David Y. Yang
Job Market Candidate

Stanford University
Department of Economics
579 Serra Mall
Stanford CA 94305

(510) 529-5846

David Y. Yang
Curriculum Vitae

Political Economy
Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Economic History

Expected Graduation Date:
June 2018

Dissertation Committee:

Ran Abramitzky (co-Primary)
B. Douglas Bernheim
Pascaline Dupas
Matthew Gentzkow (co-Primary)
Muriel Niederle (co-Primary)
Alvin E. Roth


Job Market Paper

  • Media Censorship in China: 1984 or Brave New World?
    Yuyu Chen, David Y. Yang
    Current draft (October 2017): [available upon request]

    Abstract: Media censorship is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. We conduct a field experiment in China to examine whether providing access to an uncensored Internet leads citizens to acquire politically sensitive information, and whether they are affected by the information. We track subjects' media consumption, beliefs regarding the media, economic beliefs, political attitudes, and behaviors. We find 4 main results: (i) free access alone does not induce subjects to acquire politically sensitive information; (ii) temporary encouragement leads to a persistent increase in acquisition, indicating that demand is not permanently low; (iii) acquisition brings broad, substantial, and persistent changes to knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and intended behaviors; and (iv) social transmission of information is statistically significant but small in magnitude. We calibrate a simple model to show that China's censorship apparatus may remain robust for a large number of citizens receiving unencouraged access to an uncensored Internet, given the low demand for, and moderate social transmission of, uncensored information.


  • Curriculum and Ideology
    Davide Cantoni, Yuyu Chen, David Y. Yang, Noam Yuchtman, Y. Jane Zhang
    Journal of Political Economy, Vol.125, No.2 (April 2017)
    Final draft (October 2015): [pdf] [journal website]
    Previous draft (April 2014): [NBER WP]
    Media Coverage: [Cass Sunstein on BloombergView] [Foreign Policy] [Deutsche Welle (Chinese)]

    Abstract: We study the causal effect of school curricula on students' political attitudes, exploiting a major textbook reform in China between 2004 and 2010. The sharp, staggered introduction of the new curriculum across provinces allows us to identify its causal effects. We examine government documents articulating desired consequences of the reform, and identify changes in textbooks reflecting these aims. A survey we conducted reveals that the reform was often successful in shaping attitudes, while evidence on behavior is mixed. Studying the new curriculum led to more positive views of China's governance, changed views on democracy, and increased skepticism toward free markets.

Working Papers

  • Protests as Strategic Games: Experimental Evidence from Hong Kong's Democracy Movement
    Davide Cantoni, David Y. Yang, Noam Yuchtman, Y. Jane Zhang
    Current draft (May 2017): [pdf]
    Previous draft (January 2017): [NBER WP]

    Abstract: Social scientists have long viewed the decision to protest as strategic, with an individual's participation a function of her beliefs about others' turnout. The challenge of collective action suggests that protests will be games of strategic substitutes, but models of protest often assume payoffs that generate strategic complementarity. We conduct the first field experiment directly manipulating individuals' beliefs about others' protest participation, in the context of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. We elicit subjects' planned participation in an upcoming protest and their prior beliefs about others' participation, in an incentivized manner. One day before the protest, we randomly provide a subset of subjects with truthful information about others' protest plans, and elicit posterior beliefs about protest turnout, again in an incentivized manner. After the protest, we elicit subjects' own participation. This allows us to identify the causal effects of positively and negatively updated beliefs about others' protest participation on subjects' turnout. We consistently find evidence of strategic substitutes. Analysis of control group subjects and survey evidence reinforce our experimental findings.

  • The Coordination Consequences of Media Censorship: Experimental Evidence from China
    Yuyu Chen, David Y. Yang
    Current draft (September 2017): [available soon]

    Abstract: Political actions threatening authoritarian regimes are collective and coordinated in nature, and their outcomes hinge on citizens' access to uncensored information. We combine a field experiment with a series of lab experiments in China to understand how removing censorship for 18 months affects citizens' beliefs regarding others and shapes political coordination outcomes. We find that exposure to uncensored information makes citizens more likely to believe that others are equally well informed, and share their pessimism of the economy and skepticism of the regime. The newly-exposed citizens are substantially more likely to engage in collective actions supporting politically sensitive organizations, even with those in the control group. Using a global game framework, we show that the increased collective action inclination is primarily driven by changes in beliefs regarding others. These results suggest that the removal of censorship could help overcome collective action challenges and undermine the regime stability.

  • Historical Traumas and the Roots of Political Distrust: Political Inference from the Great Chinese Famine
    Yuyu Chen, David Y. Yang
    Current draft (November 2016): [pdf]

    Abstract: What shapes citizens' trust in the government, and what makes it persist over time? We study the causal effect of the Great Chinese Famine (1958-1961) on the survivors' political distrust. Using a novel nationally representative survey, we employ a difference-in-differences framework to compare citizens who were exposed to the Famine versus those who were not, across regions with differential levels of drought during the Famine. The Famine survivors inferred the government's liability from personal hunger experiences, and they were more likely to blame the government for their starvation in regions with usual rainfall during the Famine. As a result, these citizens exhibit significantly less trust in the local government. The dampened political trust persists even half a century after the Famine, and it has been transmitted to the subsequent generation. We provide suggestive evidence on the mechanisms that foster such persistence.

  • The Fundamental Determinants of Anti-Authoritarianism
    Davide Cantoni, David Y. Yang, Noam Yuchtman, Y. Jane Zhang
    Current draft (March 2017): [pdf]
    Media Coverage: [South China Morning Post]

    Abstract: Which fundamental factors are associated with individuals holding democratic, anti-authoritarian ideologies? We conduct a survey eliciting Hong Kong university students' political attitudes and behavior in an ongoing pro-democracy movement. We construct indices measuring students' anti-authoritarianism, and link these to a comprehensive profile of fundamental economic preferences; personalities; cognitive abilities; and family backgrounds. We find that fundamental economic preferences, particularly risk tolerance and pro-social preferences, are the strongest predictors of anti-authoritarian ideology and behavior. We also study simultaneously determined outcomes, arguably both cause and consequence of ideology. Examining these, we find that anti-authoritarians are more pessimistic about Hong Kong's political outlook and about their fellow students' support for the movement; their social networks are more political; they consume different media; and, they are more politically informed than other students. Our extraordinarily rich data suggest that individuals' deep preferences should be considered alongside payoffs and beliefs in explaining political behavior.

  • China's Lost Generation: Changes in Beliefs and their Intergenerational Transmission
    Gerard Roland, David Y. Yang
    Current draft (August 2017): [pdf] [NBER WP]

    Abstract: Beliefs about whether effort pays off govern some of the most fundamental choices individual make. This paper uses China's Cultural Revolution to understand how these beliefs can be affected, how they impact behavior, and how they are transmitted across generations. During the Cultural Revolution, China's college admission system based on entrance exams was suspended for a decade until 1976, effectively depriving an entire generation of young people of the opportunity to access higher education (the “lost generation”). Using data from a nationally representative survey, we compare cohorts who graduated from high school just before and after the college entrance exam was resumed. We find that members of the “lost genera-tion” who missed out on college because they were born just a year or two too early believe that effort pays off to a much lesser degree, even 40 years into their adulthood. However, they invested more in their children's education, and transmitted less of their changed beliefs to the next generation, suggesting attempts to safeguard their children from sharing their misfortunes.

  • Salience of History and the Preference for Redistribution
    Yuyu Chen, Hui Wang, David Y. Yang
    Current draft (July 2017): [pdf]

    Abstract: Citizens' preference for redistribution determines many key political economy outcomes. In this project, we aim to understand how do ancestors' redistributive experiences affect the descendants' preference for redistribution. We conduct a survey experiment under the historical backdrop of the wealth equalization movements during the Communist Revolution in China (1947-1956). We remind a random subset of respondents of these movements that their ancestors went through. We find that on average, making the historical experiences salient turns the respondents significantly and persistently more favorable towards government redistribution. We show that the treatment effect is not driven by changes in apolitical preferences, beliefs of current inequality, or knowledge of the movements. Salience in history influences the mental framework when respondents think of redistribution: respondents are reminded of the specific family experiences during past redistribution, and they are triggered to project similar redistribution in the future.

Work in Progress

  • Procrastination and Optimal Censorship Strategy: Experimental Evidence from China
  • Immersion Therapy? The Impact of Media and Social Networks on Chinese College Students in the US (with Davide Cantoni, Noam Yuchtman)
  • Habit Formation in Protest Participation (with Leonardo Bursztyn, Davide Cantoni, Noam Yuchtman, Y. Jane Zhang)
  • Trust, Pursuit of Truth, and the Selective Exposure of Partisan News (with Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow)

Policy Papers

  • Power to the people? China's policy trilemma in Hong Kong
    Davide Cantoni, David Y. Yang, Noam Yuchtman
    London School of Economics Management Blog (October 2017): [link]

  • Cultural change and intergenerational transmission: Some lessons from China's Cultural Revolution
    Gerard Roland, David Y. Yang
    voxEU column (August 2017): [link]

  • Curriculum and Ideology
    Davide Cantoni, Yuyu Chen, David Y. Yang, Noam Yuchtman, Y. Jane Zhang
    voxEU column (May 2014): [link]


Stanford Behavioral and Experimental Economics Seminar: [link]
Stanford Economic Research Laboratory: [link]

My photo diary on Instagram: [link]