Yuen Yuen Ang is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In 2018, she is named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, for “high-caliber scholarship that applies fresh perspectives to some of the most pressing issues of our times.” Combining global development, China’s political economy, and complex adaptive systems (or complexity for short), her research explores strategies for enabling innovation and adaptive development in settings beyond wealthy democracies. She specializes in emerging markets, particularly China. On China, her expertise lies in political economy, bureaucratic politics, adaptive governance, corruption, and the nation’s growing role in global development.

Research Agenda

Applying complexity and systems thinking to the study of economic and political development, Ang’s research raises two new sets of problems:

  • For decades, the study and practice of development has been stuck in a chicken-and-egg debate: Is it good governance that leads to economic growth or vice versa? Ang’s research shifts the terms of this debate by asking: How do markets first emerge in the absence of good governance or state capacity? Once new markets emerge, how do they subsequently evolve? What are the institutions that help markets take off as opposed to those that preserve them later on?
  • Innovation is universally associated with rich industrialized democracies. But what forms might adaptive, innovative development take in autocracies, poor countries, and fragile states? What institutional strategies enable adaptive capacity, especially in public bureaucracies? What does it mean in practical terms to apply complexity principles to organizational design and global development polices?

Her first and award-winning book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, explores these questions primarily in reform-era China. With support from the Carnegie Fellowship, Ang will take this research agenda to emerging markets around the world.

How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016, Cornell Series in Political Economy) won the Peter Katzenstein Prize in Political Economy, the Viviana Zelizer Prize in Economic Sociology, and was named “Best of Books 2017” by Foreign Affairs. The Chinese edition is released in 2018. In addition to this book, Ang’s research has appeared in The Journal of PoliticsComparative PoliticsThe China Quarterly, edited volumes, and other scholarly outlets. Her research is supported by grants and awards from the Smith Richardson Foundation, Gates Foundation, IBM Center for the Business of Government, and American Council of Learned Societies. She is an advisory board member of Cambridge University Press’ Elements Series on “The Politics of Growth.”

Public Engagement

A frequently invited speaker, Ang has presented her research and ideas at over 100 academic, global development, public policy, and corporate venues around the world, including the United Nations, World Bank, State Council (China), UK Department of International Development, Harvard Kennedy School, Princeton’s Initiative on Complexity, Bridgewater Associates, and others. She writes op-eds for Foreign Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, The International Economy, Project Syndicate, World Bank Governance Blog, UNDP Transformation Series, and more. As a consultant to the United Nations, she advises on innovation, complexity, and Chinese investments in Cambodia. She also teaches courses on global communication to Chinese banks and companies venturing abroad. One major theme of Ang’s public engagement is dispelling misconceptions about the China model, both beyond and within China.

New Projects

Currently, she is writing up a second book that explains China’s paradox of economic boom and rampant corruption, funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation. Building off her first book, this book will feature a new cross-national survey that “unbundles corruption” into qualitatively different varieties.

Another branch of her research is on developing new mixed methods to analyze non-linear, adaptive processes in political economy. This has led her to explore machine learning methods, and ways of combining big data and “thick data” (immersive qualitative research). This work is supported by a research award from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, and a report is forthcoming.


Ang is a proud graduate of Colorado College and Stanford University. Before joining Michigan, she was on the faculty of Columbia University SIPA (School of International & Public Affairs). Ang is a cultural nomad, an experience that deeply shapes her research. She grew up in Singapore, was trained, lives and works in the US, studies China, travels around the world, and despite being an cultural outsider wherever she goes, she has come to appreciate a simple fact: that people everywhere are fundamentally the same.