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Economic History of China, vol. 2: 1800 to the Present
EditorsDebin Ma, Richard von Glahn
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic) 9781108348485
ISBN (Print)978-108-42553-7
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • China
  • education
  • Qing dynasty
  • examination system


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