Over the past few months, I had read casually on the imperial examination system (科举) out of curiosity. My knowledge of it, the system that very much defined pre-modern Chinese society, is still very limited and vague, but now I at least know what 进士 and 秀才 are, along with some classical Chinese, background indispensable for understanding that system. I hope, if time permits, to learn more about this over the next year, on the side.
It has occurred to me that the imperial examination system, while doing much to prevent China from developing modern science as the West had for cultural reasons, did select for intelligence at the far tail. The reason is simple. The tests, which were very g-loaded, conferred those who scored highly on them wealth, position, and status that enabled them to have more children, and those from families who scored highly married those from similar families. Over time, there emerged an elite subpopulation with very high base genotypic IQ, one that results in those born from such families to regress not to the overall Chinese mean but to the high mean of that subpopulation. This is consistent with the fact that in the 20th century and probably even today, a disproportionately high percentage of top scholars, scientists, engineers, and even revolutionaries and political leaders of Chinese descent can be traced back to those elite 科举 families, based on the many examples I have seen. I’ll not give specific examples for now; they can easily be found by anyone who reads Chinese.
I will conclude with a note that is likely to be very relevant. Brian Bi, about a year ago, made this following IQ map of China by province.
You can also view it here.
First of all, the data may not be very accurate; I’ll have to check on its source. But for now, let’s assume that it is. Then, what’s most noticeable is the high average of Zhejiang, consistent with the number of mathematical and scientific geniuses of Zhejiangnese ancestry relative to the number of those with ancestry of other provinces, adjusted for province population of course. Examples are numerous: Shiing-Shen Chern, Wu Wenjun, Feng Kang, Yitang Zhang, etc for math. There is also, in another field, Qian Xuesen. Too many to name. Brian Bi and I have wondered the cause of this. It is plausible that the aforementioned effect was much more pronounced in Zhejiang than in other provinces in China. Of course, there is a probably substantial environmental effect here too. So I guess to satisfy this curiosity, I might study some Zhejiangnese history as well.
Aside from prominence in science, Zhejiangnese are stereotyped in China for being really entrepreneurial. They are now one of the most prosperous provinces in China, needless to say. They are, to put it simply, a super breed among Chinese, to my superficial view.