Arthur H. Cole Prize of the Economic History Association goes to Dr. Chicheng Ma of HKU Business School

Arthur H. Cole Prize of the Economic History Association goes to Dr. Chicheng Ma of HKU Business School

Dr. Chicheng Ma of HKU Business School (the School) has recently won the prestigious Arthur H. Cole Prize of the Economic History Association for his paper “Knowledge Diffusion and Intellectual Change: When Chinese Literati Met European Jesuits” published in The Journal of Economic History (JEH). The prize was awarded at the annual meeting of the Economic History Association, held in La Crosse, Wisconsin, September 16-18, 2022.

The award-winning paper uses the cliometrics approach to examine the impact of European science brought by the Jesuits on Chinese scientific production during the Ming and Qing dynasties, illuminating how the openness of knowledge exchange affected intellectual change. Drawing upon the biographies of Jesuit missionaries in China collected between 1580 and 1800, Dr. Chicheng Ma constructed a geographical distribution of Jesuit missionaries and their scientists in China and compiled statistics on the number of scientific works written by Chinese scholars in each prefecture based on the literature on the history of Chinese science. Econometric analyses indicate that the Jesuits’ diffusion of European sciences significantly stimulated Chinese scholars’ scientific research, especially in regions where there were more Jesuit scientists. This is mainly because Chinese literati benefited from the communication and collaboration with Jesuit scientists, adopting European methods to revisit Chinese mathematics and astronomy, correct the calendar, and develop cartography. However, after the Qing court began expelling the Jesuits in 1722, the intellectual contact between China and the West was interrupted and the number of Chinese scientific works declined significantly.

Dr. Chicheng Ma’s finding questions the conventional view that attributes China’s scientific stagnation (The Needham Puzzle) to Confucian literati’s lack of interest in science or Western learning. Instead, the stagnation is more likely to be related to the empire’s autarkic principle. A broader contribution of this lies in providing fresh historical evidence on the importance of openness to knowledge diffusion in knowledge production. The two corresponding quasi-natural experiments upon the Jesuit arrival and retreat enable this study to identify the causal impact of knowledge diffusion on knowledge production.

Dr. Chicheng Ma’s JEH paper, which was published in the December 2021 issue, can be accessed here:
The award-winning paper is also introduced in LSE Business Review:


About the Arthur H. Cole Prize
The Arthur H. Cole Prize is awarded annually by the Economic History Association for the best article published in The Journal of Economic History in the previous year. Previous award-winning papers can be found at 


About the Arthur H. Cole Prize awardee Chicheng Ma
Dr. Chicheng Ma is currently an assistant professor of economics at the HKU Business School. His primary research areas are in development economics and economic history, with a special focus on the roles of historical culture, human capital, and institutions in long-run development. Last year, with Professor James K. S. Kung (HKU Business School) and Dr. Ting Chen (HKBU), Dr. Chicheng Ma won the Royal Economic Society Prize for the best article published in The Economic Journal in 2020. Their paper, “Long Live Keju! The Persistent Effects of China’s Civil Examination System”, examines the long-term consequences of China’s millennium-long civil examination system for human capital outcomes. In 2022, the HKU-led quantitative history research team was awarded a major grant under the UGC’s Areas of Excellence Scheme (AoE). Dr. Chicheng Ma is a Co-Principal Investigator of this team.

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