Yuen Yuen Ang is a professor of political science and China expert at the University of Michigan, with a PhD from Stanford University. She is the inaugural recipient of the Theda Skocpol Prize, awarded by the American Political Science Association for “impactful empirical, theoretical and/or methodological contributions to the study of comparative politics.” She is also named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow for “high-caliber scholarship that applies fresh perspectives to the most pressing issues of our times.”
Her first, award-winning book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016), is acclaimed as “game changing” and “field shifting.” The sequel to this book, China’s Gilded Age: the Paradox of Economic Boom & Vast Corruption, is released in 2020.
Professor Ang writes for a broad audience in outlets such as Foreign Affairs, Project Syndicate, and South China Morning Post. She is frequently invited to advise and speak across academic, business, foreign policy, development policy, and civic communities. Media profiles and reviews of her work have appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Wire China, The Diplomat, CGTN’s Visionaries, Dushu (读书), CNPolitics (政见), Initium Media (端传媒), Jiemian (界面), and Pengpai (澎湃).
Ang’s research lies at the intersection of business, governance, and innovation. Her central question is: How do organizations and governments create conductive conditions for adaptation, especially when they face complex, novel problems? The significance of this question is magnified in the Age of Disruption, where multiple status quos are being upended, and uncertainty is the new normal. The keystone of her work is China’s rise – one of the greatest disruptions of our times – and its global consequences. She explores China both as a disruptor to the global order and how its government adapts or fails to adapt to challenges.
How China Escaped the Poverty Trap is among the first books to apply complexity and systems thinking to challenge conventional models in development. Contrary to popular impression, it shows that China’s rise under Deng was not the result of top-down control, but rather of “directed improvisation” within a single-party regime. The book received the Peter Katzenstein Prize in Political Economy, the Viviana Zelizer Prize in Economic Sociology, and was named “Best of Books 2017″ by Foreign Affairs. Generating cross-disciplinary interest, it was reviewed by experts at the World Bank, Oxfam, Harvard Kennedy School, China’s State Council (Premier’s Office), and in scholarly journals across disciplines.
In 2020, she released her second book, China’s Gilded Age. Challenging the conventional wisdom that rich countries became rich by first eradicating corruption, it shows that the rise of capitalism was in fact accompanied by the evolution of corruption from thuggery and theft to legalized access money – China is a newcomer on this evolutionary path.
Ang’s recent articles shed light on the global impact of China’s rise on multiple dimensions: the myth of the US-China tech race (Project Syndicate), why global confusion arose around China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Foreign Affairs), and China’s success and failure in handling the COVID-19 pandemic (Nature Human Behavior). She has received grants from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, Emergent Ventures, IBM Center for the Business of Government, Smith Richardson Foundation, and won a global essay prize sponsored by the Gates Foundation.
As an advisor and speaker, Ang’s signature is to deliver balanced, evidence-based insights to a broad audience. Ang has spoken at over 100 venues and high-level dialogues around the world, including Asia Society, Bridgewater Associates, Council on Foreign Relations, EU Chamber of Commerce, Fiduciary Investors Symposium, OECD, United Nations, UNDP, and World Bank. Her talk “How the West and Beijing Got China Wrong” has been viewed more than 165,000 times on Youtube.
Foreign Affairs named her essay “Autocracy with Chinese Characteristics” among the Best of Print 2018. She is regularly quoted in the media, including BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and outlets across Asia and Europe.
Ang is writing a third book, under contract with Cambridge University Press, The Age of Disruption. The book argues that the traditional political economy of the twentieth century – premised on linear causation, risk, and control – is poorly suited for The Age of Disruption. As an alternative, it introduces an adaptive political economy – centered on interdependence, uncertainty, and directed adaptation – and illustrates its application in a variety of contexts. The book will also spotlight emerging trends (e.g., new growth paths in the Global South beyond mass industrialization) that are disrupting the development landscape.
A citizen of Singapore, Ang is a graduate of Colorado College and Stanford University. Before joining Michigan, she was on the faculty of Columbia University SIPA. Ang’s experience as a cultural nomad deeply shapes her work (see Duncan Green’s blog on bicultural scholars). She grew up in Singapore, was trained and works in the United States, specializes in China, studies other parts of Asia and Africa, and travels around the globe.
Despite being an cultural outsider wherever she goes, she has come to appreciate a simple fact: people everywhere are fundamentally the same.
“How the West (and Beijing) Got China Wrong,” Camden Conference, Feb 22-24, 2019; organized by local volunteers and members of civil society.
China’s Gilded Age (2020) is now released by Cambridge University Press. Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository (with free delivery worldwide). See a review in The Economist. For more on the book, click here.