Language Unification, Labor and Ideology


By exploring an instance of nationwide language education reform—the Chinese Pinyin Act of 1958-1960—we estimate the effects of language unification using a difference-in-difference approach by interacting a birth cohort exposure dummy with the linguistic distances between local languages and Putonghua—modern standardized Mandarin. This paper presents five main findings: (1) learning Putonghua results in modest short-term negative effects, but long-term positive effects on educational attainment; (2) learning Putonghua increases rural households’ non-agricultural employment; (3) sharing a common language empowers workers to migrate across provinces and language regions; and (4) using a unified language fosters patriotism, a stronger national identity, a more positive subjective evaluation of China, and even more distrust in people of another nationality. One plausible channel is that the common language builds national identity by expanding exposure to audio-based media (e.g., radio, cell phone, and the internet); and (5) the post-reform population shows more skepticism about democracy, a better subjective evaluation of governance, and greater support for government intervention over economic liberalism. These changes in ideology and social preferences are consistent with the political doctrine of the Communist Party of China.

Last updated on 08/18/2020