Peiyuan Li

Assistant Professor of Political Economy at Duke Kunshan University

My research is at the crossroads of Economic History, Political Economy, and Development Economics

I focus on the mobilization of collective actions, including revolutions, warfare, and labor strikes, from an economic perspective. I'm also interested in nation-building, inequality and mobility, technology diffusion, and text analysis.

I obtained my Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2023.

My doctoral dissertation, "Collective Action in State and Society: 19th and 20th Century China," has been awarded the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Grant # 2214884. Defended at the Department of Economics of the University of Colorado Boulder. Committee: Carol H. Shiue (chair), Wolfgang Keller, Taylor Jaworski, Murat Iyigun, Debin Ma.

Please find my resume here: Curriculum vitae

Working Paper

Nations are products of modernity, but they also have historical roots. In the conquest of China in the mid-17th century, the Manchu-led Qing government oppressed the Han Chinese, the native population of China. Two centuries later, when modern newspaper technology became available, revolutionary propagandists seized the opportunity to reframe the political repression as an ethnic conflict to fan the flames of discontent. Applying machine learning to analyze 0.3 million newspaper article titles, I find that prefectures characterized by repression and resistance responded to the anti-Manchu propaganda by producing more nationalist revolutionaries. Using the historical political cycle as the instrumental variable, I confirm the causal link. The proposed mechanism is the preservation of historical memories through deep cultural traits created by repression and resistance. After the 1911 Revolution, revolutionaries strove to establish a modern nation-state by organizing the Kuomintang (Nationalist) party, army, and government. The results indicate that propaganda utilizing historical repression and resistance shaped the political identity and played a pivotal role in the nation-building of modern China.

The Best Paper Award, Annual International Symposium on Quantitative History 2021, Hong Kong University-SJTU-RMU

Media coverage: [EHS blog]  [Spotify 值得表扬]  [Podcasts 值得表扬] 

Presented at

LSE, NYU politics (QCSS), All-UC Economics History Graduate Students Workshop (UC Davis), Monash-Warwick-Zurich Text-as-Data Workshop, China Economic Summer Institute (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Hong Kong University, University of Manchester, Chapman University (IRES graduate student workshop), Jinan University, Nankai University, AEA (poster), APSA, ASREC, EHA (poster), EHS, EHS Ph.D. Thesis Workshop, International Symposium on Quantitative History, SEA.

Redistribution could be deliberately designed to trigger a civil war. How did the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rally millions of farmers to win in 1949? The crucial step was to initiate land reform through class struggle, empowering farmers to violently grab land from landlords. Farmers desired land ownership but feared reprisals from landlords, who were backed by the Kuomintang (KMT) government. Therefore, farmers had to choose between joining the CCP's army to defend their land and free-riding. Adopting a Difference-in-Difference design and examining the death records of 566,161 communist soldiers, I find that for counties within 82 kilometers of KMT forces, a greater share of land redistribution to farmers encouraged farmers to fight, leading to a rise in CCP soldier deaths after land reform. However, for counties that were farther than 82 kilometers from KMT forces, a greater share of land transfer to farmers discouraged farmers from fighting (free-riding), resulting in fewer soldier deaths after land reform. A model of class struggle for land ownership explains the two different patterns. This paper develops a novel theory of war mobilization and partially explains the emergence of communism in the twentieth century.

NSF Dissertation Grant # 2214884

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Presented at

Cologne FRESH Meeting 2023: Historical Political Economy and Long-run Development (University of Cologne), University Paris-Dauphine, Applied Young Economist Webinar (Monash-Warwick), YSI-EHES Economic History Graduate Webinar, AEA (poster), Chinese Economists Society (Oklahoma) , Online Economic History Workshop: War and The Economy, International Symposium on Quantitative History, Political Science Speaker Series, Virtual Workshop in Historical Political Economy.

Origins of Collective Bargaining and Industrial Labor Strikes in Urban China

NSF Dissertation Grant # 2214884

This study investigates the effect of labor unions on strike outcomes in 20th-century China by examining 2,465 strikes that occurred in Shanghai between 1918 and 1932. Through manual data collection and union-strike matching, the study produced several findings. For KMT-affiliated unions, the presence of such unions at a firm increased the likelihood of an unfavorable outcome for workers by 9.1 percent; however, no significant impact was observed at the industry level. On the other hand, for Communist-affiliated unions, the presence of a CCP-affiliated union at the firm increased the probability of workers achieving a completely favorable outcome by 23.2 percent. Similarly, when a CCP-affiliated union was present in the industry, the likelihood of workers achieving a completely favorable outcome increased by 13.8 percent. The study offers two possible explanations for the superior effectiveness of CCP-affiliated unions in securing favorable outcomes for workers: different political control models and union membership size.


Li, Peiyuan, Li, Wei . (2024) Wrongful Convictions with Chinese Characteristics. Economics of Transition and Institutional Change, 32(1), 143–163. Available from: .

Li, Peiyuan. (2023) The sin of words: Censorship and self-censorship in China during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Asia-Pacific Economic History Review, 63 (2), 145–165. Available from:

Selected Work in Progress

The Regional Distribution of Elites in China, 1368 to 2020, with Wolfgang Keller and Carol Shiue 

After Nixon's China Visit: The Arrival of New Technology and Economic Development in Pre-reform China, with Kang Zhou