Since 2008, I have delivered more than 70 invited talks or seminars in many  countries and at a variety of forums: social sciences, global development, public policy, China & Asian studies, and research methods. Below is a selection.

China & global development

United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Panel on “China’s Impact on Global Development.” Jointly organized with Jennifer Staats. December 7, 2017.

China Centre for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD). (Think-tank within State Council, launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping at UN Development Summit in 2015; see link here). November 2017.

  • Book talk and Q&A with DRC (Development Research Council) & CIKD staff at State Council
  • Keynote address at International Seminar, co-organized by CIKD & DFID (U.K. Department of International Development)
  • Seminar on comparative research at CIKD
  • Event summary (Eng) (中文)

University of Michigan. Africa-China Conference on Infrastructure, Resource Extraction and Environmental Sustainability, April 6-7, 2017

Global Development

OECD Development Center. Experts Meeting on Centre’s flagship publication, Perspectives on Global Development 2019, Paris, Feb 8, 2018

Brookings. Global Economy & Development Program, with World Vision: Round-table on Institutions Building in Fragile States, November 9, 2017

World Bank. Conference on Innovating Bureaucracy, Invited presentation on “The Political Economy of Bureaucratic Reforms,” November 8-9, 2017

Global Integrity. Book Talk @ Open Gov Hub, Washington DC. September 14, 2017.

  • See pre-event blog and post-event recap by Global Integrity; my guest post with commentary by Alan Hudson

United Nations. UN Expert Group Meeting on Strategies for Eradicating Poverty to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals, New York, May 8-11, 2017.

World Bank (Malaysia). Conference on “Enhancing the Quality of Service Delivery” (organized by Michael Woolcock), January 2017.
“Building Capability by Defying Best Practices.”

World Bank. Book Seminar for How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. Discussants: Yongmei Zhou (World Bank) & Nancy Birdsall (Center for Global Development). December 16, 2016.

  • Read book review at the World Bank Development Blog
  • Read my blog on World Bank’s Governance Blog: “Which comes first: good governance or economic growth?”

Center for Global Development & Global Development Network. Public panel on What Should Tomorrow’s Aid Agency Look Like?, Washington D.C., June 21, 2016


With Dan Honig (SAIS) at CGD

Brookings Institution & Global Development Network. Round-table on Institutional Change in the Aid Sector, June 20, 2016

Brookings, June 2016

With Alina Zyszkowski (GDN), Pierre Jacquet (GDN), and Homi Kharas (Brookings) @ Brookings

Asian Development Bank Institute. Conference on The Impact of a Possible Growth Slowdown in the PRC on Asia, Tokyo, Japan. Nov 25-26, 2015.
“Origins and Patterns of Industrial Relocation in China”

Japan-city view

social sciences & methods

Harvard University. Department of Government & Weatherhead Center for International Studies, Comparative Politics Speaker Series, September 15, 2016.
“Directed Improvisation” (Chap 2 of book)

Social scientists and policy advisers frequently invoke the term “adaptation,” describing, prescribing, and crediting it as a cause of performance and resilience. Yet despite numerous references, adaptation is rarely defined, much less explained. What exactly is adaptation? What are its mechanisms? Why are some agents able to adapt but not others? Can the supporting conditions for effective adaptation be created, or are they endowed and fixed?

This chapter of my book lays out the theoretical foundation for a new research agenda: strategies that enable effective adaptation. Contrary to popular prescriptions, adaptation is not the solution to all problems; rather, enabling adaptation is itself a problem.

Specifically, I highlight three universal problems of adaptation: how to balance variety and uniformity of choices (variation), how to define and reward success among agents (selection), and how to turn unequal resource distribution across units into a collective advantage (niche creation).

Applying this framework to China, I trace the regime’s extraordinary adaptability in the reform era to the ways in which its reformers tackled these problems—summed up in an approach that I call “directed improvisation.” 

University of Arizona, Tucson. 2nd Annual Southwest Workshop on Mixed-Methods Research. October 20-21, 2016.

Brown University. Department of Sociology & Watson Institute, Workshop on Going Beyond Governance, March 18-19, 2016
“A Hammer is Not a Second-Best Screwdriver: The Case for Varieties of Good Bureaucracy”

Princeton University. Princeton Network on State-Building in the Developing World, Workshop in Oxford, UK. 2014.

Princeton University. Princeton Network on State-Building in the Developing World, Workshop in Sao Paulo, Brazil. 2012.

Princeton University. Princeton Network on State-Building in the Developing World, Workshop in New Delhi, India. 2011.

Policy schools

Tsinghua University (Beijing). School of Public Policy & Management, June 1, 2017.
“Directed Improvisation: The China model that other countries can learn from” 引导型应变的中国模式 | Op-ed

Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (Singapore). Book launch. May 25, 2017. 

Q&A moderated by Donald Low

Harvard Kennedy School. MPAID (Masters in Public Administration-International Development) Speaker Series, April 18, 2017.
“Complexity and Development 2.0: Enabling Adaptation is the Problem.”

Johns Hopkins University, SAIS.Research Seminar on Implementation, October 7, 2016.
“Adaptation as Solution and Problem” (Chap 2 of book)

Johns Hopkins University, SAIS. Research Seminar on Politics & Political Economy, October 4, 2016.
“Building Markets with Weak Institutions” (Chap 1 of book)

How China Escaped the Poverty Trap tackles a long-standing, seemingly intractable problem in development: How can poor countries escape the vicious cycle of poverty and weak institutions? Must they first establish strong institutions (such as property rights protection and technocratic bureaucracies) in order to achieve growth, or must they grow rich before they can strengthen institutions?

Rather than insist that it is strong institutions that lead to growth or vice versa, Ang asserts that development is best understood as a coevolutionary process, wherein states and markets mutually interact and coevolve over time. By mapping each step of this process, Ang reveals a three-step, reciprocal sequence of development: harness weak institutions to build markets > emerging markets stimulate strong institutions > strong institutions preserve markets. Normatively “weak” institutions may best fit the goals and constraints of start-up economies and be creatively used to kick-start development.

Ang demonstrates this argument using rich historical evidence from China’s reform experience. The sequence of development that she identifies further extends to three contrasting cases: late medieval Europe, antebellum United States, and contemporary Nigeria. 

china & asian studies

East Asia Institute (South Korea). EAI Fellow Lecture Series. June 8, 2017.
“The Problem of Defining Success in China’s Bureaucracy”

Institute of Policy Studies (Singapore). Corporate Associates’ Breakfast Talk. May 27, 2017.
“The Role of ‘Relations’ in US-China Relations.” | Summary of discussion

University of California, Irvine. Long U.S.-China Institute. February 24, 2017. 

University of California, Irvine. Colloquium on Justice and Development in China. Feb 23, 2017.
“The Dynamics of Industrial Transfer Within China.” | Article on SSRN

National Committee of US-China Relations. New York City, February 22, 2017. 

National Committee of US-China Relations. PIP (Public Intellectuals Program) V Workshop, Washington DC, February 5, 2017.
“The Grand Model of China’s Development–and How it Upends International Norms.”

University of British Columbia. Center for Chinese Research, Lecture Series, October 13, 2016.
“How China Escaped the Poverty Trap”

Before markets opened in 1978, China was an impoverished planned economy governed by a Maoist bureaucracy. In just three decades it evolved into the world’s second-largest economy and is today guided by highly entrepreneurial bureaucrats. What explains this amazing metamorphosis?

Was it because China possessed basic growth factors like cheap labor? Was it bureaucratic incentives to promote growth? The use of incremental reforms? Or historical legacies? Existing accounts each highlight a different piece of the grand puzzle of China’s great transformation. Yet none can explain how the other pieces aggregated to remake an entire political economy within the span of a single generation.

Yuen Yuen Ang presents a fresh, synthetic account of development that systematically traces the coevolution of markets and institutions. Her approach reveals a surprising finding: China escaped the poverty trap by first building markets with weak institutions—that is, institutions that defy norms of good governance. This sequence of development is found in other geographic and temporal settings, including late medieval Europe, antebellum United States, and contemporary Nigeria. 


George Washington University. Sigur Center for Asian Studies, October 2, 2016.
“How China Escaped the Poverty Trap.”

Stanford University. APARC China Program, New Approaches to China Lecture Series. Oct. 2, 2014.
“Does Good Governance Lead to Growth or Vice Versa?”

Stanford University & National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC).  Joint Conference on “The Challenges of China’s Urbanization,” Guangzhou, China. 2013.

Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. Symposium on Economic Governance in China and the Developing World. May 31-June 1, 2013.
“Bureaucratic Incentives, Local Development & Petty Rents”