I am an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. My research and teaching lies at the intersection of global development, China’s political economy, and adaptive processes of change. I specialize in China but am broadly interested in developing countries and emerging markets.
My work has two major goals. The first is to advance our understanding of development as a non-linear, adaptive process–a decisive shift from the conventional linear thinking (i.e., either it is good governance that leads to growth or vice versa). This agenda is composed of four interconnected sub-themes:
- Study how markets first emerge despite or using constraints, and whether & how institutions subsequently evolve as markets grow
- Challenge our existing binary view of institutions, namely, “If it doesn’t look like Denmark or the United States, it must be weak/wrong.”
- Identify strategies or structures—what I call meta-institutions—that foster adaptive responses
- Develop new methods suited to analyzing non-linear, adaptive processes, particularly the use of machine learning & big data
My second area of research is on China and global development. While there has been intense buzz around China’s export of capital and infrastructure overseas, my work sheds light on China’s role in influencing ideas of development, including the lessons that its experiences may offer to other countries. Contesting the conventional view that China’s “model” consists only or primarily of authoritarianism, I demonstrate that it is the combination of top-down direction and bottom-up improvisation–“directed improvisation”–that lies behind China’s success. This system has broad applications across contexts.
My book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (Cornell University Press, Cornell Studies in Political Economy, 2016), lays the foundation for my entire research agenda. It won the 2017 Peter Katzenstein Book Prize for outstanding first book in international relations, comparative politics, or political economy. The prize committee describes the book as “a field-shifting move to non-linear complex processes.” Please find reviews of my book at this link.
Complementing my scholarly work, I enjoy public engagement and learning from practitioners. I’ve written op-eds for The Wall Street Journal, Project Syndicate, World Bank Governance Blog, The Conversation, and other outlets. I am named a Public Intellectuals Fellow by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and had served on the United Nations Expert Group on Eradicating Poverty. Most recently, in November 2017, I delivered the keynote address at an International Seminar on China’s Experiences in Beijing, co-organized by DFID (Department for International Development, U.K.) and CIKD (Center for International Knowledge & Development) of China’s State Council.
In 2018, I will be writing a second book on corruption and capitalism, funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation. This project extends on my first book and will feature a new cross-national survey that unbundles corruption.
A native of Singapore, I attended Colorado College and received my PhD from Stanford University. Prior to joining Michigan, I was on the faculty of Columbia University SIPA, where I taught political and economic development.