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The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure

Department of Geography and Faculty of History


Occupational structure of Lower Yangzi River Region, 1736-2010

Occupational structure of Lower Yangzi River Region, 1736-2010

Ying Dai, PhD student in History

Ying Dai has always been interested in global industrialization and the divergence between the west and the east. As occupational structure has been demonstrated as a very revealing indicator to the economic past, the PhD research by Ying will investigate the occupational structure of Lower Yangzi River Region from 1736 to 2010. It aims at identifying the timing and nature of the great divergence much more fully and accurately than has been done to date.

For the construction of estimates from 1736 to 1898, the primary source will be Xingke tiben, a type of official document used by central or local high-level officers to report serious crime cases, mostly homicide cases, to the emperor. This source has been widely referred to for the social history of China, but Cheng Yang's PhD project is the first to use the tiben to estimate occupational structure. Cheng's work demonstrates the critical value of the source, though further work is required to develop and verify the methodology of reconstructing the historical occupational structure of China from data derived from tibens. Extending and testing the methodological approach is one basic goal of Ying's work. 1912 census data, in 15 occupational categories are available for the study area. Including the period 1912-2010 will allow her to examine much longer-run changes.

This project followed a pilot study of the occupational structure of Hangzhou, a key Lower Yangzi prefecture (fu) famous for its textile industry. All of the available tibens of Hangzhou were analysed so as to reveal the issues that requires further consideration. They include:

  1. The distinction of population and occupations across the prefecture is significant, especially between normal counties and counties where the government of the prefecture was located.
  2. There are both job descriptors and activity statements in the tibens, thus the time-use approach should be adopted.
  3. There were considerable differences on the connotation of occupations and ways of classification between the data derived from the sources from 1736 to 2010, which witnessed three political systems.

Bearing in mind the above-outlined considerations, the primary aims of this research are to:

  1. Quantitatively reconstruct the occupational structure of Zhejiang Province from 1736 to 1898 based on the tibens and bring the tiben data and those of the census after 1912 to a comparative set;
  2. Refine the method of constructing estimates of historical occupational structure of China based on tiben data;
  3. Examine the timing and nature of the industrialisation of the area in question and the county-level regional differentiation within it;
  4. Investigate what role the textile industry played in the economy of Lower Yangzi since the second half of the 18th century.
  5. Respond to the great divergence issues.
Figure 1: Distribution of the tiben cases of Zhejiang Province between regions (A) and through time (B).
Distribution of the tiben cases of Zhejiang Province between regions (A) and through time (B)

Sources: The base map of A is derived from CHGIS (2017). CHGIS V5 Shapefiles (2012). Retrieved from