Chinese and East Asian societies have always valued education. I wish to show that this distinct culture reflects the persistent effect of China’s millennium-long civil examination system or keju—an institution designed to select officials to serve in government bureaucracy based on the examination of a coherent corpus of Confucianism-related knowledge. Specifically, I present evidence on the link between historical success in the imperial examination and the distinct Chinese culture of valuing education today. Moreover, I also show that this persistent effect is “transmitted” not just through human capital (genetic and otherwise) across generations, but also by means of culture; regions having produced more jinshi (the highest attainable qualification) in the past are also the places where the belief that education plays an important role in determining success is most profound today. Finally, I show that this meritocratic system of selecting public officials only came about in the Song Dynasty following the birth of a “commercial revolution”. The new merchant class that emerged from this transformation was keen to invest in their children’s human capital, which enabled the private academies and the printing industry to flourish.