Wenzhou people

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  The data that is easy to find on the internet is out of date.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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 5.30.47 PM

* 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.



31 Responses to “Wenzhou people”

  1. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    27. November 2015 at 16:40

    My guess is that China will go the way of Japan or Taiwan…although it is spooky to ponder N vs. S Korea.

    Obviously, even having Korean culture or genes does not overcome the N Korean government.

    I suppose the Chinese government could mutate in such a way as to impede progress. The role of the PBoC is worth pondering. And who can explain China going into slo-mo for centuries while Europe advanced?

    Singapore, btw, has stalled. Their central bank says that’s okay ’cause inflation will be higher in the future.

  2. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    27. November 2015 at 16:50

    This area is also one of the leading production centers for double-cropped rice in China. I think that explains a lot of its people’s characteristics.

    BTW, the Austronesians came out of southern China as well (only 5000 years ago), and they aren’t all that smart.

  3. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    27. November 2015 at 16:55

    “stuck near the top of the middle-income range.”

    -World Bank classifies it as near the bottom of high income.

    “Will China get stuck in the middle-income trap?”

    -Possibly, but as long as there’s movement from the country to the city and as long as both rural and urban real wages keep rising, it’s not very likely.

  4. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    27. November 2015 at 17:02

    And, yes, Sumner, it’s a really good idea to read the most popular Unz Review bloggers every day. Sailer is the most penetrating and brilliant in fewest words, but Karlin may be best on all-around comprehensiveness and intelligence.

    Sailer will cure any and all naive thinking about race (including yours), Karlin is good for general enrichment (from Russia to really great posts like this:

    I was also really impressed by Lorenzo from Oz’s blog.

  5. Gravatar of CMOT CMOT
    27. November 2015 at 18:00

    ‘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.”

    Please see this New York Times article from 2012 about a slide in bridge replacement in Boston


    “When [{t}he River Street Bridge] fell into disrepair, state officials knew that replacing it would normally involve two years of detours and frustration for local drivers.

    Instead, they did it over a weekend.”

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. November 2015 at 18:30

    Ben, Yes, there’s lots of uncertainties.

    E. Harding, You said:

    “BTW, the Austronesians came out of southern China as well (only 5000 years ago), and they aren’t all that smart.”

    Given that there are significant IQ differences even within China, I’m not at all surprised that a group as distant as the Austronesians might have lower IQs. There is wide variation in IQ all over the world. (Is that the group that is a mixture of Taiwanese and Melanesian?)

    As far as Unz, I found this quite interesting:


    But this sort of thing is all highly speculative (including this post.)

    CMOT, Thanks, but that project is tiny compared to the Beijing overpass, probably less than 1/10th the size. I recently saw the Massachusetts highway engineers spend several years replacing an overpass on I-95 near where I work in Waltham MA. And even that overpass was about 1/10th the size of the Beijing project.

  7. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    27. November 2015 at 18:39

    Any theory of high Chinese IQ must also explain high Korean and Japanese IQ. The Japanese are largely descended from farmers who arrived from the Korean Peninsula less than three thousand years ago. It’s interesting how, despite this, the Korean and Japanese languages do not have any common origin.

    The Austronesians (which include the Pacific Islanders) are largely descended from Taiwanese aborigines. Melanesian admixture depends on location. 🙂

  8. Gravatar of CMOT CMOT
    27. November 2015 at 18:53

    The bridge in Boston is 400 tons, while the bridge in Beijing is 1300 tons. And it didn’t take a year. Bridges up to half a mile in length and over 5000 tons have been replaced in this way elsewhere in the US. But not all bridges can be rebuilt in this way due to the nature of the site, the nature of the needed replacement structure, and so on, so the old way technique is still in use.

    The NYT article references the fact that state highway departments are adopting it because

    ““The highway department didn’t use to see the drivers as customers,” said Frank DePaola, administrator of the highway division for the department. “For a while there, the highway department was so focused on construction and road projects, it’s almost as if the contractors became their customers.””

    The technique was developed by American railroads, who own the infrastructure they use and are thus their own customers.

    There’s quite an interesting economic lesson there, if one can look past one’s big IQ to see it.

  9. Gravatar of John S John S
    27. November 2015 at 20:57

    E. Harding,

    the Korean and Japanese languages do not have any common origin.

    A connection can’t be ruled out. “Old Korean” languages such as Goguryeo and Baekje were completely replaced with the language from Silla, so it’s difficult to determine their closeness to Old Japanese. The even earlier Proto-Korean could have influenced Japanese during late Jomon or Yayoi, periods of rising settlement from the continent (including Korea). It’s an open question.

    Certainly, any speaker of both Modern Korean and Japanese senses fairly strong affinities in terms of sentence structure and phrasing.

    “Among more distant connections, the possibility of a genetic relationship to the Goguryeo (Koguryŏ) languages, or perhaps to Kara (Gaya), has the most currency. Goguryeo itself may be related to Old Korean Peninsula, and a Japonic–Korean grouping is widely considered plausible.”


  10. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    27. November 2015 at 21:58

    @ John S

    -In any case, any relationship between those languages, if it exists, is way more distant than that between any random two Indo-European languages.

  11. Gravatar of David Pinto David Pinto
    28. November 2015 at 05:25

    The construction innovation was the concrete. Someone came up with a formulation that cured in hours, rather than days. That allows a very short closure time for road for a minimal disruption of traffic. They recently replaced an overpass on I-84 in Southington, CT this way. They built the new road on the side of the old one, closed the road Friday night, and Monday morning it was open for rush hour. Without the faster curing concrete, however, it would not be possible.

  12. Gravatar of ChrisA ChrisA
    28. November 2015 at 06:02

    The US do very large construction projects very routinely, probably better than anywhere else in the world. This is in the oil and gas industry – the amount of infrastructure built to support the shale oil industry in a brief period of just a few years is mind boggling. China has been trying to replicate this, but with very poor results. When I read about the oil companies problems trying to get it going, I think of the complaints I read about in the US about how you can’t do large projects there anymore. The oil firms in China complain about difficulties in getting land access, over regulation, difficulties in getting access to resources such as water, restrictions on imported labor and so on. So China barely has any shale gas or oil production, even thought they would dearly love it.

  13. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    28. November 2015 at 06:53

    I have a IQ of 120.

  14. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    28. November 2015 at 07:35

    Is this story a depiction of easy money or tight money?


    “Debt-Fueled Bond Buying in China Raises Concerns”

  15. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    28. November 2015 at 08:00

    ‘ Without the faster curing concrete, however, it would not be possible.’

    I don’t know about that, if the replacement is being built in a vacant lot near the old bridge, you could just wait until the concrete is cured in days, weeks, months…before moving it into place.

    However, there are rapid setting materials (urethanes and epoxies) that can be used to make repairs to existing infrastructure overnight. Such as these;


    The product in that video demonstration was used successfully in Costco stores, in the short window between the warehouse closing at 10:00 PM and the start of restocking shelves (with forklifts) at 3:00AM the next morning.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. November 2015 at 08:10

    E. Harding, The Japanese written language is based on Chinese.

    CMOT, OK, I stand corrected. But I continues to insist that a highway overpass near where I work took several years to replace. Not sure what explains the big difference.

    Thanks David.

    Ray, Yes, we all know that, and we are all in awe of your brilliance.

    ChrisA, Good point, and you see that in lots of areas. Our private railroads are among the world’s best, whereas Amtrak is among the world’s worst (or at least the developed world’s worst.) Our government airports are far worse than the private airports in Europe.

    China seems to do public infrastructure better than the US, especially subways. I recall a highway project on Boston that was supposed to cost about $1 or $2 billion and ended up costing $16 billion, and took decades—all to replace about 1 mile of expressway.

    Travis, It’s hard to tell, but it doesn’t really sound like monetary policy at all.

  17. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    28. November 2015 at 08:32

    @Ray, so does Major Freedom (probably).

    I think I have an IQ in the upper 120s and the Scotts’ IQ is in the 140s. Your 120 IQ is not extraordinary for this site.

  18. Gravatar of Greg Ransom Greg Ransom
    28. November 2015 at 09:49

    Evidently you’ve never read Gregory Clark ….

  19. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    28. November 2015 at 19:03

    @E. Harding – My test was a UK version (so I missed a few UK pop / movie star questions) and I tested a few years ago; I’m middle aged. When younger I tested with a ‘fun’ quiz and it was 140. As you age you get stupider. Scott at 140? Wow, when he was young he must have been off-the-charts!

  20. Gravatar of AbsoluteZero AbsoluteZero
    28. November 2015 at 21:52


    John S: “…any speaker of both Modern Korean and Japanese senses fairly strong affinities in terms of sentence structure and phrasing.”

    Yes, but that’s a serious understatement. They are so similar often you can match sentences up syllable for syllable. I know Japanese, I don’t know Korean, but I’ve looked at Korean language books, and spoken to my Korean friends, including a few who also know Japanese (and one who know Chinese as well). The two sound very different, and the modern writing systems are completely different, but once you substitute the sounds and symbols, they often seem like the same language.

    Scott: “… The Japanese written language is based on Chinese.”

    True, and not just in terms of kanji, or Chinese characters. Both hiragana and katakana are from either Chinese characters or radicals. However, the similarities are mostly in the vocabulary. The two languages are completely different in terms of both the sound systems and the underlying grammar.

  21. Gravatar of Jose Romeu Robazzi Jose Romeu Robazzi
    29. November 2015 at 04:27

    Brazil is going backwards, if not, we are certainly stuck. Don’t know about IQ estimates here, but I am not very optimistic. Conincidence or not, we have adopted A LOT of keynesian economic ideas around here …

  22. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. November 2015 at 06:04

    @Jose R. Robazzi – you can Google “IQ by Country” to get the standard chart. I think Brazil is about where Greece is, maybe a little lower. It all depends (national IQ does) on GDP, as they track fairly well, with exceptions like Mongolia and as Sumner says, China (possibly due to big city bias, but also the present post highlights that some south Chinese are just plain smart as a whole). Besides Hive Nation, which I might give in and buy, there’s this book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_and_the_Wealth_of_Nations

    Let’s face it Jose, Brazil’s most favorable ASSet is just that, and a fine ‘bubble’ economy it is! Forget airplanes, go for beach flip-flops. You’ll have more fun too. Wish I could make it to Carnival one of these days…

  23. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    29. November 2015 at 09:31

    @Ray Lopez: “My test … a few UK pop / movie star questions … I tested with a ‘fun’ quiz and it was 140.

    So you’ve never had an actual IQ test? Honest, legitimate IQ tests don’t have questions about pop/movie stars, and aren’t “fun”. All this time you’ve been asserting you possess an actual IQ score, but the reality is you just took some fun internet quizzes and guessed an IQ number from that?

    Sorry, that’s not how legitimate IQ works.

  24. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    29. November 2015 at 11:58

    @Ray Lopez

    -I estimate him to be so. He has a UChicago degree while being from Flyover Country. That’s gotta count for something. The other Scott also feels like 140. I don’t think either of the Scotts have released their transcripts, but if they have, I think they would confirm my estimates.

    BTW, Brazil must be way lower than Greece.

  25. Gravatar of derivs derivs
    29. November 2015 at 14:33

    Greece over, without a doubt.
    About 20% of the population in the Northeast part of Brazil are dumber than dumb illiterates that do nothing more than lie in hammocks, have babies, and eat with their hands. Brazil should just gift that part of the country to Venezuela, along with all their incredibly corrupt politicians (99.9% of them), and problem solved!

    If they lock these guys up and teach them they can no longer steal with impunity so that they no longer want to be politicians, Brazil should be OK.

    As for IQ and grades, I agree with my mom, performance is more about the I Will and not the IQ. When it came to school, I refused! To this day, waking up at 3am to get on a piss stinking subway in Manhattan to have my next 19 hours turned into hell, to get back on a less piss stinkin subway at 10pm, to go home, was still better than sitting in a freakin classroom.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. November 2015 at 19:42

    Well I see that this post has brought out the bigots.

  27. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. November 2015 at 21:34

    @Don Geddis – I took a UK author’s book on testing your IQ. It had a few questions on UK pop stars. The author claims it was a real IQ test. It took a week to finish and I got in the 120s. I also took an online “fun” that I scored 140 on, as did some brainiacs at my office. I am a white collar professional with three advanced degrees, a PhD, and I made a half million on my own and my family is in the 1%. You? Hahaha…

    Sumner: “Well I see that this post has brought out the bigots.” – not really Scott. You just haven’t traveled overseas enough. Indeed, Brazil (never been there, have been to Peru) is probably like the Philippines, where largely the people party, eat with their hands, and have babies, just like derivs said. It’s a fact. National IQ here is low 80s. Functional retardation in the USA is 80 and below. So half the population here is arguably borderline retarded. They do act like it at times. The plus: I rather be here than in the USA. I stand out like a superstar, and get catcalls “Hey Joe” like a celebrity every time I go outside (it’s become annoying, lol, like the paparazzi). And the people here are not racist like in your Boston region. They’re just simple and dumb.

    PS–I would advise against your daughter dating a black man, but if you mention it to her she might rebel and do it just to spite you, lol. But that’s your family decision. The blacks in the USA are scarred by years of racism and they are affected by it. I personally would rather date and marry an African and live outside the USA, or, at best, in the Washington DC area where black-white couples are somewhat common. Otherwise you’re just asking for trouble, sad but true.

  28. Gravatar of Derivs Derivs
    30. November 2015 at 00:53

    “Well I see that this post has brought out the bigots.”

    A Jew who is married to a mulatta being called a bigot by a Mid-Western cracker . Priceless.

    Fact check is:

    17% illiteracy rate in the NE of Brazil. (Based on a very low standard)
    Avg household owns 3.26 Hammocks
    Avg household owns .724 forks
    In all fairness Birth rate is probably not all that high these days. Maybe I am prejudiced by the people I know that are from the North who are more my age and who were born into massive families back in the old days when South and Central American women really were baby making machines.

  29. Gravatar of Don Geddis Don Geddis
    30. November 2015 at 09:01

    @Ray Lopez: “The author claims it was a real IQ test.

    Must be true, then! If the author “claimed” it. LOL. Do you generally believe everything you read?

    Suddenly I wonder whether maybe that was the real IQ test … seeing just how gullible you were.

    You? Hahaha…

    Ah, another example of you holding strong opinions, despite having zero knowledge about the subject. Well, at least you’re consistent.

  30. Gravatar of Alain Alain
    30. November 2015 at 09:25

    The average IQ in Shanghai is over 111? What an astoundingly high number. The average person is Shanghai is about as smart at the top 1/3 of people in the U.S. Or about as smart as the average person with a bachelors degree. I have no idea how such an economy functions. Oh how I wish I had tried living there.

    But wait, it is possible it is even more extreme. I presume that value is derived by testing children in the area, I’m going to guess that Shanghai is a magnet city so it pulls the best and brightest from around the country, this probably means that the children have regressed to the mean from their parents.

    If I’m right about all of those ifs, I’m probably not since the numbers are so absurd, the average person with children in Shanghai has an IQ above 120. My gosh.

  31. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. December 2015 at 06:56

    Ray, Not surprised you agree with Derivs.

    Derivs, I don’t think you know what bigotry is. It’s not a question of “facts” it’s a question of attitude. Your comment was insulting, and I doubt you’d have the nerve to say it to their faces.

    Alain, Why so absurd? Isn’t the average IQ of Jewish people (in the US at least) around that level, if not higher? How about immigrants from India? As you yourself said in the post, it partly reflects the migration of lots of smart people to the magnet city. I’ll bet the average IQ in West LA or midtown Manhattan is also quite high.

    And recall that Zhejiang province is around 109. So maybe the mean that it is regressing to is higher than you think. There is also assortative mating to consider, which could lead to different groups with different means, over a period of centuries. (I’m no expert in this area, but those who are experts have made this argument–that a group’s IQ can rise significantly in just 1000 years. So there are lots of possibilities)

    Also note that Chinese students study much harder than American students. If we studied that hard our average IQ would certainly be well above 100. These estimates are based on PISA tests, where studying helps.

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