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Professor Zhou Li-An’s paper on China’s Send-Down Movement submitted to AER

SEP . 11 2020
Peking University, September 11, 2020: Leading general-interest economics journal The American Economic Review has officially accepted a paper on the "unintended effect" on rural education of China’s Send-Down Movement during the Cultural Revolution period when some 16 million urban youths were mandated to resettle in the countryside.

While previous efforts studying the movement mostly focused on these youths, this paper, co-penned by Zhou Li-An, applied economics professor and associate dean of Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, probed a huge amount of county-level data compiled from local gazetteers and population censuses to look at the impact these well-educated youths had on the educational attainment of millions of rural children.

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. In addition to farming, many of them were assigned to teaching posts, benefiting about 245 million school-age rural kids.


According to the paper, the resettlement was mobilized in a top-down and mandatory manner and most urban youths could not choose whether or where to go. Meanwhile, migration was then highly restricted under the household registration (hukou) system and subject to government approval. And the movement was temporary — by the time rural children grew up, the vast majority of SDYs had left, excluding possible mechanical effects that the better educated SDYs (and their offsprings) were counted as rural residents.

With meticulous study based on more than 3,000 book-length local gazetteers and individual-level population censuses, the paper finds that the arrival of SDYs significantly increased local rural children’s years of schooling, making them more likely to attain education beyond junior high level, pursued higher-skilled occupations including teachers, held more positive attitudes towards education, married later, and had smaller families. The effect of SDYs is greater among less-educated groups and regions (girls and less-developed counties), suggesting that the SDYs also played a role in reducing socioeconomic inequality.

The paper notes that most of the affected rural children were 20 to 30 years old in the mid-1990s, when the country’s economic reforms allowed them to migrate to cities to become manufacturing workers or to work in the vibrant Township and Village Enterprises in rural areas, suggesting a potential link between the increase in rural human capital stock due to the arrival of SDYs and China’s rapid economic growth in the reform era.


Known for his pioneering research in officials' promotion incentive and behavior and governance, Zhou has been focusing his research on the fields of political economics, industrial organization and economic transformation and development. More than 60 papers penned by him have been published in leading economics and management publications worldwide, resulting in widespread influence in domestic and overseas academic circles.

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

Published in 2007, the paper "Governing China's Local Officials: An Analysis of Promotion Tournament Model" systemically surveys the incentive and governance model for China's local officials, especially its promotion tournament trait, and sheds light on the inner relation between this particular model and China's fast economic development and its unique issues. His "promotion tournament theory" provides a new perspective for the research on China local officials' incentive and governance, and also offers an explanation of China's economic miracle.

Meanwhile, Zhou also relishes study concerning current social demand, leading 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 such as labor forces, land,capital, technology and data as a reference for the drafting of the 14th five-year plan.

"I've done a lot of theoretic research in the past. I'll focus more on practical research. Only by going into real life cases can I find out the details and stories hidden behind and explore deeper logics so as to better tell Chinese stories from the angle of a researcher," Zhou said perviously.

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.

Source: PKU Guanghua School of Management