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Essays on China's international trade Li, Bingjing


This dissertation studies the impact of international trade on China along different dimensions. The first chapter investigates how the decline in trade barriers and the resulting export expansion affected human capital accumulation in China. Following a theoretically consistent approach, I exploit variations in regional exposures to high- and low-skill export demand shocks, which stems from the diverse initial industry composition across prefectures, and differential skill intensities across industries. I find that high-skill export shocks raise both high school and college enrollments, while low-skill export shocks depress both. The amplified differences in skill abundance across prefectures reinforce the initial industry specialization. These findings suggest a mutually reinforcing relationship between regional comparative advantage and skill formation. The second chapter examines the impacts of export expansion on air pollution and health outcomes in China. To disentangle trade-induced scale and composition effects from technique effect, I construct two export shocks at the prefecture level: (i) PollutionExportShock represents the pollution content of export expansion measured in pounds of pollutants per worker; (ii) ExportShock measures the export exposure in dollars per worker. The two measures differ because prefectures specialize in different products: while two prefectures may experience the same shock in dollar terms, the one specializing in dirty industries has a larger PollutionExportShock. I find that a higher PollutionExportShock increases both pollution and mortality. A higher ExportShock tends to reduce pollution and mortality, but the effect is not always statistically significant. I also provide evidence that export expansion affects mortality through the channel of air pollution. The third chapter provides evidence that over-export of grains aggravated China's Great Famine. I exploit cross-county variation in grain export exposure which stems from their differences in suitability of cultivating different crops that experienced variable export shocks in early famine years. I find that a county's suitability in high-export-exposure crops is positively associated with its famine severity. However, the correlation is statistically insignificant for low-export-exposure crops. Moreover, for high-export-exposure crops, the correlation between suitability and famine severity declines with distance to railroad. These patterns are consistent with the possibility that excessive grain exports severely reduced food availability for domestic consumption.

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