Successful Chinese research center at IU transitioning into a think tank

About halfway through her career as an Indiana University professor, Joyce Yanyun Man founded and successfully led a “think tank” in Beijing.

From 2007 to 2013, while on leave from IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Man was founding director of the Peking University Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy.

Joyce Yanyun Man

Joyce Yanyun Man

An expert in public finance and policy analysis, Man frequently consulted with Chinese high-level officials, including one who wanted to know more about the center’s research about local debt.

Man returned to IU in January 2014 for family reasons, but she hopes to soon replicate her experience with Peking University-Lincoln Institute Center here in Bloomington.

At the beginning of the year, Man, who originally is from Nanjing, China, succeeded Scott Kennedy as director of IU’s Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business, based in IU’s School of Global and International Studies.

Kennedy, who directed the center for eight years, is on a leave of absence from IU and serves as deputy director of the Freeman Chair in China Studies and director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy, both at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Need for a non-partisan research perspectives on China

In looking at the future of the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business, Man is looking to reestablish it as a “university-based” think tank on China.

While many China experts are based in Washington, at places such as the World Bank and the Brookings Institution, she said many Chinese view these organizations as “having a hidden agenda” or “too political.”

“Based on my experience, if a group of scholars gets together and does the research and talks about policy issues, it’s more objective. It’s easier for them to engage with them in conversation … There is no hidden agenda in university-based research,” said Man, who continues to be a professor of economics in Peking University’s College of Urban and Environmental Sciences.

“There’s a space in China for the non-partisan, non-identified academic to have a say on policy issues as long as they can establish themselves as objective,” added Roy Hooper, assistant director of the center.

That was the pattern for Man’s previous project center at Peking University. It focused on apolitical, data-driven, evidence-based faculty research about land and fiscal policy that was seen as being “more objective.” It also provided training for junior faculty members, arranged for visiting international scholars, and provided funding for faculty research and student fellowships.

A broader scope

Political science research will continue to be a part of what the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business offers. But Man intends to broaden its scope and involve more faculty from SGIS, SPEA, the Kelley School of Business, the Media School, the IU Maurer School of Law and the IU School of Education.

Shanghai skyline

Shanghai skyline

Additionally, Faculty from IUPUI will be invited to participate, along with researchers at partner schools in China and scholars at other American universities.

“My vision is for the center to be based upon faculty members’ interests within the IU community,” she said. “But I also think we should go beyond IU, and we’re thinking about inviting some nonresident visiting faculty members to be associated with us.”

IU faculty members already affiliated with the center have indicated that they’d like to focus more on contemporary social issues and policies.

For example, Emily Metzgar, an associate professor in the Media School, studies the pivot between social media and public diplomacy. Ethan Michelson, an associate professor of sociology, East Asian languages and law, researches the legal profession in China.

The center continues to carry out an array of activities and initiatives, including projects on philanthropy in China. It hosts events the new IU China Gateway Office in Beijing, where Man serves as academic director (Take a look at the video below from the dedication ceremony). Fifteen IU faculty members serve as senior associates for the center, along with a 12-member outside advisory board.

This school year and in partnership with the Kelley School’s Institute for International Business, Zhang Xingxiang has been the practitioner-in-residence. Zhang worked for General Electric (China) for the past decade and, before that, with the State Council’s Legislative Affairs Office. An attorney, he was responsible for government affairs and legal issues at GE (China), and most recently led the legal team for the company’s joint venture with the State Power Grid, Yingda International Leasing Co.

The center will wrap up its activities this school year with a series of lectures in April about environmental issues, urban housing and anti-trust law in China and a forum looking at Sino-Russian relations.

The center is organizing a couple of conferences in China this summer, but more about that later.


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