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. 

Harlan David Chambers
Harlan David Chambers  |  Abstract
This study examines the diverse cultural innovators of China’s early socialist period who committed themselves, both body and pen, to the realization of the commune as a new social unit premised on principles of collective ownership and equal social relations. As a comparative study, it will analyze a range of regional cases, including literature about Hebei’s land reforms of the late 1940s, reportage literature from agrarian cooperatives in the mid 1950s, and mass theater creations of both agrarian and urban communes in Henan during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962). By juxtaposing these cultural works against an analysis of historical records, I will interrogate how thinkers engaged culture as a means to reflect upon, critique, and even intervene in social transformations underway.

Doctoral Candidate, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Columbia University  -  In Search of the Commune: China's Cultural Experiments for a New Society (1947 to 1962)

Brian Spivey
Brian Spivey  |  Abstract
My dissertation is an environmental and social history of Gansu province from the late 1970s through the 1990s. China’s eastern provinces and megapolises, like Shanghai and Shenzhen, profited the most from Deng Xiaoping's market-oriented economic reforms enacted during this period. However, the high human, material, and environmental costs of those reforms were often borne further westward in poorer provinces like Gansu. My project foregrounds how the porous bodies and everyday living conditions of Gansu’s people were affected by forces such as increased pollution and urbanization, desertification, global capital networks, advancements in irrigation technologies and agricultural techniques, and the construction of dams and oil pipelines. Aside from highlighting China's stark east-west inequalities, I argue that we understand the reform period as an era of transition in the relationship between people and their environment alongside the already well-studied social, political, economic, and ideological transitions that define the Deng era.

Doctoral Student, History, University of California, Irvine  -  Under a Westward Shadow: Gansu in the Reform Era

Kun Huang
Kun Huang  |  Abstract
My dissertation explores the trope of “blackness” in modern Chinese cultural productions and argues that blackness, as a signifier of the non-Western racial other, plays a significant role in mediating the Chinese imagination of nation, revolution, and global modernity. Functioning as a lasting metaphor for colonial suffering and radical resistance, blackness triangulates and reconfigures “China” and the “West” at different historical junctures. Examining geography and scientific writing about Africa, social commentary on slavery, literature by and about Africans and the African Diaspora, performance art, and visual texts, I seek to provide a more nuanced critique of anti-black racism and recover cultural resources for re-imagining co-belonging in the globalized world.

Doctoral Student, Comparative Literature, Cornell University  -  Invoking Blackness: Racial Comparison in “Afro-China” Encounters

Joshua Tan
Joshua Tan  |  Abstract
My proposed dissertation explores the intersections between religion and diaspora in modern China, focusing on how religion has facilitated mobility, demarcated and shaped particularly Chinese identities in the diaspora. It contributes to growing scholarship in Chinese religion and transnationalism, which have neglected how transnational networks drawn along religious lines delimit or create new audiences, and ways of understanding Chinese identity. Drawing upon family histories, private church and temple collections, as well as local archives, I foreground travels of Christian and Buddhist clergy between South China and Southeast Asia, as creating an alternative diaspora beyond economic or kinship networks.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Wisconsin-Madison  -  Creating a Religious Diaspora: Travelling Clergy Across Chinese Worlds in the Twentieth Century

Ellen M. Larson
Ellen M. Larson  |  Abstract
My dissertation project will offer a historical overview of the emergence of experimental video, followed by its development and maturation as a vital category within contemporary art making in China today. I contend that these works embody a spatial dimension, capturing everyday interactions and observation, along with direct relationships to their makers’ immediate surroundings and social conditions. In light of major investments in telecommunication, logistics, and artificial intelligence technologies, artists employ video as an extension of their own spatial experiences, imagining the future, or future-based notions of time and space, living in a culture where physical space and interactions are becoming increasingly obsolete.

Doctoral Student, Art History, University of Pittsburgh  -  Nostalgia for the Future: Contemporary Chinese Video Art

Yuan Tian
Yuan Tian  |  Abstract
My dissertation reexamines the role of extraterritoriality in Chinese history by locating the practice at an inner frontier: Sichuan. Shifting the spatial focus to a frontier society, this study uncovers historical agents, such as peasants and hinterland officials, who were unimportant or invisible in previous studies of extraterritoriality. The dissertation seeks to broaden the analytical framework of extraterritoriality, by focusing not only on the institution itself, but also its spillover effect on the broader society. This project addresses how extraterritoriality was practiced in local society at the inner frontier, and how discussions regarding extraterritoriality carried out at the central, the peripheral, the global and the domestic levels interact with one another in different ways.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Chicago  -  Negotiating Extraterritoriality at the Southwestern Frontier: Grassroots Strategies and Colonial Knowledge in Late Qing China (1860 to 1911)

Yujie Li
Yujie Li  |  Abstract
In Maoist China, bicycles, wheelbarrows, and horse-drawn carts, were central to all segments of the economy, from state-led construction to the plowing of rice fields. This dissertation excavates previously unused archives in four different locations in order to understand how the state used such muscle-powered technologies to appropriate the transportation capacity embodied in its human and animal laborers. It goes beyond a state-centered narrative to explore the ways grassroots actors from black-market peddlers to members of rural communes, re-appropriated these technologies to serve their own interests. In so doing, the dissertation provides a case study of Socialist production and utilization of technology that spans the "commanding heights" of the economy down to everyday life in the countryside.

Doctoral Student, History, University of Chicago  -  Wheels and Sweat: Bicycles, Wheelbarrows, and Horse-Drawn Carts in the Everyday Life of Socialist China, 1949 to 1976

Fabian Humberto Toro
Fabian Humberto Toro  |  Abstract
Extensive movements of populations during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze age in Northwest China brought with them technologies from West Asia that had widespread impact across East Asia. This study contributes to this scholarship, by reconstructing changing subsistence strategies and landscape management in Northwest China during these periods of substantial cross-cultural exchange. Employing archaeobotanical techniques alongside organic residue and spatial analyses, this study argues that these cross-cultural interactions gave rise to landscape management techniques that had far-reaching effects. This data set allows us to visualize environmental stressors as well as changes in landscape management, in particular management of agricultural, woodland and wetland environments.

Doctoral Student, Anthropology, University of California, San Diego  -  Landscape Management and Subsistence Strategies of the Proto-Silk Road

Tiantian Liu
Tiantian Liu  |  Abstract
China's recent rural land policies are guided by contradictory goals. While pushing forward agricultural land transfer in the 2016 Land-Right-Division policy, the state also emphasizes protecting small-peasants in its 2017 modernization plan. On the ground, the degree of land transfer varies greatly across regions. Based on fieldwork, interview, and archival study, this project explores state actors on different levels from a comparative and historical angle. It focuses on four related issues: What concerns and ideas shape central policy-shifts since 1978? What interests affect local officials' reactions and policy implementations? How do we explain spatial variations in land transfer? How will various paths of land transfer interact and shape China's agricultural modernization?

Doctoral Student, Sociology, Johns Hopkins University  -  Seeing like the States: Chinese Rural Reform from Above and Below

Chuan Xu
Chuan Xu  |  Abstract
In 1979, newspapers in many different parts of China began to report individuals whose powerful “external qi” enabled them to perform telekinesis and extrasensory perception. Though initially dismissed as fraudulent, these stories quickly gave rise to a thriving field of mass research, as people ranging from factory workers to prominent scientists organized experiments (shiyan) to corroborate or contest these alleged abilities. Many paranormal aficionados, who developed deep conviction that paranormal abilities derived from the yet unknown qualities of qi, began to cultivate these abilities with their own bodies through the practice of qigong. Qian Xuesen, a leading scientist, expressed the excitement of millions when he celebrated the findings of paranormal science and qigong as “omens of an imminent scientific revolution.” At the center of this “revolution” were radical changes in knowledge production and bodily practices. Through this project, I seek to show that paranormal science and qigong, far from some bizarre digressions, played critical roles in the remaking of knowledge and bodies in the post-Mao period. Aside from challenging our understandings of early post-Mao China, this project also contributes to the history of science and the history of the body by demonstrating how science and the body, despite their trans-historical claims, are often the products of locally specific struggles.

Doctoral Student, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University  -  Omens of a Revolution: Making Paranormal Knowledge and Bodies in Post-Mao China

Mátyás Mervay
Mátyás Mervay  |  Abstract
Combining Chinese, Hungarian, German, Dutch, English and Russian sources, my project focuses on Central Europeans from the former territories of the Habsburg Empire who lived in China between 1915 and 1931. Careful examination of the ever-changing relationship between former refugee Central Europeans and the Chinese authorities will provide a better understanding of Chinese sovereignty in a period when central power was constantly contested both by internal and external forces. The application of the Beijing government's initial policy to admit and intern the Austro-Hungarian refugee prisoners of war also sheds light on the rise of a new form of Chinese humanitarianism that sustained cooperation between Beijing and the Northeastern provinces. Thirdly, by focusing on municipal archives (e.g. police records), we will gain a better sense of how these refugees were perceived from the ground up. By examining this hitherto overlooked group, I intend to develop a new lens for exploring Chinese state and society in the Republican era.

Doctoral Student, History (East Asian & Central European), New York University  -  Post-Habsburg Central European Diasporas in China 1915 to 1931

Yingchuan Yang
Yingchuan Yang  |  Abstract
By tracing the role of radio in China’s socialist revolution, my project contends that China was similar to, rather than different from, the United States and the Soviet Union in their fascination with and dependence on science and technology. Despite the suspension of formal scientific institutions, Maoist China witnessed alternative and informal courses of scientific development and technological innovation. A powerful media technology, radio underpinned the formulation and spread of a new socialist culture, as cultural products were relayed domestically and abroad during the Cold War. At the same time, by tinkering with their self-assembled or self-modified radio receivers, many youngsters experienced a process of “skilling” and unwittingly subverted state control.

Doctoral Student, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University  -  Revolution on Air: Radio Technology and Socialist Culture in China’s Global Engagement

Maddalena Poli
Maddalena Poli  |  Abstract
My research addresses transmitted sources and excavated manuscripts elaborating the concept of human nature (xing 性) from the 5th c. BCE to the 2nd c. CE. I have been identifying the most influential theories on human nature, detailing the scope of their influence, paying particular attention to those sources that represent the emergence of a technical vocabulary dedicated to the topic. Philosophical stances were not purely theoretical: how human nature was defined is reflected in applied contexts of interpersonal relationships; the relationship between the individual and the state; practices of education and government. It was also echoed in laws addressing intentionality and responsibility. Recent recoveries of excavated material from the 3rd c. BCE makes this project a timely intervention to discuss conceptions of human nature and hot these impinge on other philosophical issues.

Doctoral Candidate, Early China, University of Pennsylvania  -  Theories of Human Nature (Xing) in Early China (5th c. BCE–2nd c. CE) and Their Implications

Linda C. Zhang
Linda C. Zhang  |  Abstract
In the early 1950s, the People’s Republic of China embarked on a multi-generational project to create a modernized, socialist society. In my dissertation work, I will analyze the forms and strategies of Chinese animated film, science education film, and popular periodicals produced during the 1950s and 1960s. My project proposes that these materials, targeting younger generations, together projected a discourse and vision of the PRC as a modernized participant on a global stage dominated by Cold War tensions. By focusing on children’s media, my project calls attention to the creative modes of early PRC science education and everyday media culture—reflecting the imaginative power of the future, national subjects they aimed to mold.

Doctoral Student, Chinese Film, University of California, Berkeley  -  Technological Futures: Animated Films and Science Education in China, 1949 to 1964

Yi Ren
Yi Ren  |  Abstract
Focusing on popular entertainment in rural areas of Southeast Shanxi during the Cultural Revolution period, this dissertation argues,on the one hand, the profound impact of the Cultural Revolution was not only experienced as intense political struggles, revolutionary upheavals or violent conflicts, but also permeated daily through cultural activities like popular entertainment; on the other, it argues the understanding of Cultural Revolution culture as well as the Cultural Revolution itself was deeply entrenched into the local society. This dissertation provides us a detailed analysis of the dynamic process and changes during the Cultural Revolution. In particular, it highlights the roles of rural villagers in defining their own lives, the village space, and the history of the state.

Doctoral Candidate, History, University of Pennsylvania  -  Popular Entertainment in Countryside China: Rural Daily Life and the Cultural Revolution

Yifan Zhang
Yifan Zhang  |  Abstract
My dissertation takes the polymathic writer and editor Feng Menglong (1574-1646)’s engagement with folk literature featuring Wu dialect as a point of departure, and probes his commercial sensations through the lens of the vernacular patterns of literary invention formulated and practiced by Wu-speaking communities approximately from the mid-15th through the 17th century. In so doing, it situates Feng’s incentives to transcribe local sounds in the changing landscape of cultural-linguistic experimentation manifested in style and genre. New formats of expression facilitated by print attested to how the new artistry of writing redefined the epistemology of “Suzhouness.” I argue that the cultural production hinged on Suzhou audiences’ shared urban experience gave rise to an aesthetic reframing of the region.

Doctoral Student, Premodern Chinese Literature, Columbia University  -  Inscribing the “Airs” of Suzhou: Vernacular Soundscape, Local Knowledge, and Cultural Hybridity in Early Modern China, 1450 to 1650

Navnidhi Sharma
Navnidhi Sharma  |  Abstract
This research charts a history of encounters between Indian cinema and China. Examining these interactions within the broad overview of socio-political, economic and cultural frameworks, the dissertation shows that a multi-sited and micro level analysis of cinematic encounters between publics in China and the Indian image on the screen produces polysemic meanings. The exchanges participate in wider circulations, pressures and mediations; within contexts of trans-Asian and global media flows, socialist and post-socialist networks in the 20th century, and technology mediated interactions. The study will be of interest to those seeking to understand Indian cinema through the transnational paradigm, and add to scholarship on foreign film cultures in China. More broadly, it bridges the studies of East and South Asia, often conceived as distinct disciplinary fields.

Doctoral Student, Cinema Studies, New York University  -  Unexpected Itineraries: Affective Encounters between Indian Cinema and China

Mengyang Zhao
Mengyang Zhao  |  Abstract
My dissertation analyzes the emergence of new forms of youth civic engagement in China, which coincides with the repression of grassroots NGOs since 2014. Combining in-depth fieldwork with survey and content analysis, delineate the complex picture of these new types of activism and analyze the factors that have contributed to this profound development. My dissertation pays particular attention to the impact of the post-2008 socio-political conditions, state repression of civil society, and different types of transnational engagement among young activists. This study will break new ground in the scholarship on Chinese student radicalism and the developments of NGOs and civil society. It will also make new contributions to theories of transnational activism and political repression.

Doctoral Student, Sociology, University of Pennsylvania  -  Beyond NGO Activism: Youth Radicalism and New Forms of Civic Engagement in China

Melody Tze Yin Shum
Melody Tze Yin Shum  |  Abstract
South China was a semi-familiar cultural and intellectual environment that provided Vietnamese revolutionaries with the resources needed to sustain a revolution overseas. My project examines three issues: the role of South China in the Vietnamese Revolution and the structure of that revolution, the nature of imperialism and extraterritoriality, and the nature of Asian communism. I reconstruct these networks by tracing the footsteps of different revolutionaries. Existing bonds between the Vietnamese and the Chinese were strengthened by shared anti-imperialist sentiments. The existence of foreign concessions, and later warlord-controlled areas in China, allowed Vietnamese revolutionaries of all political colors to construct networks that bypassed the surveillance of their French colonizers.

Doctoral Student, History, Northwestern University  -  The Vietnamese Revolutionary Underground: Vietnamese Revolutionary Networks in South China c. 1900 to 1940