The Organizational Demography of the Qing Civil Service

Cameron Campbell, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Bijia Chen, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
James Z. Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) civil service was one of the largest and most important ‘modern’ organizations anywhere before the twentieth century. The employees of such a large organization represent a population in its own right, with structure and dynamics determined by patterns of entry, promotion and exit. We have a unique opportunity to analyze the Qing civil service as a population because we have complete records of almost all civil servants between 1850-1912. We apply demographic techniques to these data to characterize the composition and dynamics of the population of civil officials, including their rates of entry and exit, life table measures of duration of service, the composition of the population in terms of qualifications, and the role of differentials in rates in shaping composition. We also investigate and compare age composition and dynamics for subsets of officials who can be linked to data that provides their year of birth and/or year of death. The resulting analysis will make a number of contributions. At the very least, it will provide a new understanding of basic features of the Qing civil service in terms of its size, composition and change over time, and the turnover and career lengths of officials. Beyond providing important insight into late imperial Chinese history, we hope that more broadly this will generate interest in the study of the demography of organizations, and inspire the construction of databases of the personnel of large organizations in past times. Such databases would not only be interesting in their own right for the study of ‘modern’ organizations before the 20th century, but also as sources to be linked to the other population databases under construction for many societies.

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 Presented in Session 95. Big Data in Historical Research II