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  The Legacy of Meritocracy:
Peking University Undergraduates,
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The Impact of China's Accession to the WTO on Its Media and Telecommunications Industries
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  Random Geometric Graphs and Their Applications
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Meritocracy has been the principle of social mobility in China for thousands of years, and education has played a central role in the realization of meritocratic principles. Education has been the ladder for upward social mobility for all, and this principle has been one of the enduring legacies of the Chinese civilization.

Our study examines the role of meritocracy in access to elite education in China since 1949 by examining trends and patterns in social origins of the undergraduate students at one of the most prestigious and selective universities in China: Peking University. The original data consist of registration records held at Peking University Archive Department for 64,500 undergraduate students who were admitted into Peking University from 1949 to 1999. Our analysis makes use of tabulations produced at the Archives Department. We examine changes over time in students' parental occupation, geographic location, and previous schooling by gender and academic discipline.

To our knowledge, this is the first systematic study of trends and patterns in the social origins of students at an elite university in China. Many if not most elite universities in developed countries routinely disseminate tabulations of the characteristics of incoming freshmen. But, until recently, very few Chinese universities have routinely compiled and disseminated descriptive statistics about their incoming freshmen classes in the same way as universities in developed countries. Our analysis of tabulations of the characteristics of entering students at Peking University will make an important contribution to the study of elite education in China.

Preliminary analysis has produced some expected and unexpected findings. First of all, while students from non-working class families are over-represented in the composition of the students admitted, we have found a substantial proportion of students with a working class family background. Furthermore, this pattern has been remarkably stable over time, especially in light of the increasing economic inequality in China over the past three decades. Secondly, we have found a steady increase of female students at Peking University, and this trend continued after the Economic Reforms started in 1978. Third, our findings reveal a clear pattern of unequal distribution of elite education among regions, which is closely related to the regional differences in socio-economic development. Forth, our findings show a clear pathway to a top university in China: key-point high school. A disproportionate number of Peking University undergraduate students come from a limited number of high schools in China.

In our study, we also compare results for Peking University data with parallel results for Suzhou University, which is a provincial level university in China. Such comparisons further shed light on the process of the elite production in China. Our preliminary findings have shown that the two universities differ significantly in the social origins of their students. They also differ in other processes such as the role of key-point of high schools in getting into a national or provincial elite university in China.

Elite education is one of the most important factors in elite production and reproduction in any society. China provides an interesting case where a legacy of meritocracy interacts with sometimes conflicting cultural, social and economic forces. By analyzing trends and patterns in the characteristics of incoming students at an elite institution, we hope to contribute to the understanding of a crucial aspect of social stratification in China.

Dr. Ruan Danching
Department of Sociology
Hong Kong Baptist University