The Center has sponsored Princeton students senior thesis work. Please see below for the senior theses that focus on the study of contemporary China by our students. You will also find the recipients of the Jennifer Wythes Vettel '86 Senior Thesis Award, which is given to one student annually who has an exemplary student record as well as a deserving senior thesis topic.
Eliot Chen, Politics ‘20,
“Information Manipulation and Public Opinion in China”
Recipient of the Jennifer Wythes Vettel '86 Senior Thesis Award
In my senior thesis, I intend to examine positive information manipulation in China and its effect on public opinion. Recent scholarship on information manipulation in China has primarily looked at the effect of negative information manipulation (e.g. censorship), but apart from King et al.’s paper, little work has been done on the effect of positive information manipulation (e.g. propaganda). Researchers in Princeton’s Department of Sociology have recently begun looking at this kind of information manipulation through 7 years of Chinese print newspaper data. Drawing on ongoing research by Professors Brandon Stewart (Department of Sociology) and Margaret Roberts (UCSD), as well as Hannah Waight (GS, Sociology), my thesis aims to examine two questions: (1) To what extent do consumers of the news recognize evidence of media manipulation? and (2) How effective is positive information manipulation at regulating public confidence in the Chinese government? My thesis consists of two main sections, only the second of which requires funding, to support the disbursal of small financial awards to reward participation in an online survey experiment. The funding that I received from the Center on Contemporary China was to pay participants to take a 10-minute original online survey. I wrote and designed the survey for the purpose of collecting public opinion data from Chinese citizens. Originally, I planned to deploy the survey exclusively on witmart.com, a survey platform operating as a subsidiary of zbj.com, a popular mainland Chinese task outsourcing program designed for North American employers. Prior research conducted by Li et al. (2018) found that witmart.com respondents are not nationally representative but that they are broadly representative of the demographics of Chinese internet users. I decided to use witmart.com after receiving advice from a graduate student who had successfully used the platform to obtain survey responses. With the collected data, I plan to conduct OLS regressions with the purpose of examining the relationship between newspaper source attribution and public trust in reported statistics in China. The treatment in this experiment is ‘source attribution,’ for which there are 4 treatments and 1 control condition.
Naomi Cohen-Shields, WWS ‘20
“Socioeconomic Status and Air Pollution Disparities Across Chinese”
I am proposing to explore the relationship between air pollution exposure and socioeconomic levels in China, using data, policy, and ethical analyses. My research trip to China over Winter Break proved very productive and beneficial towards my research. In Beijing, I spoke to the Dean of the School of the Environment at Peking University about the multitude of factors that impact the creation/spread of air pollution. He helped me to gain a much more concrete understanding of the problem, and it was important ethically and culturally to learn from an academic studying the problem in-country and with personal experiences that inform his research/knowledge. I also spoke to several residents of Beijing, some of whom had lived there a long time and others who were there only temporarily, and discussed their perceptions of air quality improvements in Beijing, comparisons with other regions, and what they know about the roots of the air pollution problem and what the Chinese governments are doing to address it. Being in Beijing (and the rest of the cities) and walking around also opened my eyes to the fluctuations in air quality: there were blue skies on the day I arrived, but the haze had descended by the time I left five days later. That perspective helped me understand why it can be hard to fully draw people's attention to an issue. In Xi'an, I actually witnessed the most smog of my whole trip. During the train ride there, I could see the gradual buildup of pollution amidst the dry agricultural landscape. And driving around the Xi'an region, there were times when nearby skyscrapers were completely obscured. While in Xi'an, I also travelled to a village outside of the city and learned about efforts to remove coal-based stoves/heating appliances and replace them with electric ones. I heard a lot about government policies for rural China, and about the village-district governance structure. Learning about these issues from citizens' perspectives was really enlightening, especially as I could gain insight into the elements they emphasized more or less. In Chongqing, I gained an appreciation for the difficulty of distinguishing between fog and smog: the city (surrounded by mountains and straddling two intersecting rivers) is known as the 'city of fog' and well deserves that name. However, studies show that a certain amount of that is smog as well. I met with professors in Atmospheric Chemistry at Southwest University, located outside of the more highly populated downtown city area. They explained their work to me in analyzing pollutants at the regional level in order to evaluate the primary pollution sources in that area. I got to see the equipment they use to do this and to hear how their results differ from those in other regions of China. This was especially important because the Chongqing/Chengdu region could be considered the fourth major metropolis region in China, yet public and governmental attention primarily only goes to the top three regions. I also learned a lot about the important relevance of geological factors to air pollution concentrations, factors that are quite hard to control. Lastly, my time in Guangzhou revealed just how stark the differences are across the country. Located on the Southern coast, Guangzhou has had historically lower emissions than northern cities because of less of a need to burn coal for heating. Even so, I learned from people there that the government in Guangzhou has also been taking important strides towards improving air quality. And my time in Guangzhou also showed me how widespread the popular attention to air pollution is: people I talked to there were still unhappy with their air quality, even if it is primarily better than in other major cities in China. All of this information that I gathered informs the context and background for my research. It has helped me design my data analysis, by distinguishing key factors to heed in analyses of regional differences. It has also helped direct me in my policy overview and emphasized the importance of understanding regional policy differences and cooperative schemes. I plan to incorporate the observation data collected on this trip into the background and discussion sections of my thesis.
Jack Tait, Politics ‘20
“China's Belt and Road Initiative”
For my senior thesis research, I travelled to Cape Town, South Africa, to conduct interviews regarding the motivations, outcomes, and opportunities or threats of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The interviews that I conducted were extremely helpful in providing me with a new perspective on the Belt and Road Initiative. I spoke to professors and businesspeople to establish perspectives on the Belt and Road that differ from those in the US and the West more generally. The main significance of this research was providing new ideas on the potential opportunities created by the Belt and Road Initiative. Much of the news coverage and political discussions of the Belt and Road Initiative in the US has focused on the potential threats posed by the initiative. This mainly concerns fears over China trapping recipient countries in debt and potentially creating a form of neo-colonialism when countries are unable to repay debt. However, going to South Africa and conducting interviews provided an extremely useful new perspective. The interviewees all emphasized the massive opportunity that this initiative creates for developing countries. Chinese loans through the initiative are on an unparalleled scale and come with very few aspects of conditionality compared to comparable loans and financing offered through the IMF and World Bank. The interviews gave me a wonderful chance to see that the Belt and Road Initiative is a lifeline that many developing countries see as a vital mechanism for their development. Not only was this an interesting experience, it has also massively impacted the argument direction in my thesis. Before conducting these interviews, I was mainly viewing the initiative through a US-centric lens and therefore focusing on the threats that it poses. However, the interviews that I conducted have allowed me to also argue from the perspective of developing countries who view the initiative much more positively. Incorporating these interviews into my thesis, I now plan to use the interviews to separate my argument into three sections based on three different perspectives: a US perspective, a Chinese perspective, and a recipient country’s perspective. The recipient country’s perspective has been largely informed by the interviews that I conducted in South Africa. Every person that I spoke to emphasized the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative as a massive opportunity for developing countries to gain access to crucial financial assistance to build much needed infrastructure projects. This is not something that usually gets discussed in the US, and conducting the interviews has changed my planned overall argument for my thesis as a result of showing me this new perspective. I was also able to visit the sites of some Chinese investment in Cape Town, which gave me a wonderful first-hand experience of the opportunities offered by Chinese financial assistance. Thank you again to everyone involved in making this funding available for my thesis research. It has truly changed the way that I will go about writing my thesis and it would not have been possible without the Paul and Marcia Wythes Center and WWS’s generosity.
Sophia Chen, ORFE ’19
“Demystifying the Chinese Housing Boom and its Risks to China’s Macroeconomy”
Chen travelled to China to conduct research for her senior thesis, which is focused on the effects of credit risk related to Chinese real estate development companies on the Chinese real estate market (i.e., housing prices) and the greater Chinese macroeconomy. Her research consisted of visiting and collaborating with four professors at leading Chinese universities in Hong Kong and Beijing. She returned from her trip with a revised and more focused research question, quality data on Chinese real estate companies’ financial statements, city-level housing prices (which only Chinese universities have access to), and connections with leading professors and researchers in the field of Chinese real estate finance. Prior to this journey, Chen had looked into many different data sources for Chinese real estate market data, but was not able to find any that were reliable and fit her research area of interest. Meeting with local experts allowed her to find the relevant datasets for her thesis research. Her thesis may be found here: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01k0698b360
Nina Sheridan, Politics ‘19
"Forum for American-Chinese Exchange in Beijing"
The Forum for American/Chinese Student Exchange (FACES) is a two-part conference focused on bringing together student leaders from the U.S. and China. The conference includes lectures on politics, tech, healthcare, and urbanization, as well as a trip to visit the Beijing-based bike sharing company Ofo. FACES hopes to encourage open discussions and connect students with established or potential leaders. This is a unique opportunity to make connections with professionals and student leaders in China and learn from a well-established organization whose conference spans two continents. I hope to use this conference for making connections for my senior thesis. As co-president of Princeton U.S. China Coalition, I plan to improve our own spring conference and ensure our delegates gain as much out of their time there.
Angela Feng, Independent Study-Linguistics ’19
"Grammatical Particles in Tujia"
The goal of this work is to provide an account of the tonal behavior of certain grammatical particles in Tujia, a language spoken by the Tujia ethnic minority of China. The only existing in-depth analysis of tone sandhi in particles can be found in Xu and Lu (2005), in which there is an attempt to group tonal behaviors that cover a rather random assortment of words. Tujia is spoken in south-central China, in the provinces of Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou, as well as Chongqing municipality. Though the Tujia people number among the millions and are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in China, less than 1% of their population speaks the language. Feng’s research question is about the role of particles in Tujia. These “particles” perform a variety of grammatical functions but have not yet been systematically analyzed. Tujia is one of the many languages in China that are currently vanishing due to the pressures of Mandarin Chinese, and its ethnic people have no desire to revitalize it. All research that can be done on this language must thus be done now, because no one knows how much longer it will be around.
P.J. James Greenbaum, WWS ’19
“The East is Red (Ink): China, Aid, and Debt Diplomacy in Sub-Saharan Africa”
China’s challenge to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)-led donor regime in sub-Saharan Africa has piqued the interest of a small army of Western academics, many of whom argue that China gives development aid to Africa as a means to secure natural resources and political influence in recipient countries. Greenbaum investigates how recipient country domestic politics – in this case the degree of ethnopolitical competition in sub-Saharan African countries – influences the allocation of Chinese foreign aid. Funding from the Center was provided for fieldwork in Kenya, where Greenbaum considered the following questions: What is the impact of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) on ethnic politicking in Kenya? How have the benefits from Chinese FDI in Kenya been distributed amongst the various ethnic coalitions in Kenya? What political strings have been attached to the Chinese aid and investment? Can FDI function in a manner similar to a “resource curse,” and if so, what policies can work to make FDI function more equitably? Greenbaum found, after a month of field work in Kenya and Tanzania, that Chinese aid had been captured by the ruling political coalition in Kenya but not by that in Tanzania. In return for billions of Chinese aid dollars for unprofitable “prestige projects,” leaders of Kenya and Tanzania have tied their developmental models to China at the expense of their country’s economic futures, all while strengthening their own coalition’s hold on political power and increasing ethnic divisiveness.
Frances Ash Lodge, WWS ’19
“The Decline of Chinese International Adoption”
Since the inception of the intercountry adoption program in 1992, China has sent over 130,000 children abroad for intercountry adoption. Today, however, adoptions from China are increasingly rare; since their peak in 2005, intercountry adoptions from China have fallen by nearly 85%.
Little consensus exists among those who study and work in adoption as to what is driving this dramatic decline. This thesis ultimately argues that the Chinese adoption landscape has existed as an institutional buffer to external demographic, economic and political forces. Lodge shows how the adoption landscape has absorbed – and therefore evidences – these three separate historical forces: first, China’s growing population and the demographic consequences of its history of birth planning; second, its improving economic conditions and the accompanying socioeconomic developments; and third, China’s rising stature on the international political stage. The implications of this argument are vast. If we are to accept that the adoption landscape can serve as a type of indicator of these internal changes, current and future shifts within the adoption landscape should be understood as a useful window into internal developments in China. Furthermore, this suggests that the Chinese institution of adoption, as it has existed since the early 1990s, has frequently deferred to other interests and concerns besides those of the children involved. Thesis: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01fx719q31h
Samuel Rasmussen, WWS ’19
“Chinese Soft Power Campaigns in Response to BRI-Critical Countries Reaching Out to the West”
Rasmussen attempts to understand and explain how China conceives of and uses soft power and its strengths and weaknesses in the soft power arena. He uses concrete examples from Uzbekistan and Myanmar to back up his theoretical claims. Both of these countries are looking for more international partners, and China is either competing to be one of those partners, in the case of Uzbekistan, or retaining its place as the predominant international partner, in the case of Myanmar. Rasmussen’s purpose in going to Uzbekistan was to understand how China is pitching itself in that country, how the Chinese interact with local people, and what the strengths or weaknesses of China’s current approach are. He learned that China does not have a significant image problem in Uzbekistan, and the majority of Uzbeks are planning on adopting a wait-and-see approach to Chinese investment. If it is good for Uzbekistan, then they are completely supportive of Chinese investment. One particularly useful aspect of the trip was that it provided convincing evidence that China largely focuses its soft power efforts on convincing elites based on the theory that elite opinion will trickle down and influence popular opinion – in much the same way that the Confucian principle of hierarchical relations operates domestically in China. Chinese public diplomacy is rather limited, most likely because Uzbekistan lacks the civil society necessary to influence public opinion, and thus China focuses its energies on elites. In particular, China sponsors development-focused trips for political party leaders and business people to convince them that it can do tremendous things for them and their country economically, and that they should therefore throw their support behind increased Chinese engagement. This elite-engagement soft power strategy—markedly different from the West’s—played a major role in Rasmussen’s thesis, which can be found here: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01bz60d011t
Catherine Wang, ORFE ’19
“School Zone Scramble; How Beijing’s Changing Education Policy Impacts Housing Prices”
Surging housing prices in Chinese cities like Beijing have raised concerns about asset bubbles and housing affordability. Beijing has typically directly regulated housing market growth using Home Purchase Restriction (HPR) policies (increasing down payments, restricting eligibility), the effects of which have been measured in existing literature. However, in Beijing, public education accessibility also has a strong impact on the housing market, as parents bid up home prices near top primary schools as a way to guarantee enrollment. In April 2017, due to concerns about the financial risks associated with speculation on “school district houses,” the Beijing Municipal Government announced that buying an apartment would no longer guarantee enrollment in top ranked public schools and added an element of randomization to school district assignment in each of the six core districts. This thesis is the first to specifically examine how an indirect perturbation, i.e., Beijing’s April 2017 education policy change (AEP), affects the Beijing housing market. Wang found support for the existing scholarly consensus that access to higher quality schools positively impacts housing prices. Furthermore, she shows that districts with higher average and lower variance in education quality are less impacted by the April education policy change. She also found evidence that the lag between the April 2017 policy announcement and June 2017 implementation strongly affects buyer behavior, as she identifies a price spike for certain homes. She attributes this spike to buyers feeling more urgency to buy “at-risk” homes that previously guaranteed access to top primary schools before the new policy change goes into effect. Thesis: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01sf2687954
Shobhit Kumar, WWS ‘19
"Explaining Judicial Transparency: An Examination of the Digitization of Court Cases in China"
In 2013, the Chinese government began releasing digitized copies of court cases in a seeming move of judicial transparency. Millions of case rulings can now be accessed via a regularly-updated online database. However, there is a discrepancy between the number of actual court cases and the number published in this database. Moreover, the discrepancies vary widely between provinces. This poses the questions: (1) What explains the discrepancy between provinces? (2) Why are certain court cases not published? (3) Are certain types of cases being obfuscated?
Cadee Qiu, WWS ‘18
"Black vs Green: China's exportation of Renewable and Non-Renewable energy and its drivers and implications"
Over the last couple decades, China has become the top energy consumer and has made incredible commitments to reduce its carbon emissions and increase its use of renewable energies. While China is making strides in renewable energy, it is also financing the construction of coal power plants abroad, especially in neighboring Asian countries. This thesis will examine the drivers behind the export of renewable and non-renewable technologies since 2000 and determine how policymakers can influence China to curb export of non-renewable energy technologies and focus on the development and export of renewables instead.
Guoen Sheng, EAS Dept ‘18
"Analysis of Atmospheric Water Generation as An Innovative Solution to Chinese Water Crisis"
China is facing a water crisis, and the government is spending upwards of $100 billion to build a massive canal. Water from the southern region is being piped to the North. However, this solution is expensive, time consuming and has many unforeseen social and environmental costs. More importantly, it does not look at the behavior and policy that is contributing to the water crisis. My senior thesis will look to address the water crisis through the lens of an innovative technology known as atmospheric water generation. Atmospheric water generation takes air humidity and turns it into high quality potable water. It is potentially be revolutionary to water production in China. My research will focus on the potential of this technology to complement existing solutions to the water problem. I will be looking at government policy, cost effectiveness, consumer behavior, and environmental suitability. My fieldwork will involve working with NGOs that provide clean water, investment and technology sector to gain a comprehensive understanding and analysis of the water crisis.
Julie Goldstein, East Asian Studies Department ‘18
"Children's Health Education in China"
For my senior thesis, I will explore how children receive information about health and what is included in this information. I am specifically interested in understanding how children are taught about physical education, public health, and hygiene. I am conducting my research from an anthropological perspective: how does the information received by a person affect their understanding of the body and personal identity, their identity in relation to others, and identity in relation to their nation? My research will include interviewing faculty of elementary schools and middle schools in Beijing, NGO employees involved in health education, as well as university students.
Vanessa Kiem Nhu Phan, Politics ‘18
"Understanding Diversionary Foreign Policy and Leadership Transitions in China"
My thesis explores changes in foreign policy during political transition periods in China. While research on nationalist sentiment and diversionary foreign policy in China exists, little research has been completed on how foreign policy rhetoric changes with leadership succession at the highest level. Does China’s norm-bound leadership succession influence the way that the CCP approaches foreign policy during periods of political vulnerability for the authoritarian regime? My thesis poses the “rally” theory should not hold in the case of China. To test this hypothesis, two lines of analyses will be conducted to test the change in the dependent variable of foreign policy rhetoric against the independent variable of leadership transition periods. First, to determine whether covariation exists between these two variables, content analysis of The People’s Daily from 2001-2012 will be conducted to quantify changes in tone and sentiment in articles mentioning the sensitive foreign policy areas of Taiwan, South Korea or Japan. Secondly, to get a better picture of how other factors influence foreign policy rhetoric, qualitative analyses of pertinent factors such as domestic sentiment, the policy of other states towards China, and international bargaining incentives will be carried out over the same timespan.
Eric Wang, WWS ‘18
"The Impact of “One Belt One Road” on Chinese Judicial Reform"
In light of the SPC’s recent developments, my thesis examines the window of opportunity in judicial reform, as presented by OBOR, by asking: What impact has China’s One Belt One Road initiative had on China’s own judicial system?
Matthew Troiani, EAS ‘18
"The Lingua-Cultural Effects of Mainland Chinese Immigrants on Cultural Identity in Hong Kong"
Language choice has become a topic of immediate interest in the determination of Hong Kong’s cultural sovereignty. As an increasing flood of talent from mainland China enters the Hong Kong workforce, many Hong Kongers find themselves in a struggle for cultural identity. This struggle is most saliently seen in linguistic preference and priority in the workplace, as workers’ choice of language has been shown to affect perceptions of identity, culture and opportunities for career advancement. However, with the recent influx of mainland Chinese, Mandarin has stolen much attention from English as a lingua franca. Analyzing the drivers, effects, and trajectory of this linguistic evolution will play a key role in illustrating how cultural identity in Hong Kong is evolving due to its ever-changing relationship with mainland China. In order to examine how demographics have changed and, in turn, evaluate how the Mandarin/English as a lingua franca tradeoff is affecting cultural identity, this research will survey finance professionals in Hong Kong from various lingua-cultural backgrounds.
Idir Aitsahalia, Economics ‘18
"Airline Finance and Public Policy in China"
I attended an annual aviation industry and policy conference, the Routes Asia Conference in Brisbane, Australia in March 2018 (http://www.routesonline.com/events/191/routes-asia-2018/). This conference is a major forum where airports and local governments try to convince airline route planners to launch air service and add capacity into their cities, in order to help the local economy. Representatives from 100 airlines and 200 airports participated. Launching a new route is a significant financial investment for an airline, as is expanding or renovating an airport for a local authority, so much analysis and many financial incentives go into the decision process. This conference will also help me for my academic research, since I am doing certificates in Finance and East Asian Studies, and am writing an independent research paper on airline finance and public policy in China.
Vera Lummis, WWS ‘18
Implications of the new Foreign NGO Law in China on the Political and Operational Climate for Foreign" Environmental NGOs in Beijing"
This thesis will look at China’s “Law on Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations,” otherwise known as the new Foreign NGO Law. It will examine how the law has affected the political and operational climate for environmental foreign NGOs (ENGOs) in Beijing, as well as the law’s broader implications for civil society development on the Mainland. The central questions of this thesis are: (1) How does this law fit into the Communist Party’s broader efforts to increase political and legal control? (2) How does this law affect different stakeholders in the ENGO community and their relations with the government? (3) How are different types of ENGOs shifting their strategies?