Short bio: Yuen Yuen Ang (洪源远) is the Alfred Chandler Chair Professor of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University. Ang is an award-winning scholar, author, and teacher with a cross-disciplinary, global reach. She is the author of two acclaimed books, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap (2016) and China's Gilded Age (2020), both featured in The Economist and acclaimed as "game-changing." She has received multiple awards across academic disciplines - political science, economics, and sociology - including the Theda Skocpol Prize for “impactful contributions to the study of comparative politics." Apolitical (UK) named her among the world's "100 Most Influential Academics in Government," based on nominations from policymakers. Foreign Affairs, the premier outlet on US foreign policy, named her writing among the "Best of Books" and "Best of Print." Ang's work and opinion is featured in media outlets around the world, from Africa, China, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia to North America, including CGTN Visionaries, Die Zeit, Freakonomics, Pengpai, The New York Times, to name a few. She advises international companies and development agencies such as UNDP on a range of issues, including development, innovation, China's economy and its global role, and US-China relations. She has a distinctly multicultural background as a Singaporean, a scholar trained and based in the US, and a China expert.
Scholarship & Service: In 2023, Ang joined Johns Hopkins University, the SNF Agora Institute and Department of Political Science. She is the inaugural recipient of the Theda Skocpol Prize for “impactful contributions to the study of comparative politics," awarded by the American Political Science Association. She has received book awards across multiple social sciences: the Peter Katzenstein Prize (political economy), Viviana Zelizer Prize (economic sociology), Douglass North Award (institutional economics), Alice Amsden Award (socio-economics), and Barrington Moore Prize (honorable mention, historical sociology). She is named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow for “high-caliber scholarship that applies fresh perspectives to the most pressing issues of our times.” She serves on many editorial and award committees, including at the American Political Science Association, American Sociology Association, Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, The China Quarterly, World Politics, etc.
Her new research is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Canada's SSHRC. Her latest projects examine whether China's state-led innovation drive actually work, focusing on patents and government investment funds. Another project studies patterns of Chinese policy communication and lawmaking using automated text analysis. She is also exploring "applied history" through a unique US-China comparison; see her essay "The Clash of Two Gilded Ages," which argues that the two rivaling nations share more similarities than most people think.
Teaching: In Fall 2023, Ang received a Nexus grant to co-teach "China and the World," with John Yasuda, at JHU's Bloomberg Center in Washington DC. She received the Tronstein Award for "innovative and outstanding teaching."
Public engagement: Ang is a public-facing scholar who believes that knowledge should be widely shared, not only with elites, but with any curious person who wishes to learn. In 2021, Apolitical named Ang among the world's 100 Most Influential Academics in Government for "research that resonates with policymakers and has the potential to steer the direction of government," based on nominations from policymakers and public servants. Ang is frequently invited to speak to academic, business, civil society, and policy communities around the world. She has advised multilateral organizations including the UN and UNDP, national development agencies, and global companies.
Ang has been profiled in outlets worldwide, including CGTN, Chosun, Die Zeit, Endgame, Freakonomics, Jiemian (界面), Pengpai (澎湃), The Ezra Klein Show, The New York Times. Drawing on her deep contextual knowledge and fieldwork in China, she writes for broad audiences in premier outlets such as Boston Review, Foreign Affairs, Pengpai, Project Syndicate, The New York Times. Her signature is explaining complex topics simply but without oversimplifying (see her TED-like talk at the Camden conference, "How the West & Beijing Got China Wrong.")
Background: Two 'Ms' - multiculturalism and marginality - have had a formative influence on Ang's scholarship, advising, and public service. First, Ang is a cultural nomad. A native and citizen of Singapore, she received a transformative liberal arts education at Colorado College and her PhD at Stanford University, teaches in America, studies China, and travels and speaks around the world. Everywhere she goes, she is an outsider. This experience has forced her to be "like water," willing and able to adapt to varying environments. Second, she is an intellectual nomad, who traverses academic, policy, and corporate boundaries, and weaves threads from political science, economics, sociology, anthropology, and history into a multidisciplinary fabric of thinking. Non-academics might think this sounds cool, but, no (!), in academia, nomadism is a career-killer (as legend goes, when Max Weber said, "I am not a donkey, I don't have a field," he lost his job). She is fortunate, thus, that Johns Hopkins has given her a home.
Throughout her life, Ang has failed to fit and stay in boxes. Growing up in Singapore, she ranked at the bottom of a prepatory school designed to send students to Cambridge and Oxford. She had a particular knack for seeing that the questions in assignments and exams were wrong, but nobody was supposed to question the answers, let alone the questions. Her worst grades were in social science and English writing, the two subjects on which she makes a living today.
Ang's work challenges multiple orthodoxies in political economy. She critiques propagandistic, simplistic portrayals of Chinese development as the result of top-down control; geopolitical theories that paint the US and China as two irreconcilable "civilizational" opposites; binary views of China either taking over the world or collapsing; Orientalistic assumptions of "Chinese exceptionalism;" the artificial "machine-like," linear assumptions applied to development and political-economic theories; the assumption that first-world institutions are universally ideal institutions; the denial of "the corruption of the rich" in conventional corruption concepts and metrics; the monopolization of canons by the most powerful demographic group; perverse incentives in the knowledge industry; and more. She gets into some trouble for all of this, but she also finds the truest friends and supporters because of it.
As a China expert, Ang is committed to promoting balanced, evidential discourse on China's domestic landscape and US-China relations, amid great power competition and ideological polarization.
As a woman and minority, she strives to raise awareness about structural inequalities and hidden biases in elite circles and knowledge production.
Her status of marginality - never completely belonging anywhere - is her well of creativity and empathy, pushing her to see the world through multiple cultural lenses and communicating with diverse audiences in humanizing ways.
"Like Skocpol, her work pushes us to rethink existing theories, concepts, and categories in comparative politics."
~ APSA Theda Skocpol Prize Committee ~
"How China Escaped the Poverty Trap truly offers game-changing ideas... and should have a major impact across many social sciences."
~ ASA Viviana Zelizer Book Award ~
"A field-shifting move to non-linear complex processes"
~ Peter Katzenstein Book Award ~
"Yuen Yuen Ang’s eclectic intellectual and methodological approach ensures the book’s appeal to a broad interdisciplinary audience."
~ SASE Alice Amsden Book Award ~
"This outstanding book has already made substantial waves in academia and in policy circles."
~ SIOE Douglass North Book Award ~
"I'm very grateful for the moral and analytical clarity you bring to this point [innovation among non-elites]."
~ Matt Lord, Senior Editor, Boston Review ~
"Let me tell you what kind of talented research she has done. She used a new approach to study contemporary China by applying complex systems thinking... She does both qualitative and quantitative methods, [which] gives a richness often lacking in [using only one method]... She takes a balanced view of China, neither trying to criticize nor excuse China."
~ Emeritus Professor William Hsiao, Harvard University (link) ~
"A China scholar at Johns Hopkins University, who’s done pioneering work on understanding China’s political system... [Her perspective] has pretty profound implications. Or at least, it is an interesting way of thinking about how we are governed here [in the United States]."
~ Ezra Klein, Columnist & Podcast Host, The New York Times ~
"One of the most powerful and fascinating pieces we’ve done in some time.”
~ Stephen Dubner, Co-author of Freakonomics, on Ang's interview in Freakonomics Radio ~
“I am perhaps a simple woman, not particularly scholarly but I recognize quality work and discussion when I see it or hear it.”
“It was so consuming I had to simply stop my car and sit there listening.”
“Probably the thing I appreciate the most is your willingness to step back, look at the paradigms and ask, can we do better?"
~ Listeners of Ang's episode on Freakonomics ~