Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies: Postdoctoral Fellowships

The Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies seeks to maintain the vitality of China Studies in the US and Canada through fellowships and grants designed primarily for scholars early in their careers.

Early Career Fellowships support scholars in preparing their PhD dissertation research for publication or in embarking on new research projects.

This program is made possible by a generous grant from The Henry Luce Foundation, with additional funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Wesley Byron Chaney
Wesley Byron Chaney  |  Abstract
"Stolen Land, Broken Bodies: Law, Environment, and Violence in Northwest China" offers the first ground-level account of the “rebellion” that devastated northwest China’s Islamo-Tibetan borderlands in the nineteenth century. Drawing on central and local legal case records, contracts, genealogies, and other local sources, it traces the environmental transformations and legal disputes over land, resources, and individual bodies that attended imperial expansion during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Ultimately, the project argues that the legacy of this history continues today, in resource allocation, in the reach of the state, and in continuing tensions between the Muslim, Tibetan, and Han Chinese peoples of the Qinghai-Gansu border.

Assistant Professor, History, Bates College  -  Stolen Land, Broken Bodies: Law, Environment, and Violence in Northwest China

Mei Mei Rado
Mei Mei Rado  |  Abstract
This project examines the forgotten history of European textiles at the Qing court and Qing imperial products after European models—both called xiyang (Western) textiles in period documents. Focusing on luxury silk brocades and woolen tapestries, it shows how their fresh visual styles, materiality, and embedded spatial concept inspired new modes of political display for the Qianlong emperor. This research reestablishes the prominent role of Western textiles in creating hybrid visual programs, which were strategically designed to project the emperor’s political identity. Shedding light on Qing imperial uses of Western textiles as a focused political agenda through engagement with global flows of objects, this project adds nuances to the reciprocity and dynamism in eighteenth-century global exchanges.

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art and Design History and Theory, Parsons School of Design  -  The Empire’s New Cloth: Western Textiles at the Eighteenth Century Qing Court

Kaijun Chen
Kaijun Chen  |  Abstract
The proposed research project, a book manuscript, reveals the vital role that bannerman bondservant-experts played in producing technological knowledge and distinctive artistic forms central to cultural policies of the high Qing state. Drawing on first-hand archaeological evidence from Jingdezhen, as well as the voluminous Archive of the Imperial Handicraft Workshops, the book manuscript investigates the industrial regulatory institutes at court, regional factory in Jingdezhen, the imperial design system, technological treatises and experiments deployed in porcelain manufacture. Most broadly this project, grounded in the methods of science and technology in society, literary and art history, contributes to the studies of global empires.

Assistant Professor, East Asian Studies, Brown University  -  The Culture of Expertise in Eighteenth Century Qing China: The Imperial Porcelain Industry

Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz
Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz  |  Abstract
Contemporary China-Africa relations have become an object of anxiety in many recent debates about neo-colonialism, South-South alliances, debt and dependence. Moving beyond questions of whether China is helpful or harmful to Africa, this project, an ethnography of Chinese investment in Angola, centers the experiences and reflections of Chinese subjects working abroad. Focusing on everyday interactions between Chinese and Angolan individuals brought together under a controversial Chinese-funded program for postwar reconstruction, I examine mistrust in interpersonal relations as constitutive of state-level "cooperation" between China and Angola, and I explore how moneymaking emerges as one of the only reliable ways to establish security in a newly globalizing China.

Teaching Fellow, Global Perspectives on Society, New York University Shanghai  -  Another Day of Work: Chinese Moneymaking in Postwar Angola

Luke Habberstad
Luke Habberstad  |  Abstract
This project asks two basic questions: What role did water control play in establishing the early empires? How do early Chinese texts represent hydraulic engineering? Water control practices had been used for millenma prior to imperial unification in 221 BCE, and archaeological evidence, excavated manuscripts, and received texts show that hydraulic engineering comprised a complex set of practices that involved local and imperial interests. It was not until long after unification, however, that water control emerged as a category of technical expertise, in response to controversies at the early imperial courts regarding the consequences of environmental manipulation. The emergence of "hydraulic engineering" (shui ft), then, cannot be understood outside of debates regarding the proper limits of state power as well as the organization and management of imperial space.

Assistant Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures, and Religious Studies, University of Oregon  -  Water Control and Political Culture in Early Imperial China

Peter Dewitt Thilly
Peter Dewitt Thilly  |  Abstract
Opium was a source of livelihood to a great many people. Putting these people at the center of analysis, this project offers a new approach to the history of opium in China. Drug traders carved out their own spheres of power at the precise moment when modern states pushed into local communities in unprecedented ways. They fought to protect their profits as outside institutions claimed new sovereignty over the narcotic. Drug traders alternately subverted and infiltrated the Chinese state, creating new patterns of corruption, shaping and limiting state power, and manipulating imperial institutions. Their actions had consequences that ranged far beyond treason, or even capital accumulation for that matter. Drug traders built the modern Chinese political economy.

Assistant Professor, History, University of Mississippi  -  Opium and Capitalism on the Chinese Maritime Frontier

Peter Lavelle
Peter Lavelle  |  Abstract
This project investigates how the conjunction of natural disasters and global integration drove the development of agricultural science in China from the 1870s to the 1920s. Past studies of Chinese agriculture in this period primarily have examined its economic history, while studies of Chinese science in this period have neglected agronomy as a field of technical knowledge and practice. By exploring how Chinese officials and scholars appropriated plants, knowledge, and institutional models of research and extension from other countries, especially Japan and the United States, this project illuminates the connections between ecological crisis, political turmoil, state-building, and agricultural science during the heyday of foreign imperialism in China.

Assistant Professor, History, Temple University  -  Unbounded Fields: Agricultural Science at the End of the Qing Empire

Yulian Wu
Yulian Wu  |  Abstract
This project explores the social life of jade to improve our understanding of empire building in High Qing China. Historically associated with Confucian ideology, jade acquired new significance when the Qianlong emperor expanded his rule into Xinjiang. This project provides the first systematic investigation of jade quarrying, production, and circulation, highlighting how territory administration was empowered by the hands-on works conducted by the court and its subjects. It expands beyond a text-centric approach and reveals how the Manchu rulers and commoners perceived and contested empire construction through material practices, shedding light on our understanding of center-periphery connections, technology and politics, and imperial-material relations in eighteenth-century China.

Assistant Professor, History, Michigan State University  -  Crafting Jade: The Construction of Objects and Empire in Eighteenth-Century China

Le Lin
Le Lin  |  Abstract
My book rethinks China’s market transition by investigating how and why China’s education industry evolved from a component of the socialist education system to a highly privatized and marketized sector despite the systematic restrictions placed on private ownership and for-profit activities by the Chinese state. I draw on interviews, archives and observation data on the transformation of 30 Chinese education organizations from 1980 to 2018. I illustrate how private education entrepreneurs pushed privatization and marketization from below by maneuvering within ambiguous environments. This book proposes a novel bottom-up trajectory of the rise of the private economy, emphasizing how public-goods-related industries emerged under the state’s nose in metropolitan areas.

Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Hawaii at Manoa  -  Capitalism Out of the Shadow: The Emergence and Transformation of China's Education and Training Industry

Ling Zhang
Ling Zhang  |  Abstract
My proposed project aims to link two major trends in the existing scholarship on early to mid twentieth-century Chinese cinema and media studies and popular culture. The first considers cinema as part of a broader visual culture, highlighting its capacity to promote socially-relevant messages or engage audiences in the indulgence of entertainment or affect (Zhang, 2005; Bao, 2015). The second focuses critical attention on popular music in relation to political strife and “colonial modernity” in semi-colonial Shanghai (Jones, 2001). Building on and contributing to these discourses, I examine how the emergence and transformations of cinematic sound technology and aesthetics interacted with politics, other audiovisual media, acoustic culture, and sonic perception in China from the 1920s to the 1940s. Moreover, my research extends the geopolitical and conceptual boundaries of “early Chinese cinema” from the city of Shanghai to other areas within and beyond mainland China such as Manchuria, Taiwan and “Nanyang” (Southeast Asia). Rather than imposing an essentialized, Chinese-centered narrative of early film history, I explore the multifaceted flow, exchange, and network of films and film cultures among different Chinese and diasporic populations in various regions, populations for which popular music and film sound played significant roles in transcending porous political and other boundaries.

Assistant Professor, Film and Media Studies, State University of New York, College at Purchase  -  Sounding Screen Ambiance: Acoustic Culture and Transmediality in 1920s-1940s Chinese Cinema