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Our research

Expertise in multidisciplinary research about China
We support our researchers across the University in their examination of China, its society and cultures, and its interactions with the world.

The China Studies Centre supports and funds research and research projects. Support is a two-stage process: projects are approved as China Studies Centre activities; then requests for support are made to and negotiated with the Centre’s Executive Committee.

Funding requests must be for research-related activities, including travel and travel support, research assistance, and materials purchase. Professor Tony Welch is the Coordinator of CSC Research Groups; Professor Alison Betts coordinates Individual Projects.

The China Studies Centre also works closely with the University of Sydney's Centre in China, in Suzhou. 

Research groups

Research Lead:Minglu Chen, Discipline of Government and International Relations (University of Sydney)


  • Minglu Chen, Discipline of Government and International Relations (University of Sydney);
  • David S G Goodman, Discipline of Government and International Relations (University of Sydney);
  • Hans Hendrischke, Business School, International Business
  • Wei Li, Business School, International Business
  • Huan Zhang, Business School, International Business.
  • Garry Bruton, Texas Christian University, Neeley School of Business
  • Beibei Tang, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Department of China Studies, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou.
  • Jingyu Yang, The University of Sydney Business School 
  • Eagle Zhang, The University of Sydney Business School 
  • Juan Chen, PhD candidate, Discipline of Government and International Relations
  • Chengqi Cao, PhD candidate, Sydney School of Education and Social Work 
  • Carol Hsu, The University of Sydney Business School 
  • Bingqin Li, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

The aims and objectives of the project:

The examination of the development of local governance in the PRC, especially in the development of Xi Jinping’s New Era. Local governance –the interaction of the market, entrepreneurs and managers, public services, and local authorities –has become a major feature of the Party-state. The project to examine local governance will examine the overall results as well as the development of specific elements at the local level, notably the evolution of the welfare services, of enterprises, and of local officials, managers and business elites.

The project will be supported by a regular monthly meeting for all researchers involved to exchange ideas and experiences. In addition, it will support and be composed of a number ofsmaller, specific projects examining specific aspects of local governance. The number of these smaller projects and their specific content will inevitably change and develop along with research.

Research lead: Professor Yingjie Guo, Discipline of Chinese Studies, School of Languages and Cultures (University of Sydney) 


  • Burchmore, Alexander, Discipline of Museum and Heritage Studies
  • Guo Yingjie, Department of Chinese Studies Hendrischke, Barbara CSC
  • Ho, Chiew Hui, Discipline of Asian Studies
  • McDougall, Bonnie Discipline of Chinese Studies
  • Moores, Sean, Discipline of Asian Studies
  • Stenberg, Josh, Discipline of Chinese Studies
  • Wang Wei, Discipline of Chinese Studies
  • Yuan Jingdong, Discipline of Government and International Relations
  • Zhao Xiaohuan, Discipline of Chinese Studies


This is a proposal to establish a Project/Research Group for Chinese Philosophy and Culture.  It will examine the origin and development of Chinese philosophies and ways of thinking and interpreting the world, as well as their impact on society and culture; the influence of the past on the present; and indeed, how the present is read into the past.

The construction of Chinese civilisation has always drawn heavily on interpretations of the past, and its various historical strands. As in most social and cultural systems the past can and usually does provide legitimacy. In China’s case there is not just 2,000 years plus of texts but also a range of ideas. How those philosophies and their ideas were seen over time matters equally as much as their interpretation now influences the present.  


The Research Group provides a framework within which individuals who wish to develop research projects related to Chinese Philosophy and Culture may both be supported in their work, and interact with others in cognate projects. Four projects are initially proposed though others may develop and be added with additional members joining the Research Group.

The Great Peace of The People (Barbara Hendrischke)

This project will translate, annotate and analyse selected chapters from the Taiping jing (Scripture on Great Peace) that promote The People’s active participation in social and political affairs. It will analyse the promotion and discussion of the slogan of Great Peace that began with Qinshi Huangdi and continued to occupy Han dynasty intellectuals. It will also examine the text of the Taiping jing from a philological perspective. To date investigations have established that it was written between the 2nd and 6th Centuries CE. Thanks to recent methodological developments in Daoist Studies it should now be possible to define and date textual layers. The Taiping jing, despite its central role in the origin of Daoism, its importance for Han dynasty intellectual history, and the availability of several excellent annotated translations into Baihua, has, in the West, attracted little concentrated research.

The CCP Embraces Traditional Political Philosophy: From Dictatorship to Rulership (Yingjie Guo)

The myriad elements of traditional political philosophy that the CCP leadership has embraced in the reform era ranges from Confucian ideas of benevolent government, rule by virtue and social harmony to Legalist notions of Realpolitik. This project is not designed to exhaust the elements but to delve into the CCP’s increasing interest in the past two decades in traditional political philosophy, focusing on the ideas and practices of minben (people as the foundation of scoeity) and jiaohua (shaping the mind through education), which hold a key to understanding the new identities and subject positions of the CCP and the PRC, as well as the dynamics and trajectory of cultural-political change emerging from the Party’s current political projects of Party-building, state-building and nation-building.

Dai Zhen, Cheng Yaotian, and the Early Thought of Kang Youwei (Sean Moores)

Kang Youwei was one of the most influential Confucian philosophers of the 19th Century who had a formative influence on the Chinese understanding of China in the 20th century and later. The examination of his early thought reaches back to the work of thinkers in the  Qianlong (1736-1795) and Jiaqing (1796-1820) eras. Thinkers from those time are little appreciated even in China and Japan, where there has been some scholarly attention. This project will examine the philosophical works of Dai Zhe (1724-1777) and his fellow scholar  Cheng Yaotian 1725-1814), with a particular emphasis on their theories of cognitive and moral development.

Towards Indic Origins of the Yulanpen Sūtra (Xiaohuan Zhao)

The scriptural source for the Ghost Festival in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam is the Yulanpen Sūtra, which is also the primary source for the Mulian drama, the oldest extant Chinese ritual drama. The sūtra, however, is overwhelmingly considered an apocryphal scripture in modern scholarship mainly because of its thematic emphasis on Confucian filial piety and ancestor worship. This Project challenges this widely held belief by demonstrating that filial piety and ancestor worship are not peculiar to Confucian China and that the sūtra is a Chinese creative translation rather than an indigenous Chinese composition.

The Tragedy of the Missing ‘Tragedy’?:  French Sinological Translations and the Canon of Chinese Drama  (Josh Stenberg)

French Sinological translations of the 18th and 19th centuries exerted a substantial influence on the canon of “classical Chinese drama,” extending in some measure to China itself. Attempting to identify the position occupied by these translations in the history of cultural exchanges between Europe and China requires investigation not only of how these works were perceived and what influence they exerted, but also what motivated the translation of these particular texts in the first place.  

This line of inquiry leads, inexorably and maybe unexpectedly, to the question of the reception of ‘tragedy’ impacted Chinese views of their literary heritage. The identification of the presence or absence of tragedy proves a common yardstick by which drama produced translations of texts such as Huilan ji and Zhaoshi gu’er which were not highly regarded in China as well as texts such as Dou E yuan and Pipa ji, which were and are. This ends up being, I will argue, closely related to the reception of ‘tragedy’ in the Chinese environment and the attempt to map it onto the Chinese dramatic tradition both in China and in Europe. The ‘tragic’ bias of the European canon for Chinese drama ultimately influences both Chinese and Western conceptions of world drama and world literature. 

Reconstruction of Kam Ethnic Identity in Contemporary China (Wei Wang)

China’s profound demographic and socio-economic transformation has intensified the dominance of Han culture and language and seriously challenged the traditional cultures in ethnic minority areas. Based on three years of fieldwork in Zhanli, a remote Kam Village, in Congjiang County, Guizhou Province, this discourse-oriented ethnographic project aims to explore the complex dynamics between the discursive practices of the local government and the ethnic minorities in relation to the reconstruction of Kam identity in response to social change, particularly the rise of rural tourism. The fieldwork has collected multiple empirical sources, including in-depth interviews with Kam villagers and local officials, field observations, media discourse, local archives, and government documents. This project is designed to illuminate the significant compromise that government and villagers have made in relation to ethnic identity in the name of economic development, and of the tensions and struggles that characterise the ongoing process of ethnic identity reconstruction.

We Own Our Own Words: Translation Stories (Bonnie S. McDougall)

This book explores stories related to practical and other issues that translators create and are confronted by in the exercise of their craft. The expected readership is primarily people involved in translation from Chinese to English, with a secondary ring of people in Chinese Studies generally and people in Translation Studies generally. Others may also find it of interest. As the title suggests, there is an emphasis on the responsibilities and rewards of the translator.

In particular, this book examines such details as the relationships between author (aka translatee) and translator and between translator and publisher; the ways in which translatees and translators are chosen or engaged by others; how much a translator may expect in fees, and for how long; the practices and uses of copyright; the pitfalls of titles and book covers; and much more…

A Community of Common Destiny: Cultural-Civilizational and Ideational-Philosophical Sources of Xi’s Diplomatic Discourse (Jingdong Yuan)

One of Beijing’s foreign policy agendas under Xi Jinping is to introduce and promote what has been presented as a new type of international relations, ‘a community of common destiny’ that is both Westphelian in upholding state sovereignty, but at the same time also beyond Realism’s characterization of the international system as anarchic, security dilemma and balance of power. The project seeks to explore the cultural-civilizational and ideational-philosophical sources of Xi’s signature diplomatic discourse and his vision for transforming global governance in an era of growing competition and return to great-power rivalry.

Samantabhadra: Iconographical Transformations and Ritual Identities (Chiew Hui Ho)

Together with Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra is often depicted as flanking Śākyamuni Buddha in Mahāyāna Buddhism. As one of the four great bodhisattvas in the East Asian Buddhist tradition, Samantabhadra pales in comparison to the other three bodhisattvas — Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, and Kṣitigarbha — in the amount of scholarly treatment he received. Often identified by his mount, a six-tusked white elephant, little else is known about his rise to eminence and his later esoteric manifestations and identities. Addressing the paucity of scholarly work on Samantabhadra, this paper explores his origin, appearance in China and Japan, and subsequent iconographical transformations. Contrary to common understanding, Samantabhadra’s mount is not an important identifier of the bodhisattva in the esoteric Buddhist tradition, where he takes on different identities and iconographical forms according to his place in the maṇḍalas. Informed by Indo-Chinese precedents, the iconography of the bodhisattva continues to evolve in relation to different ritual methods in Japanese Buddhism.

Objects from Elsewhere: Chinese ceramics and the expanded contact zone(Alexander Burchmore) 

Building on research conducted for my forthcoming monograph New Export China: Translations across Time and Place in Contemporary Chinese Porcelain Art, this project will extend the focus of that earlier research to include historic as well as contemporary networks of global exchange, tracing the role that ‘objects from elsewhere’ play in the formation of racial, cultural, and personal identities. It aims to offer new insight into the material expressions of Whiteness and Blackness that circulated along global supply lines and pathways of travel during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with an initial focus on the use and understanding of Chinese porcelain in colonial Australia. It will trace the extent to which the whiteness of this porcelain served to construct and reinforce the Whiteness of European ‘civilisation’, while the Chinese origins of these wares were thereby effaced. It is also designed as part of a larger project which aims to shed light on the intersections between the trade in ceramics and enslaved people connecting China, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, with an emphasis on the relational construction of racial and cultural identities along these pathways of exploitation and exchange. 

Anticipated outcomes

Hendrischke – The Great Peace of the people

A monograph;  journal articles on specific points from the research. In addition a chapter on the Taiping jing and Daoist millenarianism for S. Ambrogio and D. Rogacz (ed) Chinese Philosophy and Its Thinkers: From Ancient Times to the Present Day  Bloomsbury 2023).o be published by Bloomsbury.

Yingjie Guo - The CCP Embraces Traditional Political Philosophy

This first anticipated outcome will be a couple of articles to be drafted and submitted in 2022. One looks at the CCP’s increasing interest in the past two decades in the idea of minben (people as the foundation of society). The other is about the Party’s creative use of the cultural-political practice of jiaohua (shaping the mind through education). Another anticipated outcome is discussion and collaboration at the CSC with a view to designing a team project.

Sean Moores – Dai Zhen and Cheng Yaotian

An article comparing Dai and Cheng’s theories on cognitive and moral development; the publication of an annotated translation of Cheng Yaotian’s Brief Notes on Learning (Lunxue xiaoji).

Xiaohuan Zhao–Towards Indic Origins of the Yulanpen Sūtra

  •  Publication of at least one internationally peer-reviewed article.
  •  Authored book on the Chindian Myth of Mulian or Maudgalyāyana rescuing his mother from Naraka.
  • Conference presentations in 2022/2023.

Stenberg–The Tragedy of the Missing ‘Tragedy’?

An article on French translations of drama's influence of Wang Guowei's Schopenhauerian view of the Chinese dramatic canon.

Wei Wang—Reconstruction of Kam Ethnic Identity in Contemporary China

Two journal articles will be drafted and submitted in 2022. One paper documents and examines the perspectives of Kam people with diverse educational backgrounds and life experiences on the reconstruction and representation of their ethnic identities. The other explores the discursive practices of the local county government in reconstructing and reproducing the Kam ethnic culture in a remote ethnic minority county (i.e., Congjiang County, Guizhou) in China.

Bonnie S. McDougall–We Own Our Own Words: Translation Stories

I have completed the first draft of the main contents (sixteen chapters, with approximately 55,000 words) and am currently drafting the glossary, bibliography and index. I expect the manuscript can be sent to the publisher around the end of the year, with an approximate overall count of 70-75,000 words.

Burchmore – Objects from Elsewhere

Aside from the anthology of edited conference papers, currently planning an article (possibly for submission to the Journal of World History) on the cultural etymology of blue-and-white as a category of trade porcelain. The primary aim is to expand these ideas into a project suitable for DECRA funding. I’d very much like to work with the Chau Chak Wing Museum on something at some point, so perhaps there could be potential for an exhibition on these themes.

Individual research projects 

Research Lead: Professor Alison Betts, Discipline of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


  • Professor Lloyd Weeks, University of New England
  • Dr Kunlong Chen, University of Science and Technology, Beijing
  • Professor Jianjun Mei, University of Cambridge

The aims and objectives of the project:

The aim of the project is to determine the nature of the transmission of copper/bronze technologies into China and to analyse the socio-cultural implications of such developments for both China and the wider region. Recognizing that such technological borrowings were highly complex processes, the project aim will be achieved through a new and highly innovative in-depth analysis of early metallurgy in Xinjiang addressing the following research questions:

A. When, where and how did copper and its alloys begin to be used in Xinjiang?

B. What metallurgical technologies were employed in prehistoric Xinjiang?

C. What were the cultural and organizational contexts for the start and early use of metals in Xinjiang?

D. What does this evidence tell us about the cultural connections and technological interactions between Xinjiang and its neighbouring regions and their role in technological developments in China?

Lead: Professor David Goodman, Discipline of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

The aims and objectives of the project:

The aim of the project is to provide a series of anthropological studies of gender, intimacy, and class in the contemporary People’s Republic of China in order to understand the dimensions of social inequality. 

Lead: Associate Professor Jamie Reilly and Associate Professor Jingdong Yuan, Discipline of Government & International Relations

The aims and objectives of the project:

The importance of this research project is both in its timely analysis of not only one of Australia’s most consequential bilateral relationships at its critical juncture, but also the policy implications for Canberra’s strategy toward China. We believe that engagement, despite its limitations and potential pitfalls, remains the most viable and pragmatic approach for dealing with a rising power which also is Australia’s largest trading partner. Our project also aims to collectively take stock of the milestones, achievements, and setbacks in this critical bilateral relationship over the past five decades, inform the public, and contribute to policy debates over Australia’s China strategy.

Over the past five decades, Australia’s pragmatic approaches to managing bilateral differences has led to deepening economic relations, expanding cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and has facilitated greater understanding between the two countries. Yet as the threat of a new Cold War between the United States and China looms, and with fears of China once again spreading across Australia, Gough Whitlam’s original vision for how and why Australia should engage China faces new and profound challenges.

Our 2012 book, Australia and China at 40, brought together Chinese and Australian experts to engage the most pressing issue of the day: the tensions between Australia’s security alliance with the US and its economic relationship with China. To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Australia’s establishment of diplomatic relations with China, this book brings together a diverse set of Australia’s leading experts to reflect on Australia’s engagement experience with China.

Grounded in a nuanced understanding of the complexity and diversity of China and Chinese governance today, chapters in each issue area will take stock of past achievements and setbacks, assess the current situation, consider opportunities and challenges, weigh prospects and implications, and offer suggestions. This book is thus a collective effort to address a critical aspect of Canberra’s foreign relations—how to respond to China’s rise and maintain a relationship that preserves and advances Australian national interests.

Lead: Associate Professor Rachael Hains-Wesson, Business School WIL Hub and Dr Kaiying Ji, Discipline of Accounting, Business School and WIL Hub Research Group

The aims and objectives of the project:

To highlight the differences and similarities as well as to create shared learnings that will benefit both China’s education reform initiatives and Australia’s need to implement a national WIL standards framework for inclusive access, this project will undertake a comparative study of Australia’s and China’s higher education graduate employability skill development programs and outcomes, investigate parental influences on students’ employability destination, such as how community impacts students’ employment preferences, career decision making and employability skill focus. The findings will be used to inform local and national work-integrated learning strategies, alumni networking programs for returning students to China, career development learning programs in China and international Chinese students studying in Australia. The findings will provide insight, shared knowledge and practice that will benefit both China and Australia’s education landscape and the communities they serve and are influenced by. The outcomes of this project will also provide insight to further improve implementations for employability programs in higher education and national education strategies, promoting connections and practical cooperation between China and Australia, building understanding and exchange, and showcasing Australia’s WIL model diversity and excellence. 

Lead : Fred Teiwes, Emeritus Professor of Chinese Politics (University of Sydney) 

Project title: Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, and the Dismantling of Maoism: From Restoration toward Reform, 1976-1981 (joint authorship with Warren Sun, retired Reader in Chinese Studies, Monash University)

The aims and objectives of the project:

This project is the culmination of several decades of research funded by multiple ARC grants and nearing completion. We have a publication contract with Routledge, with a notional submission date of December 2023.

This book aims to provide a deeply researched account of CCP elite politics from the arrest of the “gang of four” in October 1976 through to the end of 1981, a deeply misunderstood period in the existing literature. Relying heavily on official PRC narratives, conventional wisdom asserts a power struggle between Hua and Deng Xiaoping, with Hua portrayed as a neo-Maoist against Deng’s reform program. This vastly over-simplified, and in the most critical sense fundamentally erroneous view, has been undermined by our existing publications, but overall the conventional narrative still prevails. This book will provide a comprehensive attack on that narrative, presenting both an accurate account of events, and a deeper analysis of the dynamics of elite politics in this period.

The book is structured around chapters on different policy areas, which while linked by the overall political context, are quite distinct in issues faced and specific dynamics. These follow an initial chapter on the immediate post-Mao period following the arrest of the “gang” when the complicated process of moving away from Mao’s policies while “holding high Mao’s flag” unfolded, and Deng returned to work. The policy areas covered in completed chapters are: the economy, rural affairs, personnel affairs, and foreign and military policy.

The two remaining chapters are ideology, and an overview of the politics of the transition from Hua’s leadership to Deng’s. Work on ideology has begun, focusing on the misunderstood politics surrounding the “two whatevers” and “criterion of truth” in 1977-1978. The final chapter will demonstrate that far from any power struggle involving clashing policy agendas, Hua was essentially ousted by a very quiet coup that was not resisted by Hua, or any significant leadership group. The key factors were Deng’s desire for unambiguous paramount leader status, and an elite political culture of extreme deference to the “old revolutionaries” who won the communist victory in 1949. Deng had far away the greatest prestige of survivors of this group.

We have accessed a vast array of sources using multiple methods. In addition to traditionally used open PRC media and publicly available documents, we have delved deeply into valuable material essentially new in the post-Mao period. The most significant include Party history literature involving journals and books by Chinese scholars and former participants in elite politics; while generally observing red lines, they offer a variety of critical information. A second source is interviews with Party history scholars, significant figures in major events during the period, secretaries and other staff members of the very highest officials of the regime, and family members of similar officials. A final source of special note is very sensitive documents that have been provided by various people in the PRC. These sources, together with more traditional investigations, provide the basis for a fundamentally new understanding of the period in question.

Lead: Dr Minglu Chen, Discipline of Government and International Relations, SSPS

Summary of project:

This project addresses an important yet under-examined issue in the study of Chinese politics -- gender disparities in the communist Party-state’s elite recruitment. Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been appointing women in small but constant numbers in top positions in provincial-level CCP standing committees and governments. While women’s disadvantages in all aspects of China’s political life is an established fact, little is known about the appointment process of female provincial leaders in the one-party system. The proposed project explores these women’s access to political power and advancement in the provincial hierarchy.

Project Aims:

Although transparent rules and policies on leadership recruitment are unavailable in the one-party system, the project will advance knowledge of Chinese elite formation and facilitate understanding of China’s future political trajectory, by bringing the missing gender perspective into the study of China’s political elite formation.  The project aims to:

1.     collect curriculum vitae of all female (and male) Party secretaries, deputy Party secretaries, members of CCP Standing Committee, governors and deputy governors of China’s 31 provincial-level jurisdictions since 1949;

2.     collect information of division of responsibilities in the provincial Party and government leadership;

3.     identify possible patterns of the Party-state’s inclusion and exclusion of women in its formal power structure in the context of socio-political changes in the PRC;

4.     compare age, education, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, experience, career trajectory and work responsibilities of female and male provincial leaders;

5.     investigate the Party-state’s recruitment criteria of female provincial leaders;

6.     identify factors that possibly explain female provincial leaders’ advancement in the political power hierarchy;

7.     reveal how gender disparities unfold in China’s provincial leadership.

Lead: Dr Josh Stenberg, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Discipline of Chinese Studies

Summary of project:

Su Tong is an internationally well-known Chinese writer, a winner of the Mao Dun Literature Prize and a nominee for the Man Booker International Prize. I have translated two volumes of Su Tong fiction in the past (Madwoman on the Bridge and Other Stories and Tattoo: Three Novellas). In the last decade, I have translated 6 other stories for various journals, which have not been collected in a book format. I have permissions from Su Tong and the journals where the stories first appeared (subject to acknowledgment). 

UK-based Sinoist (the fiction & literature arm of Alain Charles Asia), the publisher of two recent translated volumes by Su Tong, would like to publish the resulting book (c. 12 stories, 70,000 words) if funding can be secured.  Translated short fiction is seldom profitable and so publishers must seek external funding. But because it's a collection of stories rather than a translation of a given volume, the book cannot be funded through PRC publisher applications getting grants from the PRC Ministry of Culture. This application is for a grant of 3000 AUD from China Studies Centre to Sinoist for the publication of the book (editing, promotion, printing costs), with the CSC to be appropriately recognised in print for its contribution. Sinoist's terms would be for the grant to be disbursed 50% up front and 50% upon handover of proofs.   

The plan of work is for the remaining 6 stories to be translated by myself by September 2022 with publication either late in 2022 or in early 2023. 

Lead: Dr Josh Stenberg, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Discipline of Chinese Studies

Kunqu Masters on Chinese Theatrical Performance

Kunqu, recognised by UNESCO in 2001 as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is among the oldest and most refined traditions of the family of genres known as xiqu or “Chinese opera.” Having survived the turmoil of the Chinese twentieth century, the art form’s musical and performance traditions are being passed on by senior artists in several major cities of the Yang-tze River basin as well as Beijing. Xiqu studies have so far focused on the textual basis of performance, while the transmission of performance technique and the shifts and refinements of tradition have been left largely unexplored. This book consists of explanatory narrations, selected and translated from among an extensive Chinese-language collective endeavour in Chinese. 

Each translated account by a master performer sheds light on the human processes—technical, pedagogical, ideological, social— that create a particular piece of theatre and transmit it over time. These translations allow actors’ voices to be heard for the first time in international theatre and performance studies, while the annotations allow the reader to place these narratives in historical, literary, discursive, and aesthetic contexts. 

Close critical attention to the nature of transmission shows how concepts such as “tradition” are in fact the sites of constant elaboration and negotiation. Far from being a museum genre, kunqu reveals itself through these explanatory narrations as a living and changing art form, subject to the internal logic of its technique but also open to innovation. Methodologically, this work breaks new ground by centering the performers’ perspective rather than text, providing a different gaze, complement, and challenge to performance-analysis, ideological, sociological, and plot-based perspectives on xiqu.

The outcome of the project is a book, to be published in late 2022 or early 2023. It is currently under contract with Anthem Press as part of their Anthem Studies in Theatre and Performance. The project is individual in Sydney terms, but it is also supported by the Wintergreen Kunqu Society, Yip Siu Hing and the Masters’ Studio, and includes translations by Guo Chao (Su Yat-sen University), Anne Rebull (University of Chicago) and Kim Hunter Gordon (Duke Kunshan University) in addition to myself. 

Liyuanxi: Hokkien Theatre of the Pear Orchard 

This project offers an engaging introduction to the Hokkien music drama known as liyuanxi (“Pear Orchard Theatre”), heir and current expression of one of China’s oldest unbroken xiqu (“Chinese opera”) traditions. Musically and narratively highly distinctive, liyuanxi is closely associated with the historic port city of Quanzhou, and draws on the same musical system as the vocal tradition of nanguan/nanyin, included by UNESCO in 2009 as representative of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Liyuanxi also shares some of the narrative repertoire of northern and Yangtze river genres, though its expression was less strongly determined by literati traditions. After first reaching nationwide renown in the new state-led theatre system of the 1950s, liyuanxi was like all tradition-based Mainland Chinese genres, decimated in the Cultural Revolution. Since the Deng Xiaoping era, the genre has again achieved prominence with its daring, socially-engaged, literary and often comical new ‘historical’ costume pieces, while also maintaining a major artistic and pedagogical commitment to its tradition. A single theatre of a hundred employees now pursues the twin duties of conservation and renewal, since 1989 under the direction of Zeng Jingping. Also the genre’s most famous performer, and twice the winner of China’s highest accolade for performers, the Plum Blossom Award, she has emerged as one of China’s most thoughtful practitioners of Chinese theatre as it navigates the capital of tradition and the need for innovation. As playwright, Wang Renjie has done much the same, respecting prosodic tradition and musical requirements while crafting plays that engage with the issues of contemporary China. The project, which provides the first overview of the genre in English, deals with the textual heritage (including some of the earliest Hokkien texts), the performance history from the Ming to the present day, the aesthetic principles, and the key works of repertoire. The genre’s only theatre company, Fujian Province Liyuanxi Experimental Theatre, has kindly offered expertise, access to archives, and photographs for this project.  

The outcome of the project is a book, currently under contract, as part of Bloomsbury’s “Forms of Drama” series, which seeks to “accessible, mid-length volumes that offer undergraduate readers authoritative guides to the distinct forms of global drama.”

Lead: Associate Professor Jamie Reilly, Discipline of Government and International Relations

Team members:

  • Prof Susan Park, SEI and Discipline of Government and International Relations
  • A/Prof Jamie Reilly, Discipline of Government and International Relations
  • A/Prof Ying Zhang, School of Public Health
  • Wuna Reilly, CSC 

Summary of Project:

This project builds cooperation between Australian and Chinese institutions to enhance preparedness and bolster resilience in response to climate induced disasters across three issue areas: sustainable development, public health, and building rural resilience. We will leverage an exchange of delegations between China and Australia to hold public events, establish collaborative research projects, conduct field visits, issue joint publications, and hold capacity-building workshops. These year-long collaborations are designed to seed ongoing bi-national cooperation.


Containing the effects and addressing the impacts of climate change on human society will require making difficult changes in our institutions and practices. Despite the vast differences between Australia and China, we share this common challenge. The Building Resilience project is thus designed to foster constructive engagement between Australian and Chinese institutions to enhance our preparedness and bolster resilience in response to climate induced disasters. We will showcase Australia’s excellent public policies and practices while fostering mutual understanding through practical cooperation with China.


Lead: Dr Andres Rodriguez, History/ School of Humanities


This project proposes a new way to think about connectivity and regionalism in China’s Burma Road during World War Two. It takes as its central focus the importance of roads and air links in China’s early twentieth century and examines how these created new geographies of understanding of the Sino-Burmese borderlands and its inhabitants.

Further aims for this project include:

- Uncover the role played by China in the construction of the Burma Road during World War Two.

- Elucidate how newfound connectivity to Southeast Asia and India contributed to emerging forms of Chinese regionalism and nationalism in Asia.

- Determine how new technologies of military connectivity (roadbuilding, air bases) shaped local societies in China’s southwest, Burma, and India.

- Build regional comparisons with other wartime infrastructure projects in China (e.g., Xinjiang province in the northwest) and Asia (e.g., Burma-Thailand Railway).

China studies working papers

Members of the China Studies Centre are invited to provide unpublished/draft/and preliminary papers as part of the new initiative. The Centre will receive submissions on a rolling basis. Please submit your papers to

Authors welcome comments on the paper, please do not hesitate to contact them directly. 

Author : Lauren A. Johnston


In 2019 Foreign Policy described China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as “the most talked about and least defined buzzword of this decade”. Given that confusion and the importance of leader political speeches in China, especially those of current President Xi Jinping, it is surprising that the BRI literature has little in-depth analysed the two launch speeches of 2013. This article seeks to fill that gap with study of those speeches and focus on the five cooperation-oriented areas announced in each. In comparative context those ten pillars appear not to be descended from New Era Chinese heaven but rather demonstrate substantive thematic overlap with the ten pillars of what was once relatively mainstream macroeconomic development policy, the Washington Consensus. Yet, in the case of the BRI there is a relative implicit implementation emphasis also. In forward context of contemporary global political economy tensions, the need to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the G7’s Build Back Better and the European Union’s Global Gateway ambitions also, this article may offer a timely fresh and comparative lens on the BRI.

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Authors : Frederick C. Teiwes and Warren Sun

Abstract : 

In 2019 Foreign Policy described China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as “the most talked about and least defined buzzword of this decade”. Given that confusion and the importance of leader political speeches in China, especially those of current President Xi Jinping, it is surprising that the BRI literature has little in-depth analysed the two launch speeches of 2013. This article seeks to fill that gap with study of those speeches and focus on the five cooperation-oriented areas announced in each. In comparative context those ten pillars appear not to be descended from New Era Chinese heaven but rather demonstrate substantive thematic overlap with the ten pillars of what was once relatively mainstream macroeconomic development policy, the Washington Consensus. Yet, in the case of the BRI there is a relative implicit implementation emphasis also. In forward context of contemporary global political economy tensions, the need to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the G7’s Build Back Better and the European Union’s Global Gateway ambitions also, this article may offer a timely fresh and comparative lens on the BRI.

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Author : David S G Goodman

Abstract : 

The dominance of the China Threat discourse in Australia’s public affairs suggests poor prospects for any continued Australia-China relations, let alone positive interactions of mutual benefit. An exploration of alternative ways to approach Australia’s relationship with China may though prove not only more constructive but also better future-proofed. The first step is to recognize that while China certainly poses challenges to Australia the perception of threat is more relevant to the USA. The second is the recognition of differences and the development of ways to mediate those differences. And the third is to build on the complementarities for the benefit of both Australia and China, not just through economic but also through social interactions. As Europe discovered in the 1950s, the development of mutual understanding of other peoples, their cultures, and their social and economic systems is a precursor not simply to respect and the avoidance of unwarranted prejudice, but to cooperation for a wider public good.

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Author : Jie (Jeanne) Huang

Abstract : 

Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have become the forefront in China to test legal and technological reforms for digital trade. This chapter explores three cutting-edge case studies in China’s SEZs: the Beijing blockchain-based Single Window deposit box; newly established big data exchanges in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai SEZs; and pilot projects in financial, medical care and automobile industries to flow data across the border in the Shanghai SEZ. It scrutinizes China's experiments in the context of its applications to join CPTPP and DEPA. It argues that the development of Chinese domestic law for digital trade is shifting away from the traditional paradigm that uses international commitments to push domestic reform or make domestic law according to international law. The development of Chinese domestic law for digital trade relies much more on China’s domestic needs than what FTAs negotiations require. FTAs are increasingly becoming a tool for China to shape international law rather than a benchmark for legislating domestic Chinese law. 

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Understanding China briefs 

Understanding China briefs provide expert interpretation of developments in China. 

This Understanding China Brief results from a roundtable discussion on 9 August 2022 to discuss the change and stasis in China’s international higher education environment.

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This Understanding China Brief results from a roundtable discussion organised by the China Studies Centre on 3 June 2022 to examine Australia-China relations after the Federal Election.

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Author : Lauren Johnston


The more than month-long strict ‘Zero-Covid19’ lockdown of Shanghai from April 1, 2022, drew international attention for the fact that one of the world’s richest and most trade-connected cities in the world even could be so shutdown. Economists have expressed fear that the scale of the disruption to China’s middle-class elite and to global supply chains may have lasting negative impacts for China’s economy and globalisation. In a case of making hay while the lockdown sun shines, however, while residents of Shanghai and to some extent also Beijing, have been locked inside, Beijing has been busy announcing some new hukou-related educational and civil administrative reforms. In total contrast to locking Chinese down, these may ultimately and in contrast come to underpin a far more mobile Chinese labour force, a more competitive business environment within China, and even more mobility of Chinese citizens globally. In this way, far from being incongruent with China’s economic development or globalisation, via the parallel hukou-related reforms that took place alongside the distraction of COVID19 lockdowns of early 2022, these may prove to have served to underpin not only China’s ‘high-quality development’ and ‘common prosperity’ agendas, but even the fluidity of the Belt and Road Initiative.

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The China Studies Centre, University of Sydney and the Australian Centre on China in the World ANU held a roundtable to discuss this year’s Two Sessions and the outlook for 2022.

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This Understanding China Brief results from a roundtable discussion organized by the China Studies Centre and the Centre for Asia and Pacific Law of Sydney University on 10 March 2022 to examine the legal, political, economic, and international relations issues surrounding China arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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This Understanding China brief results from a roundtable discussion organized by the China Studies Centre and the Centre for Asia and Pacific Law of Sydney University on 3 February 2022 to examine four aspects of the Beijing Olympics: boycotts, COVID-19 control, law reform, and the economics of the Olympics. 

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This paper results from a roundtable discssion organised by our centre on 6 December 2021 to examine the resolution on CCP history. 

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