Social mobility in the Tang Dynasty as the Imperial Examination rose and aristocratic family pedigree declined, 618-907 CE

Fangqi Wen, Erik H. Wang, Michael Hout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Data from the distant past are fertile ground for testing social science theories of education and social mobility. In this study, we construct a dataset from 3,640 tomb epitaphs of males in China's Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), which contain granular and extensive information about the ancestral origins, family background, and career histories of the deceased elites. Our statistical analysis of the complete profiles yields evidence of the transition away from an aristocratic society in three key trends: 1) family pedigree (i.e., aristocracy) mattered less for career achievement over time, 2) passing the Imperial Examination (Keju) became an increasingly important predictor of one's career achievement, and 3) father's position always mattered throughout the Tang, especially for men who did not pass the Keju. The twilight of medieval Chinese aristocracy, according to the data, began in as early as the mid-seventh century CE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2305564121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume121
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2024

Keywords

  • aristocracy
  • Chinese history
  • education
  • historical research
  • intergenerational mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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