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Upward Social Mobility in Ming China Revisited

Hong HSU (National Chi Nan University, Nankai University)

Fifty-five years ago, Ping-ti Ho published his famous “The Ladder of Success in Imperial China”, in which he mainly used numerical data from lists of jinshi to discuss social mobility in Ming-Qing China. Ho's main data to demonstrate the degree of upward social mobility in the Ming consisted of 6,332 examples drawn from 22 jinshi lists which were available in North American libraries at that time. Since the 1980's, many more libraries in the PRC have become accessible to scholars. Now we can reach sources to which Professor Ho did not have access. In this paper, I used 15,528 cases drawn from 57 jinshi lists, including lists from the reigns of five emperors to which Ho did not have access. Using the same methodology as Ho, with these new sources, I have re-confirmed the applicability of his theory of upward socio-academic mobility. In the Ming period (1368-1644) , 56% of jinshi came from families that had not previously produced a single holder of the elementary degree, let alone an official title, while jinshi from prominent families accounted for 44%. This is comparable to the 50:50 findings of Ho's study, and proves that his claim that the traditional bureaucracy was open to the common people in Ming times is still valid.

Journal of History and Anthropology