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

Risk Mitigation and Creating Social Impact: Chinese Technology Companies in the United States

Wenchi Yu, April 2021

Chinese technology companies have become a topic of interest to not only the business and investor communities but also increasingly the national security and intelligence communities. Their scale and level of innovation present new possibilities and new competition as well as shape global trends. Yet the relationship of such companies to the Chinese government is often opaque. As a result, their growing integration into the global telecommunications system also casts doubt on their intentions and legitimacy.

This paper reviews key US policy developments under the Trump administration, both broadly toward China and more narrowly relating to trade and technology, and examines the business strategy of four Chinese technology companies operating in the United States. It outlines the benefits of a corporate risk mitigation approach that incorporates social impact creation as an integral part of business and nonmarket strategy for Chinese technology companies, in the United States, and elsewhere. However, this paper also argues that corporate actions can only go so far. Because technology necessarily involves concerns of national security, the role of government—and government cooperation—is essential. It is only through a combination of more locally engaged corporate actions and internationally agreed upon sectoral rules and standard settings that we will be better able to improve transparency and trust-building across borders.

Chinese Regional Planning Under Xi Jinping: The Politics and Policy Implications of the Greater Bay Area Initiative

Jason Jia-Xi Wu, April 2021

This paper seeks to explain the logic of Chinese regional planning pertaining to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (粤港澳大湾区 , hereafter GBA) and the challenges it entails for spatial development. Three questions guide the inquiry of this research: First, what are the institutional underpinnings of the GBA initiative, and how is the path dependency of regional integration in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) unique compared to that in China’s other coastal macroregions? Second, how does Beijing’s changing strategy toward Hong Kong inform the costs and limits of the GBA initiative, and what are their policy implications for the future development of the PRD? Third, why is regional planning uniquely favored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) central leadership, and what does this tell us about the changing policy parameters that govern center-local relations in China?

This paper argues that the GBA initiative is an overly ambitious plan with very few policy instruments and little regulatory flexibility. It contends that the tensions between the GBA’s intended goals and the means of policy implementation are jointly resulted by three factors:

  1. Beijing’s emerging inclination toward using regional planning as an instrument to police center-local relations and cement its national security interests rather than using it as a mere instrument of economic governance.
  2. The declining room for policy experimentation at the local level, which reduces the state’s responsiveness to local demands and capacity to learn from mistakes.
  3. The historical and strategic importance of the Pearl River Delta to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which causes Beijing to prioritize the political interests of PRD integration much more than its pursuit for regional development in China’s other macroregions.

These changes are reflective of a broader paradigm shift in Beijing’s regional developmental strategies, under the climate of power centralization in the Xi Jinping era (2012–present). Finally, this paper demonstrates that such changes in the CCP’s regional planning in relation to the GBA initiative will engender both the decline of adaptive governance and premature deindustrialization.

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.

  •  
  • 1 of 7
  • »

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.