If you talk to enough Chinese people, you will eventually come across the phrase “Wenzhou people”, referring to people from a particularly entrepreneurial city on the coast of China. They have a reputation for being good at business.
Wenzhou is a city in Zhejiang province. Yasheng Huang says that Zhejiang province is rather special, as it embraced capitalism before the rest of China. It’s leaders were more tolerant of private business during the 1980s, and as a result private enterprises did better than in other parts of China. The province directly to the north (and most similar in some ways) is Jiangsu. Because property right were less secure in Jiangsu, they relied more on foreign investment from multinationals. Ironically, during the 1980s property rights in China were far more secure for multinationals than for local firms.
Even today Jiangsu has a higher GDP per capita than Zhejiang, due to all the multinational investment. But Zhejiang has a higher level of domestic income, as much of the Jiangsu income earned by multinationals flows out of the country. Zhejiang is China’s richest province, excluding the independent cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Its 55 million people are a mix of urban and rural. (Similar population to England, in a 20% smaller area, with many more mountains and more rural people.) And it also seems to exhibit some other very interesting characteristics.
For instance, Zhejiang residents have a very long life expectancy. Unfortunately I had a really hard time finding this data. The data that is easy to find on the internet is out of date. Lancet has an article that suggests that in 2013, the life expectancy in Zhejiang had surged to over 81 years, nearly two years higher than the number two province (Jiangsu–again ignoring independent cities.) That’s up from 74.7 in 2005, meaning their life expectancy grew by roughly 6 1/2 years in 8 years. And more importantly, the gap with other top provinces widened significantly. (Overall, life expectancy in China usually grows fastest in those areas where it is lowest.)
Reading Garett Jones’s fascinating new book “Hive Mind” got me wondering about Chinese IQ. Shanghai’s PISA scores are highest in the world, but no one thinks Shanghai is representative of China as a whole. Unfortunately, the figures for other provinces are not reported—in English. I dug a round a bit on the internet and found a post that reports IQ equivalents for some other Chinese provinces. Here’s what it says:
Happily (via commentator Jing) we learned that the PISA data for Zhejiang province and the China average had been released on the Chinese Internet. I collated this as well as data for Chinese-majority cities outside China in the table below, while also adding in their PISA-converted IQ scores, the scores of just natives (i.e. minus immigrants), percentage of the Han population, and nominal and PPP GDP per capita.
* Twelve provinces including Shanghai, Zhejiang, Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu totaling 621 schools, 21,003 students. Results have been released for Shanghai, and later on for Zhejiang (59 schools, 1,800 students – of which 80% were township-village schools) and for the 12-province average.
(1) Academic performance, and the IQ for which it is a good proxy, is very high for a developing nation. Presumably, this gap can largely be ascribed to the legacy of initial historical backwardness coupled with Maoist economics.
(2) The average PISA-converted IQ of the 12 provinces surveyed in PISA is 103.0. (I do not know if provincial results were appropriately weighed for population when calculating the 12-province average but probably not). We know the identities of five of the 12 tested provinces (Shanghai, Zhejiang, Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu). They are all very high-income and developed by Chinese standards. Furthermore, these five provinces – with the exception of Tianjin – all perform well above average according to stats from a Chinese online IQ testing website.
The author of the post, Anatoly Karlin, then makes this claim:
Addendum 8/15: The commentator Jing graciously provided the list of all the 12 Chinese provinces that participated in the PISA 2009 study. They were: Tianjin, Shanghai, Beijing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jilin, Hubei, Hebei,
Hainan, Sichuan, Yunnan, Ningxia.
This allowed me to make an interesting conclusion. No matter whether you weigh the provincial IQ scores above by population or not, the difference between the 12 provinces and China on average is only about 0.5 points in favor of the 12 provinces. This means that the PISA sample is actually pretty good – and that China’s PISA-derived IQ is in fact about 102.5 or so.
Even if that’s not exactly right, it’s probably in the ballpark. Some of those 12 provinces are in the west, and Sichuan has a huge population. So while the group of 12 would be somewhat upwardly biased by the three big cities, the sample includes a large number of very populous inland provinces. Even if the actual number were 100, it would be an astoundingly high IQ for a country at China’s level of development (recall the so-called “Flynn effect.”) For instance, Switzerland’s 101 is the highest average IQ in Europe. I recall that Garett Jones mentioned that Hong Kong and Taiwan had scored surprisingly high when they were still poor, and of course they are ethnic Chinese.
I assume you know where I’m going with this. Zhejiang seems to have an especially high average IQ, especially for a province with a mix of urban and rural residents. In eastern China, one cannot point to ethnic differences to explain IQ variation, Zhejiang is more than 99% Han, and other eastern provinces are also overwhelmingly Han. Instead, the anomalous IQ must represent some sort of (local) cultural or educational difference. Did this arise recently, like their long life expectancy? Is it caused by the fact that Zhejiang got a head start on capitalism? Or does the cause go deep into Chinese history? After all, Zhejiang contains the city of Hangzhou, which Marco Polo marveled over. Hangzhou is host to a top university, and the internet giant Alibaba. It’s also home to Pritzker prize winning architect Wang Shu who designed a college campus in Hangzhou. And it’s one of China’s most (only?) beautiful cities.
And here’s what Wikipedia says about Wenzhou:
Wenzhou has given birth to more mathematicians more than any other city in the world.
No answers here, just some interesting regional differences to think about.
PS. Possibly related (or not) I saw this astounding story:
Beijing will replace an aging overpass with a new one weighing 1,300 metric tons within 24 hours starting on Friday.
If the job is completed as planned, it will set a record in China for the shortest replacement time involving such a large structure in heavy-traffic downtown areas, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said on Tuesday.
The replacement will take place at the Sanyuanqiao overpass on the northeast section of the Third Ring Road, which links the city with Beijing Capital International Airport. It is one of the busiest traffic hubs in the city.
This will be the first time in China that special dollies – low, wheeled platforms – that are able to carry 1,000 tons each will be used to move giant prefabricated bridge pieces and install them fully intact, said Hou Xiaoming, deputy director of the road management department of the commission.
The original overpass was completed in 1984.
. . .
In the past, building an overpass in downtown areas has taken months to complete. This project will be fast because of sophisticated engineering and careful preparations, Hou said.
Beijing has more than 200 overpasses inside its Fifth Ring Road, the most in the country. Sanyuanqiao is four times the size of the Xizhimen overpass in downtown Beijing, which was replaced six years ago using older engineering technology.
“If successful, it will serve as a good example for other cities to follow in downtown areas troubled by traffic jams,” Hou said.
And they say the Chinese don’t innovate. The giant highway engineering project will cost $7.77 million. In Boston it would cost many times more, and would take more like one year, not one day.
Will China get stuck in the middle-income trap? Can you point to any countries that did get stuck in the middle-income trap, and have average IQs anywhere near 109.5? Or even 100? Russia might be the best case, with an average IQ of 97, and (perhaps) stuck near the top of the middle-income range. (Actually it’s too soon to tell.) But China seems very different to me. Time will tell.