Rutgers Center for Chinese Studies solicits contents for its blog from the communities it serves. The center’s blog is primarily used to promote the works of Rutgers faculty, advanced graduate students and visiting scholars, with a focus on the intellectual life of scholars. We are interested in why scholars get into their fields, what motivates them, what some of the most-talked about topics in their fields are, what they see where their fields are heading toward, etc. If you have an interesting item pertaining to Chinese Studies at Rutgers and would like us to post it on our blog, please feel free to contact us. If it is adopted, the post will be properly credited.
Our first blog post is by Professor Xian HUANG who is an assistant professor in the Political Science Department. In her post, Professor Huang answers a series of questions about her background and current research (posted on Jan. 17, 2018).
How long have you been at Rutgers? What is your intellectual background?
I came to Rutgers in the fall of 2016. I studied political science in college and when I finished undergraduate and masters studies at Peking University in 2008 I decided to pursue a career in academia. I was very lucky to get a fellowship to start a doctoral study in political science at Columbia University. Since the beginning of my study at Columbia, I have been very interested in political economy and Chinese politics. They have become the main perspectives through which I approach political science and other broad issues.
How did you get into your field?
In high school, I found and developed interest in social science books, especially politics, world history, international and public affairs. I guess it must have had something to do with my father who also studied social science. At home, we have some collection of books in those fields and I am grateful that my parents gave me the freedom to read books that I liked and some money to buy them. So I read many books in my family’s collection and even increased the book collection quite a bit. Still I had no idea what political science was until I studied it in college.
So why did I choose to major in political science in college? As a high-school student, I couldn’t tell the difference among social science fields such as economics, law, and political science (in China during the early 2000s, political science was often lumped together with public administration in categorization and called “politics and public administration”). But my parents hoped that I would become a civil servant after college – a stable and respectable career in China – so they suggested that I choose “politics and public administration” over other social science fields as it sounded more relevant for a civil servant career. That’s how I got into the field. During college, I found myself not interested in the civil servant career at all; still, I am grateful that I chose political science as my major because I was really interested in the field itself and enjoyed doing research.
What motivates you in your research and teaching?
I was born and raised in China. As a large and complex country, China fascinates me and I always want to understand it better. After I came to the United States, I feel the contrasts and differences between the two countries are even more striking. As a scholar, I want to contribute to the theories and literature of political science by studying the China case and including China in the ongoing debates and inquiries of political science; as a Chinese in the US, I want to help Americans understand China better. These motivate my research.
As for motivation in teaching, my personal experiences told me how important a good teacher means to students. I was very lucky and grateful to have several wonderful teachers and mentors when I was a student; they not only gave me knowledge but, more importantly, they inspired me in many ways. With the help of a great teacher, students can find their true interest and pursue them with passion and vigor. These motivate me as a teacher – I try to be a knowledgeable, inspiring and helpful teacher to my students as those great teachers were to me.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on two research projects now. First is a book manuscript on Chinese social welfare. Who gets what, when and how from China’s authoritarian welfare state? This is the core question that motivates this book. In the book, I employ quantitative analysis along with extensive fieldwork and qualitative research to understand the nuances of social welfare policy and to explain the political rationale for the policy design, implementation, and distributional pattern of social health insurance under Chinese authoritarianism in contemporary periods.
Second is a research project about the politics and policies of social health insurance integration in China. Integration of social health insurance, that is, merging various social health insurance programs across social strata and geographic regions, is an emerging trend in recent Chinese social development. It provides a rare opportunity to pool risks and redistribute income among social groups and subnational regions. As such, it can be considered a political issue or process with important distributional implications and outcomes. In this project, I address specific questions like what shapes local leaders’ decisions on the scope and level of social health insurance integration within their jurisdictions; how social health insurance integration affects Chinese citizens’ economic behaviors (e.g., medical spending, utilization of medical services) and political behaviors (e.g., corruption/bribery, resolving medical disputes).
What are some of the hottest topics in your field? What do you see as the major trends in your field?
Studies of Chinese politics has become a diverse and fruitful field in the last decade. Scholars are eager to explore and explain the durability, institutions, political strategies and policies of the Chinese authoritarian regime. This field has also become more open and integrated to the conventional political science subfields such as comparative politics, political economy, and international politics. Similar to many other social science researches, the research on Chinese politics is moving in the direction of being data-intensive, interdisciplinary and collaborative.