Working Paper

The Best Paper Award, Annual International Symposium on Quantitative History 2021

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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.

NSF Dissertation Grant # 2214884

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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.


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: