ADI Academic Profiles – Chunrong Liu

By Mads Vesterager Nielsen

ADI Academic Profiles series puts spotlight on individual researchers working on Asia related issues in the social sciences and humanities, and promotes remarkable publications and innovative research projects.

Chunrong Liu

In the 7th instalment of the format ADI – Academic Profiles, Chunrong Liu, Executive Vice Director of Fudan-European Centre for China Studies at the University of Copenhagen, presents the centre, its role in the research community of UCPH and how it relates to his own research, past, present and future. Besides his directorship, Chunrong Liu has conducted postdoctoral research at Georgetown University and is associate professor of political science at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University.

The Fudan-European Centre for China Studies was officially established in 2013, with its physical premises located under the same roof as NIAS - Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. The centre is a joint initiative between Fudan University and the University of Copenhagen, which aims to bridge research and knowledge within the field of China studies, across borders and academic disciplines.

“It comes out of the perception that China studies nowadays should be more balanced. We need more productive engagement between the different universities and disciplines on China. It sets off with the basic assumption that we need to create new mechanisms to better propagate knowledge about China. And the Fudan-European Centre for China Studies wants to take a lead in developing an overseas hub for studies of China, where China studies from a Chinese perspective can be better integrated with its western counterparts.”

The centre specifically promotes research, spanning from welfare, governance, and conflict resolution, to innovation, identity and cultural dynamics. According to Chunrong, these are critical themes of China’s multi-faceted transformation in the context of globalization, marketization and urbanization.

“Our goal is to further a more nuanced and cutting edge research on China. With welfare, for example, we understand that one of the imminent challenges in China is social security and human security. What form of welfare system will emerge in China in let’s say the next ten years? How can China develop a viable and sustainable welfare system? And can we benefit and learn from the western experiences? These are examples of the explorations we seek to encourage within the different thematic areas.”

In addition to the academic services provided by the centre, concrete projects overseen by Chunrong, which will comprehensibly illustrate the changing dynamics of China Studies are in the making. The traditions of studying China has varied from university to university, and both the academic currents and the blank spots in research are important areas to map, in order to visualize the modern and future face of China studies.

“At the moment we are doing a project dubbed Mapping the European Landscape of China Studies. Through this project, we want to develop a birds’ eye view of trends and structures of China studies. Through this project the centre aims to provide useful guidelines for scholars, displaying as clear as possible the transformation of China studies from sinology to more social science based research. Furthermore we wish to map the hotspot issues that have already been explored within the field, and highlight those areas that the research community has yet to explore. This is an ambitious project indeed, but it is being undertaken with the hope that it can become a useful tool for navigating and facilitating future research in Europe and China.”

Chunrong’s own research, like his 2008 article Empowered Autonomy: The Politics of Community Governance Innovation in Shanghai, bears connection to the focal areas of the centre. Through projects financed by National Social Science Foundation of China, Shanghai Humanity and Social Sciences Foundation, he has been conducting fieldwork in Shanghai covering the transformation of local and grassroots governance.  In relation to this, he is completing a book on Marginal Innovation in Chinese Politics, in which he explains why and how some progressive forms of politics have emerged in the periphery of Chinese polity.

“I think the Chinese case presents a fantastic opportunity to investigate how state and society interplay and potentially interplay, and the dynamics behind new approaches of state intervention into social spaces generated by market reform. An extended interest has been captured in a new project on the mechanisms of conflict resolution in urban China, with a research grant from Fok Ying Tung Education Foundation. The project examines how Chinese local states respond to and engage in collective action in the context of China’s urbanization.”

Furthermore, Chunrong has completed a paper for this new project, which was recently presented at the 2015 Conference of Nordic Association of Chinese Studies in Uppsala University.

“I try to develop a theoretical framework to explain under what conditions the state relies on coercive mechanisms or soft approaches dealing with collective actions. Basically this project wants to enrich the understanding of state capacity in managing social conflicts. The idea is that the way that the state manages social conflicts is not only associated with some regime-specific factors, but also largely dependent on how social conflict is organized. A relational and interactive perspective is necessary to gain a more nuanced understanding of how state can re-establish its relevance to a growing vocal society in China.”

Albeit having delays and ambitious projects, the dynamics of China studies as an international discipline and the future of Chinese state-society relations will be further explored thanks to the projects and research undertaken by Chunrong Liu.

We wish him good luck in the endeavour of both.

Written by Mads Vesterager Nielsen September 2015, University of Copenhagen