In a San Diego conference room looking out over the Pacific Ocean, students and professors met for the Fudan-UC Center’s annual Social Sciences & China Studies Young Scholar’s Conference. Chinese social science experts from institutions across China and the US gathered together to present their current research, and share and exchange ideas. This year for the first time the conference expanded to include Ph.D students and young professors outside of Fudan University and the University of California system. Attendees include students from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Tsinghua University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Colombia University.
The Fudan-UC Center was established four years ago as part of Fudan University’s ongoing internationalization. By partnering with the University of California system, the Center serves as a platform for scholarly exchange and joint research. The founders envisioned this to be a center to serve the whole University of California, headquartered at UC San Diego. The Center has had the chance to host Chinese scholars in the United States, and has given UC faculty the chance to attend conferences in China, such as the Shanghai Forum at Fudan University. “It’s been a very fruitful exchange,” said Fudan-UC Center Director, Richard Madson. He described The Young Scholar’s Conference as one of the “happiest events” the Center has gotten to be a part of.
Out of eighty-five applications, a selection committee picked fourteen to be presented at this year’s conference. “It was a difficult selection, but I think we have the best gathered here,” Madson said. “You all are the new generation [of academic leaders] and we want to cultivate and facilitate your growth.” Lei Guang, director of UC San Diego’s 21st Century China Program echoed this sentiment. “We’ve been able to assemble a great group of scholars. You should congratulate yourselves… Fudan is doing something unique and generous, investing in the public good by engaging and encouraging young scholars.”
Managing Associate Director Xian Xu also welcomed the conference visitors. He described how the Fudan-UC Center was established to play a vital role in Fudan University’s international outreach and in China-US engagement. He encouraged everyone to stay engaged both through the center and through other Fudan sponsored events, including the upcoming Shanghai Forum to be held at Fudan University’s main campus.
Throughout the course of two days, the fourteen up-and-coming China Studies scholars presented their research and received feedback from their peers and professors. Work reviewed pushed the edges of social science, from mapping the spectrum of liberal-conservative political preferences within Chinese society, calculating the number of interactions with state owned news sources on social media, to analyzing cultural factors that could explain political trust. Some research, such as a study of urban Chinese volunteers through interviews, are very rooted in the context of China, others like using Gaussian kernels and network analysis to model political relationships, could be utilized in understanding the world as a whole. “China studies is entering a new phase,” Lei Guang stated. “Data is allowing China Studies to be a part of the greater social science field rather than be confined to area studies where it had been isolated before.”
Professors from UC San Diego, including Barry Naughton, Victor Shih, Molly Roberts, Jia Ruixue, and Stephen Haggard gave detailed feedback. Faculty commended the new ideas being explored, but also suggested new ways to approach research questions and recommended resources. Students welcomed the feedback and discussed how they would use the comments to improve their research in the future. After the professors’ comments, the floor opened up for conversation and feedback from the scholars themselves. Coming from various social sciences and fields and focuses, the scholars were able to view their peers’ research with fresh eyes.
Discussion carried on well into the evening as the group convened for dinner Friday night, continuing on to the second day of the conference. After the final presentations were finished, everyone took a moment to enjoy the San Diego sunshine.
Lei Guang encouraged the scholars to return to next year’s conference, or to come visit UC San Diego as a guest lecturer for the Fudan-UC Center or the 21st Century China Program. He invited everyone to continue participating in the ongoing discussion on US-China relations and China studies.