ceramic artwork of people in China

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 Alison Betts coordinates research groups and research projects.

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

The Local China Project

The development of the PRC and its place in the world is shaped as much by localisation as by globalisation. China’s size and scale are such that by both policy design and practice domestic social, political, and economic development are highly localised. In a very real sense there are many Chinas and in order to understand the PRC’s international interactions as well as its domestic development it is crucial to appreciate the depth of variety of experience in and across localities as well as how those differences interact within the political system.

The Local China Project is designed to produce research that both describes and explains social, political, and economic change in the People’s Republic of China [PRC] through the dynamics of development at local levels. The identification of ‘local’ China in this context is to emphasise the variety of experience across China, within city regions, counties, cities, towns and villages, and in everyday life.

Dr Minglu Chen, Discipline of Government and International Relations

Annual Workshop
The Local China Project holds an annual workshop. In September 2024 this will meet in Paris (in cooperation with Sciences Po) to examine ‘Local Social Change in China: The State as Social Actor’.

Studies on Local China
Arrangements have been made with Routledge (UK) to publish a series of ‘short’ books on local social change in China. Books in this series are between 25,000 and 50,000 words in order to provide the opportunity for an introduction to the practice of and academic approaches to each topic, coverage of literature to date, key questions going forward, as well as preliminary findings and suggestions for future research.


In addition to Studies on Local China and the Annual Workshop the Project supports publication of its research in monographs, edited volume and journal articles.


  • The Digital Economy
  • Local Governance
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Rural Development
  • Environmental Studies
  • Social Change
  • Health Studies
  • Social Policy and Welfare Provision
  • Local Cultures
  • Urbanisation

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: 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 society) 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.


Translating Contemporary Chinese Culture

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. 


Hokkien Theatre in Historical Perspective

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.” https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/series/forms-of-drama/


The Alternative Tradition in Crime Fiction: Judge Dee and after

Lead: Dr Sabrina Yuan Hao, China Studies Centre

Project Introduction:

Project From 1949 to 1967, Dutch sinologist Robert van Gulik produced a series of detective fiction, featuring a Chinese Judge---Judge Dee. The series achieved enormous success and popularity upon its initial publication in Europe and the United States. Since then popularity of van Gulik’s detective creation has continued and intensified, with further translations of the series into a variety of languages as well as imitations and adaptations across diverse languages, cultures and media. One interesting aspect of the Judge Dee stories is their cultural hybridity. While following Anglo-American detective fiction formulae, van Gulik’s fiction also drew heavily on the time-honoured tradition of Chinese crime writing — gong’an (court-case) literature — for plots, stories, and narrative features.

Research will focus on this alternative tradition of crime fiction --- Chinese gong’an literature. Its origins that can be traced back to the tenth century, and gong’an literature thrived by drawing on a variety of native literary forms including legal case books of the Song Dynasty (960–1279), plays of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), huaben stories and collections of short stories of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and full-length novels of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). More significantly, since the fourteenth century the gong’an genre began to make its way into Japan, Korea, and even (as the Judge Dee stories demonstrate) into Europe. In a sense then the Chinese tradition predated its Anglo-American counterpart which started its global journey in the late nineteenth century.

Interestingly van Gulik’s work created a new impetus for Chinese practitioners of the crime genre.  As a result of Western crime fiction’s flooding into the Chinese market at the turn of the twentieth century, indigenous authors began to ignore the local gong’an tradition while faithfully embracing the appropriated Western mode. Van Gulik’s success in blending the two traditions restored Chinese authors’ confidence in gong’an literature, and led on to increased literary production connecting Chinese cultures and traditions with others.

Research Lead : Hans Hendrischke, Business School, International Business Discipline


  • Hans Hendrischke, Business School, International Business Discipline
  • Eva Huang, Business School, Accounting Discipline
  • Jeanne Huang, Law School
  • Wei Li, Business School, International Business Discipline
  • Xi Nan, post-doc, Business School
  • Benny Yinfeng Shen, PG student, Business School, USYD Fellow of Senate
  • Huan Zhang, Business School, International Business Discipline
  • David Jun Zhao, student, Business School
  • YinFeng (Benny) Shen, postgraduate student fellow, The University of Sydney Senate

The aims and objectives of the project:

The term Digital Economy came into use during the early 1990s.

It is now an inter-disciplinary concept studied by economists, lawyers, computer science and information systems experts, and marketing and management specialists.

Researchers who study the regulatory aspects of the digital economy also examine its informal side where they identify and analyse the hidden digitalised economy.

This project will engage in collaborative research of the digital economy in China, as well as comparative studies involving China. The project includes several PhD projects on digital regulatory technologies, and studies of digital business. The project members are meeting regularly, including with collaborators from across faculties and metropolitan universities.

Research lead: Wei Li, The University of Sydney Business School


  • Anthony Welch, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
  •  Boris Choy, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Chengqi Cao, Sydney School of Education and Social Work
  • Chia Yeow Tong, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Eva Huang, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Gracy Yang, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Hongzhi Yang, Sydney School of Education and Social Work
  • Huan Zhang, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Minglu Chen, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Nan Xi, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Rachel Hains-Wesson, Academic Director Work-Integrated Learning Hub, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Tony Cannell, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Wei Li, The University of Sydney Business School
  • YinFeng (Benny) Shen, postgraduate student fellow, The University of Sydney Senate
  • Hans Hendrischke, Business School, International Business Discipline

The aims and objectives

The research group aim to cover the following two themes:

First, it examines education policies, institutions, and reform and development in the PRC. Following marketization and privatization, the national educational system in China, a major vehicle for both inculcating values in and teaching needed skills to its people, has experienced significant transformations and restructures. These changes have major domestic as well as international implications;

Second, it builds collaborations between Australia and China in the education space to enhance literacy in Chinese business and governance as well as integration for international Chinese students in the Australian universities and societies. China is central to the development of the Australian economy, yet the range of understandings about the former’s business practices and local governance remain limited. Similarly, Australia was the one of the most attractive countries for Chinese students studying abroad. There were more than 141 thousand Chinese student enrolments in Australia as of June 2022. Evidence based research on the challenges and difficulties faced by Chinese international students and their acculturation features in Australia over time can enable significant progress to be made in curriculum development and reform, and in adapting methods of instruction and practices to the needs of Chinese international students.

Proposed activities

  • Hold monthly member meetings/seminars to exchange ideas and present research papers
  • Support cross-disciplinary project development and collaborations
  • Research funding application submissions
  • Annual China Education Forum

The development of the Chinese economy and its impact on the physical environment of both China and the world is matched by the importance of the development of environmentalism and its associated technologies and policies. The research group is concerned with the assessment of environmental challenges in China, the emergence of new technologies, policy evolution, and environmental management. 

Research lead: Susan Park, Discipline of Government and International Relations 


  • Jianguo Zhu, Engineering
  •  Jun Huang, Engineering
  • Ali Abbas, Engineering
  •  Budiman Minasny, School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  • Peng Zhang, School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  • Daniel Tan, School of Life and Environmental Sciences
  • Wuna Reilly, China Studies Centre
  • Elspeth Probyn, Gender and Cultural Studies
  •  Ying Zhang, Sydney School of Public Health

Health management and monitoring is one of the greatest challenges facing the growing Chinese economy and represents a potential major check on development. Research into Health Management is concerned not only with policy settings, but also local practice in health provision, as well as the application of medicine and nursing technologies and procedures.    

Research lead: Ling Zhang, Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Medicine and Health


  • Bingqin Li, UNSW
  • Alicia Jenkins, NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre
  • Ying Zhang, Sydney School of Public Health
  • Natalie Munro, Sydney School of Health Sciences
  • Anita Wong, Sydney School of Health Sciences
  • Qiang Tu, School of Health Sciences
  • Natalie Koehel, Science


Chinese speakers and education for heart problems

Lead: Dr Ling Zhang, Faculty of Medicine and Health

Project Synopsis:

Patient education is essential and recommended in clinical guidelines to tackle current high readmission rates after acute coronary syndrome (ACS) discharge. However, traditional education methods do not reach patients from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds who often have poor health literacy (>70%) and low English proficiency. We aim to overcome these barriers through 1) consumer co-creating a novel avatar-based, self-delivered discharge education application (app) using an existing platform. A cultural adaptation framework will be developed, and Mandarin-speaking patients (the dominant non-English language group) will be engaged in the entire project to ensure acceptability; 2) testing the app on immediate, 1 and 3-month patient knowledge and self-care behaviour outcomes; 3) implementing the app through upload to the Heart Foundation website and marketing followed by a preliminary evaluation. We expect the app will provide accessible discharge education for CALD patients who miss out on traditional patient education.

The aims and objectives of the project 

The project aims to co-create and implement a discharge education app for Mandarin-speaking patients based on our previous work. We hypothesise that the app will provide Mandarin-speaking patients with accessible discharge education thus improving their disease knowledge and self-care behaviours and reducing hospital readmission and financial burdens on individuals, families, and healthcare systems.


China is Australia’s major trading partner. It imports more goods to Australia than any other country by a large margin; and it is the recipient of most Australian exports by a substantially larger margin. Australia is one of the few countries in the world that has a trade surplus with China. At the same time successive Australian governments have seen the rise of China’s economic and political presence in the Asia-Pacific Region as a significant challenge to be negotiated. Understanding and interpreting the Australia-China relationship is a major challenge that this research group addresses.

Research Lead: Jingdong Yuan, Discipline of Government and International Relations 

  • Jamie Reilly, Discipline of Government and International Relations
  • James B Curran, Discipline of History
  • Hans Hendrischke, Sydney Business School, International Business
  • Anthony Welch, Sydney School of Education and Social Work 


Australia Engages China

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.


Enhancing graduate employability for Chinese and Australian students: learning  from one another.

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. 


Building Resilience: Australia-China cooperation in responding to climate induced disasters

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.


Chinese Students in Australian Election Campaigns


  • Dr Minglu Chen, Discipline of Government and International Relations, FASS
  • Associate Professor David Smith, Discipline of Government and International Relations, FASS
  • Dr Ye Xue, University of Alberta, China Institute, University of Alberta

Project description:

Election campaigns in Australia and other democracies often see the involvement of people who cannot themselves vote in elections. What motivates people who are excluded from electoral democracy to participate in it? This project examines a group of growing importance in Australian election campaigns, students of Chinese nationality who volunteer for candidates during elections. As non-citizens these students cannot themselves vote, but nonetheless they perform various campaign tasks for candidates including handing out how-to-vote cards and contacting constituents. These volunteers play a potentially pivotal role in marginal electorates with large Chinese-speaking populations, such as the federal divisions of Bennelong and Reid in NSW and Chisholm in Victoria, all of which played a decisive role in the outcome of the 2022 federal election. 

In this study we interview student volunteers of Chinese nationality to better understand what motivates them to participate. This will be one of the first studies on non-citizen migrant participation in Australian democratic politics. Recent literature on migrant political participation in Australia has found that overall migrants tend to participate at similar or higher rates than Australian-born citizens (Bean 2012) and that this participation is greatest in areas of high migrant concentration (Bilodeau 2009), although it has not translated into high levels of parliamentary representation of non-white migrant groups (Pietsch 2016, Pietsch 2018). Quantitative studies of the substantial variance in migrant participation have examined the role of socio-economic resources, social learning and religious participation in shaping differential participation among and within migrant groups (Makkai and McAllister 1992, Jiang 2017). But all of these studies, primarily derived from surveys and other data about voters, focus on those who already have voting rights, who could legally stand as candidates themselves, and who have a long-term stake in the services provided by Australian governments. We want to explain the participation of those who do not enjoy these privileges, but who nonetheless commit significant time and effort to election campaigns.

By interviewing student participants, we also seek insights into what political parties are looking to gain from their efforts. We would not expect party campaign leaders themselves to cooperate with a study such as this, but student accounts of recruitment by and communication with the parties may help us better understand why these organisations make such extensive use of non-voters as campaign workers. This will contribute to an important literature on the changing structure and meaning of participation in political parties in the face of the decline of “mass membership” models in Australia throughout the democratic world (Cross and Gauja 2014, Gauja 2015).

Project aims

This project aims to:

1. Collective information of Chinese students’ involvement in Australian elections, including their recruitment to and tasks carried out in election campaigns;

2. Identify and explain the driving factors of these non-citizens’ political participation in their country of residence;

3. Identify and explain the driving factors of Australian political parties’ recruitment of overseas Chinese students to work for their candidates during elections.


Go social and go local: How community cooperation enhances local governance—an Australia-China research project

Chief Investigators (CIs): Dr Wuna Reilly and Associate Professor Jamie Reilly, Displine of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.

Project Introduction:

Around the world, local communities are facing risks from the effects of climate change, the pandemic, and economic instability.  At the same time, many governments confront declining state revenues, imposing constraints upon the provision of effective relief and welfare programs at the local level.  How can we identify and implement innovative institutional arrangements that will encourage cooperation and bolster the resilience of local communities, helping them to meet these deepening challenges without overwhelming government balance sheets?

Common public resources are generally seen as a challenge for local governance, given the difficulties of managing and utilizing public spaces and resources in an effective, efficient, fair, and inclusive manner.  This project flips that perspective.  Instead, we view public resources as an opportunity to foster community cooperation.  Drawing upon a rich and diverse body of scholarship on community cooperation, local governance, public policy, and sharing common-pool resources, we explore how creating incentives and opportunities for community-based cooperation in utilising, maintaining, and protecting local public resources for the common good can reduce transactions costs for local governance.

We expect that community-based cooperation over public resources will tend to enhance local communities’ resilience, welfare, and quality of life at modest cost to government expenses.  In turn, these positive outcomes are likely to encourage further community cooperation and better local governance through a type of ‘virtuous cycle.’ While these general dynamics should be broadly applicable, every community is different.  Therefore, the particular type of public resource and effective modes of community cooperation in utilising that resource will vary across individual cases.

This project will test and extend this framework through a combination of collaborative academic research and practical cooperation activities linking scholars, local officials, and community associations in China and Australia.  We seek to leverage the many differences between local communities in Australia and China to develop and test general principles for how innovative and locally appropriate institutional arrangements can induce and sustain community cooperation in using local public resources.

Aims and Objectives:

  • Conduct collaborative research resulting in academic publications and policy advice on the most effective ways to promote and leverage community cooperation in face of increasing risks and uncertainty;
  •  Showcase Australia’s excellent local governance, particularly in how local governments in Greater Sydney encourage and support community-based organisations in using and managing public resources;
  • Foster mutual understanding between Australia and China through practical cooperation and collaborate research.


Australia-China cooperation towards climate-resilient agriculture

Lead: Professor Budiman Minasny, Professor in Soil Science at the University of Sydney & Dr Peng ZhangSenior Research Fellow, Plant Breeding Institute School of Life and Environmental Sciences

This project will bring together expertise and experience in Australia and China in dealing with climate-resilient agriculture by enhancing research in crop and soil. This project will enhance research capabilities and will lead to a sustainable increase in farm productivity in both countries.

Australia and China are dealing with uncertainties in climate change which will affect food security. Additionally, both countries aim to provide healthy foods without compromising the environment. This is only achievable through better scientific approaches to improve crop productivity and soil health.

This project aims to share technological and scientific developments on improving crop cultivars and monitoring soil health to build a climate-resilient agriculture.

This project has two components: Soil and Crop.

Soil mapping and monitoring

In agricultural systems, soil carbon is considered as one of the key indicators of soil health,

increasing soil resilience to events such as erosion and drought. It is critical to monitor changes in soil health across the planet, not only to identify vulnerable areas and stop its degradation. The program will also to assess any potential soil regeneration program's effectiveness.  

The soil component of the project aims to share technological and scientific developments that allow farmers to map and monitor changes in soil carbon stocks, a measure of soil health.

The project will exchange techniques that enable big data processing to enable soil mapping and monitoring at various scales. A series of workshops will ensure that Australian and

Chinese scientists' participation and collaboration in the development of ideas and uses for soil carbon mapping and monitoring.


Scientific workshops and journal publications

Crop improvement

Wheat is the world’s second largest crop and accounts for 20% of the calories and protein consumed globally. In Australia, it is the most important crop, growing on 13 million hectares and the gross value of wheat production was at a record $11.5 billion in 2021. Wheat is also among the top crops in China, its production is only next to rice.

In addition to the challenges posed by climate change (e.g. drought, heat) in its production, huge yield losses are due to pests and diseases, which can account for 21.5% of the global wheat production. The rust, powdery mildew and fusarium head blight (FHB) diseases are among the most damaging diseases in wheat growing areas worldwide. In both China and Australia,  epidemics, especially stripe rust and FHB, occur at a much higher frequency than before and also in areas that traditionally these diseases were not serious problems.

Using resistant cultivars is the most environmentally and economically friendly method to control these diseases.

The University of Sydney has a more than century-long history working on rust genetics, exploring new rust resistance sources, and resistance gene cloning. Prof Xiue Wang’s team at Nanjing Agricultural University is well known for their research on powdery mildew and FHB, both in exploring the genetic diversity from wild relatives of wheat and in resistance gene cloning.  

The outcome from our collaborative project will help to open a new pool of resistance genes, which could be tapped to protect wheat from the scourge of these three diseases, and will benefit breeders, farmers and consumers in both Australia and China. It will help us achieving durable disease resistance using less fungicide, which will be safer to the farmers applying it and farm workers, hence, has significant environmental impact, also less residue in the crop, which is safer for the consumer.


Scientific workshops and journal publications

Key Partners:

Zhejiang University

Nanjing Agricultural university

Sun Yat Sen University


Improving Chinese International Students’ Learning Experience in Australian Tertiary Education

Lead: Dr Jinqi Xu, Interdisciplinary Education, within the Education, Enterprise and Engagement unit in the Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education)

Project description:

Western institutions constantly seek to internationalize and favour enrolling Chinese international students for the economic, diplomatic, and intercultural benefits they bring to host institutions and communities. Scholars claim that Western Higher Education institutions are not doing enough in understanding the Chinese international student experience and the nuances of Chinese learning practices, consequently, not innovating their services sufficiently to respond to their needs and concerns. Chinese international students reported the lowest level of satisfaction and experienced a higher level of discrimination by teachers, university staff, and classmates compared with European peers. Most research on Chinese international students' experience tends to hold a view of homogeneity, overgeneralization and otherization of this group. As a result, Chinese students are categorised as rote learners, passive learners, with “lacks” or “deficits” and a “problematic” group. Not surprisingly, Chinese international students, as the largest international cohort enrolled in Australian Higher Education are creating opportunities and challenges for both academics and students because of the diversities in tertiary classrooms. Yet, a review of the literature shows that a practice-based approach has not been used in this area of study. Through a practice lens, this project aims to investigate what curricular programs, pedagogical practices and institutional arrangements can promote Chinese international students’ engagement to improve their learning experience in Australia.


  • Identifying the barriers from an institutional perspective on what practices and arrangements could be adopted in supporting Chinese international students' learning experience, engaging them and creating a sense of belonging for them.
  • Designing practical pedagogical practices and curricular programs for academics to support Chinese international students in making a successful transition from the Chinese education system into Western tertiary classrooms.
  • Improving interactions between domestic students and Chinese international students by using both formal and informal curricula to encourage and reward intercultural engagement.
  • Investigate how to achieve interdisciplinary effectiveness in Industry Community and Project Units learning environment to improve the communication between Chinese International Students and domestic students in research collaboration.
  • Disseminate research findings by attending both national and international conferences and publishing journal articles about Chinese International students learning and teaching in the West. 


Different Middle Powers in the Same Uncharted Territory: What Can Australia Learn from South Korea’s China Strategy?


Dr Minran Liu, China Studies Centre, USYD/ UNSW Canberra

Associate Professor Jingdong Yuan, Government and IR, USYD

Project Synopsis:

Around the world, many countries are facing tremendous challenges in managing their relations with China’s rise to superpower status, including Australia and South Korea. For both countries, China offers great economic opportunities but presents serious security challenges. The world’s second-largest economy is indispensable for their economic wellbeing as China is their most significant trading partner by a large margin. However, Australia and South Korea are also facing an increasingly assertive China whose policies and actions are often incompatible with the democratic values the two middle powers hold. Furthermore, as close allies of the United States, intensifying US-China strategic rivalry further complicates their relationship with China, which requires policies for balancing and managing competing interests and tradeoffs. Indeed, both Canberra and Seoul have had to face the China challenge in recent years and hence can learn from each other’s experiences.  We believe Sino-South Korea relations in the past decades offer valuable insights about Seoul’s approach toward dealing with contentious issues vis-à-vis Beijing. This project seeks to use South Korea’s experiences to highlight important lessons that could contribute to the broader discussion of how middle powers such as South Korea and Australia respond to the China challenge. It is hoped that this research can also contribute to the overall Australian China knowledge, inform the public, and engage broader debates over Australia’s relationship with China in the long run.

For Canberra, the valuable ties between Chinese and Australians and the understandings generated in the past severe decades are replaced by an increasingly static and conservative policy towards China. To broaden Australia’s China knowledge, we explore how South Korea managed their relations with China in the past several decades, especially during and after complex events such as the Goguryeo/Gaogouli historiography dispute and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) crisis. Our project aims to find patterns in Sino-South Korea relations and re-examine this bilateral relationship over the past four decades. We will take stock of past high-time and crises, weigh prospects and implications, and offer policy recommendations. This project will trace past events through policy research in China and South Korea. We seek to leverage the many similarities between these two pairs of relations to develop a framework for Australia to deal with its ties with China, especially during difficult circumstances.

Aims and Objectives:

  • Conduct timely research resulting in academic and policy publications on the lessons and insights from Sino-South Korea on Sino-Australian relations in this highly challenging time.
  • Contribute to the broader discussion of middle power diplomacy and responses to the China challenge.



China’s development poses challenges to the world’s understandings of both China and social change in general. This research group focusses on both the detail of change in China and its placement in the world of knowledge.

Research Lead: Alison Betts Discipline of Archaeology


Bronzes of Xinjiang: technology, society and power on the road to China

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?


Gender, Intimacy, and Class: Understanding Inequality 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. 


Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, and the Dismantling of Maoism: From Restoration toward Reform, 1976-1981

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.


Moving War: Connectivity and Regionalism in China’s Burma Road (1937-45)

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).


Overseas Chinese Lives in Medan and East of Sumatra

Lead: Professor Budiman Minasny, Professor in Soil Science at the University of Sydney


Medan in North Sumatra is a thriving yet chaotic city with expansive trade connections within Southeast Asia and beyond. It is the gateway to the prosperous oil palm and rubber plantation economy of North Sumatra. It is also the location of the controversial “the Act of Killing” movie. Yet, behind the high-rise buildings, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and chaotic traffic lie a deep history of Chinese that is seldom told.

The development of the region on the East Coast of Sumatra began in 1860s, when a few Dutchmen accepted the invitation by the Sultan of Deli and founded tobacco plantations. Deli tobacco leaves became highly valued cigar wrappers in the European and American market. The result was a brown ‘gold rush’ of Deli tobacco in the late 1870s, attracting Europeans to the new ‘dollar land.’ Chinese peasants escaping poverty in the South of China tried their luck in Deli. Every year about 50,000 Chinese landed on the coast of Sumatra either as coolies, workers, or merchants. 

Medan, a small village used as tobacco plantations, was soon transformed one the most modern cities of the Dutch East Indies. It had clean and wide streets, spacious squares, and modern buildings in the heat. By 1940s, Medan had around 100,000 residents, a third of its population was Chinese and described as Chinese Centre par excellence.


This project aims to narrate the intimate stories of the people and places of Medan from 1870-1940. It aims to depict people who contributed to the development of the city, its social dynamics that shaped the current society and how the Chinese lived and developed in this European-ruled city.

Based on accurate Dutch, Indonesian, English, and Chinese sources, digitised newspapers, and interviews, the book presents the first unique stories of people and places in Medan. While there are many books on old colonial towns such as Batavia and Penang, there is no well-researched historical literature on Medan. 


Book: Approximately: 280 pages, 85,000 words, including many pictures and photographs.

A draft has been written but require editing for a possible publication in ASAH.


Soft Power, China, and Indonesia: Histories and Humanities


Dr. Josh Stenberg, School of Languages and Cultures, USYD (CSC member)

Professor Adrian Vickers, School of Languages and Cultures, USYD

Huei-ling Chen, School of Languages and Cultures, USYD (CSC Student member)

Project Synopsis:

With the rise of the PRC as a power influential in the Southeast Asian region, the question of Chinese soft power in and on Indonesia has caused much ink to be spilt, not for the first time. The discussion has been dominated by perspectives drawn from IR, Economics, and Security studies, and been focused on the present and the immediate future. But cultural and diplomatic relations between Indonesia and China are neither new nor fundamentally transactional in character. Soft power takes multiple forms—diplomatic visits, certainly, but also cultural events, education initiatives, translation projects, film festivals, religious exchanges, etc. Sino-Indonesian relations’ long and complicated history means that soft power influence can also benefit from the contexts of exchanges of the colonial or, indeed, Cold War period. This workshop seeks to deepen understanding of soft power in  Sino-Indonesian relations by focusing on the myriad ties best understood through a historically-informed humanities approach.

China studies working papers

Members of the China Studies Centre are invited to provide unpublished/draft/and preliminary papers. Please submit your papers to chinastudies.centre@sydney.edu.au.

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

Author: Frederick C. Teiwes and Warren Sun


This Working Paper is a draft chapter for a book on the poorly understood CCP elite politics of the early post-Mao period, tentatively entitled Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, and the Dismantling of Maoism. Nowhere is this period more misunderstood than in the area of ideology and its notional centrality to an imagined Hua-Deng power struggle. In the accepted narrative, a critical feature of this struggle is the February 1977 “two whatevers” editorial notionally requiring support for all of Mao’s decisions, that allegedly sought to prevent Deng’s return to work and to enforce a rigid ideological framework preventing significant change from Mao’s practices. In fact, Deng’s return to high office had been decided at the start of January, and more importantly, from the earliest days of Hua’s leadership, the task was to move away from Mao’s Cultural Revolution but to maintain regime stability and unity by expressing fealty to a leader still deeply worshipped in major sections of the population and respected by Party leaders, notably those of the revolutionary generation. Claims that “whateverists” engaged in an intense struggle with reformers seeking a pragmatic approach under the slogan “practice is the sole criterion of truth” beginning in May 1978 are not totally amiss, but they exaggerate the situation and do not adequately account for the fact that the conflict was largely among lower-level figures on the theoretical front who did not deeply engage the top leadership. There were nuanced differences between Hua and Deng on the “criterion of truth” question but nothing fundamental, and neither wanted ideological issues to disrupt the economic agenda of the fall 1978 pre-Third Plenum work conference. At the conference, however, arguments initiated by progressive theorists resulted in official acceptance of the criterion position, although there was high-level concern, most prominently expressed by Deng, for proceeding with caution, particularly as it related to Mao’s prestige. More broadly, in Party ranks many felt the plenum’s policies had gone too far and were leading to disruption in society. At the end of March 1979, Deng reacted with his “four cardinal principles” speech that demanded adherence to the political practice of Mao’s pre-Cultural Revolution period. This not only alarmed progressives but it also created leadership concern that the practical focus of the Third Plenum policies was being undermined. Deng then sought to bolster those policies, but at the time of the 30th anniversary of the PRC, he still gave priority to the “four principles” and defence of Mao. Indeed, he explicitly affirmed a lavish claim concerning Mao’s essential role in the Party’s successes, the same claim that had appeared in the “two whatevers” editorial more than two and a half years earlier.

Download the working paper (pdf, 917.5 KB)

Author: Marc Blecher


Chinese workers have been the subjects of a great deal of analysis by scholars, documentation by journalists and activists, and portrayal by writers, filmmakers and artists. Light has been shone on the rich tapestry of economic, social, cultural and political forces driving them into low-paid, dangerous, degrading, alienating, mind-numbing, transient employment, on the obstacles to improvement, on workers’ understandings of their world and their lives in it, on their passivity and resistance, and on the effects of their responses. A World to Lose seeks the foundation for all this in three questions: what kind of class is the Chinese working class? What are the historical forces and processes that have formed it and how does the pattern of class formation help explain the working class’s reactions historically, presently and even prospectively? It approaches these questions through the lenses of hegemony theory and political development/path (in)dependence.

Download the working paper (pdf, 283.5KB)

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.

Download the working paper (pdf, 492KB)

Authors : Frederick C. Teiwes and Warren Sun

Abstract : 

This Working Paper is a draft chapter for a book on the poorly understood CCP elite politics of the early post-Mao period, tentatively entitled Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, and the Dismantling of Maoism. Conventional wisdom pictures the period up to the December 1978 Third Plenum as a struggle between Hua and Deng, reflecting neo-Maoist v. reformist tendencies, and won by Deng at the plenum. In fact, there was broad consensus between them, Hua was more proactive in key areas, and there is no evidence of anything approaching a power struggle. This paper, however, deals with an area where elements of accepted views of Deng hold up. In essence, Deng held both the foreign policy and particularly PLA portfolios, notably where they concerned the crucial relationships with the US, Soviet Union, Japan, and Vietnam. In external relations Deng was broadly regarded to have performed brilliantly, while Hua was thought a mere cypher. Overall, Hua was clearly secondary in external relations, but he took the bold step of initiating relations with revisionist Yugoslavia, made the most telling proposal in the highlevel negotiations with the US, and deeply impressed dominant European leaders Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Schmidt. Deng’s foreign policy outlook was deeply influenced by Mao, he could push Mao’s “horizontal line” concept to counterproductive extremes, almost losing the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, and rather than brilliantly negotiating US normalization, the Chinese side was slow to grasp the outcome that was always there. Most significant, and revealing of the underlying dynamic of CCP politics, was the war against Vietnam. This was truly Deng’s war, opposed by not only Hua, but also by a broad array of senior civilian and PLA officials, including surviving marshals. This was essentially the first time since his return to work in 1977, in contrast to persuading his colleagues through intense effort, that Deng simply asserted his authority. Neither here or elsewhere, was argument decisive as it had generally been under Hua’s leadership to that point. What was decisive was Deng’s enormous prestige as the most outstanding of the surviving “old revolutionaries” who achieved the success of 1949. It was the same factor that allowed Deng’s quiet coup against Hua at the turn of 1979-80, with no significant resistance from Hua or anyone else, and with no explanation being made in any official forum until well after the fact.

Download the working paper (pdf, 1.7MB)

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 organised by the China Studies Centre on 28 March 2023 to discuss the outcomes of this year’s ‘Two Sessions’.

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An exploration of the significance of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party based on the linkages apparent in and through its proceedings. The article argues that the Congress represents less of a break with the past than the affirmation of policies and practices long since established in the CCP's operational handbook. The CCP is presented as both a learning organisation and the guiding presence that guarantees China's continued development. 

David S G Goodman

Director of the China Studies Centre and Professor of Chinese Politics

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This Understanding China Brief results from a roundtable discussion organised by the China Studies Centre on 31 October 2022 to decode the outcomes of the 2022 20th Congress of the CCP.

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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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