Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies: Predissertation-Summer Travel Grants

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.  Studies on and in China have developed over the last 30 years in North America into a robust field, but current conditions pose daunting problems, especially for scholars just before and just after the dissertation.

Predissertation travel grants provide funding for graduate students to explore venues and make preliminary research arrangements, and to gain advice from potential collaborators regarding subsequent research in China.

This program is made possible by a generous grant from The Henry Luce Foundation.

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. 

Yifeng Cai
Yifeng Cai  |  Abstract
The use of WeChat and hook-up apps such as Blue’d and Grindr increasingly transforms the structure and contributes to the development of male-to-male transactional sex in contemporary urban China. No longer necessarily bound to a physical venue, these technological advancements on the phone facilitate the buying and selling of queer sex, potentially allowing more people to engage in the commerce of sex. Through participant observation, open-ended interviews, and archival research, this project studies how the development of market economy and information & communication technologies such as smartphone apps transforms Chinese gay men's understandings of, and practices in, male-to-male transactional sex, exploring the relationship between capitalism, technology, and intimacy.

Doctoral Student, Anthropology, Brown University  -  Transactional Sex on the Phone: Technology, Market Economy, and the Transformation of Male-to-Male Intimacy in Contemporary Urban China

Fusheng Luo
Fusheng Luo  |  Abstract
My dissertation examines and theorizes the emergence and development of what I conceptualize as a “treaty port property regime” in the Chinese treaty ports of Shanghai and Guangzhou from the 1830s through the 1950s. I argue that the fusion of Chinese customary practices of land transaction and Anglo-American legal discourse on property rights, safeguarded by a joint Sino-Western administrative and court system, prompted Chinese capitalist modernization in these semi-colonial port cities. Eschewing simplistic labels such as “Eurocentric” or “Orientalist,” my project explores the intermingling of Chinese and Anglo-American notions of property rights in localized settings of Semi-colonial port cities.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor  -  Debating Property Rights: Land Market, Semi-Colonial Law, and Chinese Industrialization in Shanghai and Guangzhou, 1830 to 1950

Xiaobai Hu
Xiaobai Hu  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines a three-century struggle in the mountains of western China. From 1371 to 1701, both the Chinese and Tibetans proactively moved into the borderland region and encountered mountain dwellers. Power was negotiated on the ground in multiple ways, creating a political, religious and economic spectrum on the borderland that was reflected through cultural and spatial hierarchies. This dissertation investigates how the dynamic interaction between the Chinese, the Tibetans and the mountain dwellers in a borderland region reflects the Ming’s contingent ethnic discourse and territory perception, the Tibetans’ transformative vision of a Buddhist community, and the local people’s improvisation between superficial obedience and subversive resistance.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Pennsylvania  -  Unruly Mountain: Transformative Encounters in the Chinese-Tibetan Borderland, 1371 to 1701

Stephanie M. Painter
Stephanie M. Painter  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the untapped issue of male suicide in Qing dynasty law. Criminal cases (xingke tiben) involving men’s suicide shed new light on the intersection of state, society, and gender, placing judicial anxiety about disruption of gender boundaries and patriarchal authority at the forefront of the adjudication process. I hypothesize that the Qing state considered self-sacrifice a feminine performance of agency, and thereby a form of agency improper for the strong patriarch. The Qing state consequently faced a broader than understood failure of male authority. This dissertation places male suicide in the broader context of discussions of unorthodox masculinities weakening patriarchy that challenged the elite paradigm of male investment in the established order.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Chicago  -  Adjudicating Masculinity: Male Suicide and Weakening Patriarchy in Qing Dynasty Law

Xiaoqian Ji
Xiaoqian Ji  |  Abstract
My dissertation uses a single class of objects – cosmetics – to connect the histories of material culture, medicine, gender, and the senses; and explore patterns of consumption and trade, the transmission and production of knowledge, and technologies of gender in early modern China. First, I integrate cosmetics into the study of global exchanges of raw materials, commodities, and ideas. Second, I explain how medical and craft knowledge associated with cosmetics entered into everyday life and transformed the human body. Third, I demonstrate that cosmetics constituted a means by which individuals performed gender identities and understandings of masculinity and femininity by modifying the visual, tactile, and olfactory experiences of cosmetic practitioners and observers.

Doctoral Student, History, Johns Hopkins University  -  Cosmetic Practices in Early Modern China: Consumption, Vernacular Knowledge, and Technologies of Gender

Ettore Santi
Ettore Santi  |  Abstract
China's rural-to-urban land conversion is the largest property transition in the human history. How do people experience this liminal space? This dissertation project considers the agrarian landscapes of the Guangdong and Hunan regions of China as political entities produced through ecological conservation, environmental dissent, and ethnic segregation. It looks at the cultural production of the built environment in two ways: as a result of the National practices of rural restructuring; and as the product of everyday spatial appropriations.

Doctoral Student, Architecture, University of California, Berkeley  -  Countryside Urbanism. Negotiating Space and Identity in Guangdong and Hunan Territorial Urbanization

Benjamin Nathan Kletzer
Benjamin Nathan Kletzer  |  Abstract
My research project seeks to explain how Soviet technological transfer pushed economic development in the People’s Republic of China. My hypothesis is that Soviet engineering advisors and imported technology were combined with pre-war Japanese infrastructure and technologies to build the modern economy of Northeast China. I think that the rapid heavy industrial growth experienced in China in the 1950s (at the height of Sino-Soviet cooperation) was driven by effective technological transfer and imported engineering knowledge, rather than the simple application of Soviet-style economic policies. Using case studies of several key cities in the Northeast, I will demonstrate that technological knowledge combined with on-the-ground experience built productive industrial centers.

Doctoral Student, History, University of California, San Diego  -  From Russia with Tech: Soviet Industrial Influence in Modernizing Northeast China

Nataly Shahaf
Nataly Shahaf  |  Abstract
I focus on the development of art culture for the masses during the political transition from the Qing empire to the Republican state. I look at art societies that became seminal cultural institutions in China at the turn of the 20th century. Growing to encompass schools, publishing houses, research institutions, venues for trading art, and political activity, art societies came to be seen as indispensable to cultural and social mobility and the remaking of a new Republican Chinese identity both in China and overseas. Reading privately produced archives, such as biji and reproduction prints of art, I explore how changing ideas about art led artists, collectors, publishers, traders, educators, and officials to preserve, reproduce, display, and teach art in new ways and towards new ends.

Doctoral Student, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University  -  The Making of Art Society in Early Twentieth-Century China

Fan Liang
Fan Liang  |  Abstract
Today, big data infrastructures are increasingly being instrumentalized and institutionalized by the Chinese government for the purpose of governance and surveillance. This project attempts to understand the process by which China is investing in the future of data infrastructures and designing the new policy norms to advance its political, social, and economic goals. Using qualitative methods and computational approaches, this project explores: 1) the investments of big data infrastructures by Chinese governments and high-tech firms; 2) the automatic and computational aspects of China’s data infrastructures; and 3) the implications of big data analytics in China. This project argues that big data infrastructures and high-tech firms are rapidly integrated into China’s state power.

Doctoral Student, Communication Studies, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor  -  Computing the State Power: The Construction of China’s Automatic and Computational Data Infrastructures in the Big Data Era

Weichu Wang
Weichu Wang  |  Abstract
My dissertation is an institutional and social history of maintenance in Chinese textile industry, from 1949 to 1966. Based on newly-available archives and oral histories, it explores how central and local leaders, factory managers, technicians and workers conceptualised maintenance activities and translated their theories into institutional arrangements, i.e., the distribution of authority, accounting mechanisms, incentive structures and resource allocation regulations, and the organizations through which those decisions were carried out. My dissertation also analyzes maintenance practices on the shop floor as they mutually shaped worker identities, shop floor politics and grassroots mediation of central policies.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Chicago  -  Repairing Socialism: Industrial Maintenance in Socialist China, 1949 to 66

Jingyu Liu
Jingyu Liu  |  Abstract
This dissertation aims to study the prominence of salvation rites for the dead from the vantage point of its local regional religious history of the Jiangnan area during the Song dynasty (960-1279). By looking at the liturgical interactions between the two great religious traditions, Buddhism and Daoism, this study will investigate how the interactions gave rise to the development and popularization of the grandest universal salvation ceremonies called Water-Land Retreat and Yellow Register Retreat. By sketching a history of a given ritual practice and by understanding the meaning of the ritual practice in the context of sociopolitical development, I hope to construct a socio-liturgical matrix which will shed some new light on the reassessment of the the complexity of Chinese religion.

Doctoral Student, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University  -  The Unimpeded Passage: The Buddho-Daoist Interaction and The Making of Salvation Rites in the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279)

Guangshuo Yang
Guangshuo Yang  |  Abstract
Through the lens of Buddhist animal advocacy in the early 20th century, I investigate the impact of changing human-animal relationships on the emergence of Chinese modernity. I use the successful Buddhist campaigns in the 1920s and 1930s to subvert the binary between secularism and religion implicit in the historiography of the Chinese Republic. Tracing the maneuvering of animal advocates such as the female poet Lü Bicheng, I argue that competing views on animals reflected the anxiety about national identity, the critique of instrumental rationality, and the search for spiritual meanings. Relying on interdisciplinary theories to interpret diverse archival sources, this project challenges historical narratives about Chinese modernization that ignored the roles of animals.

Doctoral Student, History, Northwestern University  -  Animal Kingdom and Modern States: Buddhist Animal Protectionism and the Transcultural Making of Chinese Modernity

Kan Liu
Kan Liu  |  Abstract
My dissertation project explores the massive reorganization of China’s vast countryside as part of the “Socialist New Countryside” campaign initiated in 2005. This recent phenomenon will directly affect 70% of China’s total population, and involves phenomena such as the demolishing of “natural” villages and relocation of villagers to new apartments. My key question is how does one account for the relatively effective implementation of this radical transformation of the countryside? I will answer this question through field work in rural Jiangxi, looking at multiple actors (including the central and local state, peasants, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals), and focusing on the dynamics of political accommodation between these different actors.

Doctoral Student, Geography, University of California, Berkeley  -  The New Politics of Rural Development in the “Socialist New Countryside” of Contemporary China

Tan Zhao
Tan Zhao  |  Abstract
This study examines the impact of vote buying on villagers in rural China. Particularly, the author asks two main questions. First, can vote buying attract more villagers to participate in village elections, and therefore increase the total turnout? Second, can vote buying make villagers become more supportive of village elections, and thus help them to develop a deeper understanding toward democracy? So unlike the general western literature that believe vote buying has only a negative impact on a country’s democracy and development, this study hypothesizes that vote buying might play an opposite role in the China case. In other words, it asks a broader question, can vote buying actually help to promote grassroots democracy in China by imposing some positive impact on villagers?

Doctoral Student, Political Science, University of Washington  -  Vote Buying and Democracy in Rural China

Yi Ci Lo
Yi Ci Lo  |  Abstract
Beginning in the late 1930s, a growing group of biomedical doctors working in China devised increasingly extensive schemes to facilitate the transfer of blood and its by-products between different individuals. Blood transfusion and banking, and the attendant radical redefinition of blood as replenishable and interchangeable between unrelated bodies, disturbed older associations between xue (blood), personal vitality, kinship, and racial lineage. This study examines how these and other sets of meanings coursed through transcultural translations of blood transfusion in medical literature, politically-charged campaigns to galvanize blood donors, and popular responses towards these invitations to bleed for profit, patriotism, and the industrial production of plasma in modern China.

Doctoral Student, History, University of California, Irvine  -  Unnatural Circulations: Blood Transfusion and Banking in Modern China