Research

The Ash Center's China Programs produce high quality research examining China's growing role in the world.  China Programs' work is disseminated through academic journals and the popular press, academic conferences and workshops, and executive education programs.

Surveys 

Since 2002, Anthony Saich, director of the Ash Center, has conducted detailed surveys of Chinese satisfaction with different levels of government.  As he details in his surveys, his research reveals stark differences in government approval ratings based on government level as well as respondents’ region and income level. 

Philanthropy 

The rise of private wealth is one of the most important developments in modern China, with implications for the country’s social, economic, and political arenas. How individuals choose to deploy such resources will shape the relationships between the individual and the state, between the state and business, and between the state and the social sector. In partnership with one of China’s leading research institutes focused on philanthropy, Beijing Normal University’s China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI), the Ash Center has launched a Global Leaders in Philanthropy Program. The Program will pursue a number of innovative research projects -- including China's Most Generous, a systematic and rigorous database of philanthropists, giving levels, recipient organizations, and a host of other research variables related to philanthropists and recipients.  The Center will also convene a philanthropist workshop and an executive education program for foundation staff to disseminate the findings of such research.

Recent Publications

Disciplining of a Society: Social Disciplining and Civilizing Processes in Contemporary China

Thomas Heberer, August 2020

In this paper, we specifically focus on the social disciplining process in China since 2012, i.e., in the Xi Jinping era, although we also briefly touch upon historical aspects of disciplining (Confucianism, Legalism, New Life Movement” in the 1930s political campaigns in the Mao era, etc.). The approach adopted in this paper is to conduct an analysis of the disciplining/civilizing top-down project of the state.
 
We argue that the function of the current Chinese state as a disciplining and civilizing entity is the connecting link tying policies such as the state’s morality policies, its anti-corruption drive or the so-called “social credit system” together under a specific governance logic: to discipline and civilize society in order to prepare the people to become modernized. In fact, modernization and modernity encompass not only a process of economic and political-administrative modernizing but concurrently one related to the organization of society in general and the disciplining of this society and its individuals to create people with “modernized” minds in particular.
 
Our principal research questions in this paper are twofold: (1) How should disciplining and civilizing processes in general and in contemporary China in particular be understood? (2) What kind of policies and tools does the Chinese state use to pursue and implement its disciplining objectives?
 

Download the full report 

A Turbulent Decade: The Changes in Chinese Popular Attitudes toward Democracy

Yinxian Zhang, August 2020 

In light of the increasingly aggressive policies and rhetoric of the Chinese government, many came to believe that China may pose a severe threat to democracy and the international order. However, less attention has been paid to Chinese popular attitudes toward democracy and authoritarianism. How does the Chinese public think of democracy in the changing domestic and international environment?

 

This paper uses a novel data set of Chinese social media posts generated between 2009 and 2017 and investigates the changes in popular attitudes toward democracy in the past decade. Results show that online discussion around democracy has decreased and voices questioning democracy have become pronounced since 2013. While tightened state control is a critical factor shaping popular attitudes, this paper demonstrates that people’s increasing exposure to two types of foreign information has also played into this trend. These information lead to a perception of dissatisfying performance of other countries and an awareness of racial attitudes of the West. Lastly, increasing doubts about democracy are not necessarily translated into a strong authoritarian legitimacy. Instead, online discussion presents a sense of ambivalence toward the two models, and the Chinese regime has continued to face a predicament of legitimacy.

 

Cunningham, Edward, and Phillip Jordan. 2020. “Our Path to “New Normal” in Employment? Sobering Clues from China and Recovery Scores for U.S. Industry.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

Edward Cunningham and Philip Jordan, July 2020 

The US National jobs reports for May and June exceeded expectations, and for many, this signaled that April was the true peak of American job losses and real recovery may be underway. Yet mounting evidence suggests that a job recovery is a long way off and that many jobs may not return.

Part of the analytic disconnect stems from the fact that the global pandemic is a novel challenge for policymakers and analysts. We lack current, useful benchmarks for estimating the damage to the labor market, for estimating what recovery would look like, and for measuring an eventual recovery in jobs. Given this paucity of models, one place to look for patterns of potential recovery – particularly relating to consumption and mobility – is China.

The Chinese economy is driven largely by consumption, urban job creation is driven by small and medium-sized companies, and China is several months ahead of the US in dealing with the pandemic’s economic and labor impact. An analysis of China’s experience may, therefore, offer important clues about our recovery here at home, and inform new models of thinking about American job recovery.

Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time
Cunningham, Edward, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel. 2020. Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time. Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel, July 2020

This policy brief reviews the findings of the longest-running independent effort to track Chinese citizen satisfaction of government performance. China today is the world’s second largest economy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ruled for some seventy years. Yet long-term, publicly-available, and nationally-representative surveys in mainland China are so rare that it is difficult to know how ordinary Chinese citizens feel about their government.

We find that first, since the start of the survey in 2003, Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board. From the impact of broad national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before. Interestingly, more marginalized groups in poorer, inland regions are actually comparatively more likely to report increases in satisfaction. Second, the attitudes of Chinese citizens appear to respond (both positively and negatively) to real changes in their material well-being, which suggests that support could be undermined by the twin challenges of declining economic growth and a deteriorating natural environment.

While the CCP is seemingly under no imminent threat of popular upheaval, it cannot take the support of its people for granted. Although state censorship and propaganda are widespread, our survey reveals that citizen perceptions of governmental performance respond most to real, measurable changes in individuals’ material well-being. For government leaders, this is a double-edged sword, as citizens who have grown accustomed to increases in living standards will expect such improvements to continue, and citizens who praise government officials for effective policies may indeed blame them when such policy failures affect them or their family members directly. While our survey reinforces narratives of CCP resilience, our data also point to specific areas in which citizen satisfaction could decline in today’s era of slowing economic growth and continued environmental degradation.

China's Most Generous: Examining Trends in Contemporary Chinese Philanthropy

Edward Cunningham and Yunxin Li, March 2020 

This annual report highlights leading results from the most recent data analysis of the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s China Philanthropy Project, capturing over one-quarter of estimated national giving in China. We focus on elite giving by building an annual database of the top 100 individual donors, top 100 donors from corporations and other organizations, and also top university recipients of philanthropic giving.

In 2018, such Chinese giving:

  • was dominated by large organizations (most commonly corporations) rather than individuals,  
  • supported in large part central government policy priorities in the area of poverty alleviation,
  • revealed an intriguing new philanthropy-driven educational model in the country, and
  • remained fairly local in scope.

Read the report in Chinese 

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Previous Research Funds and Projects

Hui Fund for Generating Powerful Ideas

By funding a combination of degree students, academic research, results-driven conferences, and targeted senior practitioners, the Hui Fund built a powerful body of strategic thinkers working on issues of direct relevance to the U.S. and Chinese policy-making communities. The Fund prioritized collaborative research initiatives that expressly collaborate with institutions and individuals from China in an effort to deepen the intellectual foundation of exchange between Harvard and the region.