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Social Mobility from a Kinship Perspective: Rural Liaoning, 1789–1909

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 April 2003

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This paper examines the role of kin networks in intergenerational mobility in rural Liaoning, China, 1789–1909. Classic studies of social mobility in historical China based on the records of imperial examination candidates suggest that society was relatively fluid. It has been claimed, however, that associations between fathers' and sons' outcomes overestimate the fluidity of historical Chinese society because many men who achieved prominence had been helped by senior kin other than their fathers. We test these claims by applying event-history techniques to longitudinal, nominative household register data, measuring the effects of characteristics of kin on the chances of obtaining an official title. Even though distant kin influenced the chances of obtaining a title, kin networks did not monopolize opportunities. There was substantial downward mobility among the sons of prominent families, and high proportions of titleholders were new, in the sense of not having any senior kin who held titles.

© 2003 Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the HSN Workshop on Large Databases: Results and Best Practices, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 17–18 May 2001. We are grateful to participants and to an anonymous referee for their comments. While working on this paper, Campbell was supported by a grant from the UCLA Academic Senate Council on Research.