Melanie Meng Xue (薛萌)

Research statement

My research lies at the intersection of economic history and cultural economics. I am particularly interested in how historical experience shapes modern day China. By studying cotton textile production since 1300 AD, I show that premodern cotton textile production led to a decline in gender inequality and that this effect has persisted to this day. My other research includes empirical studies of the impact of state-sponsored persecutions on social capital and the effects of cultural distance on public goods provision.


Current Research Papers

“High-Value Work and the Rise of Women: The Cotton Revolution and Gender Equality in China”, under review.

Abstract: The cotton revolution in imperial China constituted a substantial shock to the value of women's work. Using historical gazetteers, I exploit variation in cotton textile production across 1,489 counties and establish a robust negative relationship between high-value work opportunities for women in the past and sex ratio at birth in 2000. Results are robust to using an instrument pertaining to suitability for cotton weaving. I find strong evidence that premodern cotton textiles have a lasting impact on gender outcomes by shaping cultural beliefs about women's worth. The pattern of widow suicide rates suggests an initial transition in gender norms by at least 1600 AD.


ASSA 2017-EHA Session: Slides Discussion

“Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China”, with Mark Koyama

Abstract: This paper studies the consequences of autocratic rule for social capital in the context of imperial China. Between 1660--1788, individuals were persecuted if they were suspected of Subversive attitudes towards the autocratic ruler. Using a difference-in-differences approach, our main finding is that these persecutions led to an average decline of 38% in the number of Charitable organizations in each subsequent decade. To investigate the long-run effect of persecutions, we examine the impact that they had on the provision of local public goods. During this period, local public goods, such as basic education, relied primarily on voluntary contributions and local cooperation. We show that persecutions are associated with lower provision of basic education suggesting that they permanently reduced social capital. This is consistent with what we find in modern survey data: persecutions left a legacy of mistrust and political apathy.


Notes on Liberty: The legacy of autocratic rule in China

“Friends from Afar: Migration, Cultural Proximity and Primary Schooling in Lower Yangzi, 1850-1949", with Yu Hao, Explorations in Economic History 2017, 62 (1).

“Raising Dragons”, with John Nye



Work in Progress

“The Long-Run Effects of Affirmative Action: Evidence from Imperial China”

 “Extreme Weather and a Culture of Violence”

 “Aspiration and Education: The Persistence of Human Capital in China, 1368-2014”

 “Property Rights, Real Estate and Urbanization: An Institutional Analysis of Shanghai and Tianjin during Treaty-Port Era”

 “Heterogeneity in Treatment Effect of Unilateral Divorce Reforms”


I am currently a postdoctoral

fellow at UCLA Anderson

School of Management.


From January 2017 to June 2017,

I am a visiting scholar at

Department of Economics, Brown




Department of Economics

Brown University
70 Waterman Street, #306

Providence, RI 02912

(401) 863-9312



Curriculum Vitae

SSRN Author Page