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Initial USCI Faculty Research Grants Awarded

Four projects examining property rights, the international recycling trade, Chinese and American documentaries on the global city, and China's aging population receive funding from the USC U.S. - China Institute for spring and summer 2007.

March 20, 2007

One of the USC U.S. – China Institute’s principal missions is to support cutting-edge research that illuminates the U.S.China relationship and the immense changes underway in China that may affect that relationship. Toward that end, USCI has made four grants ranging in size from $4,000 to $15,000 to USC faculty researchers for work to be carried out this spring and summer. These projects were selected from among fourteen proposals submitted by faculty teams or individual faculty members. As an indicator of the immense cross-campus research interest in China, these fourteen proposals came from eight different schools. Four schools were represented among the funded projects. The application guidelines are available here


Grants for spring – summer 2007 were made to:


Terry Cooper (Policy, Planning, and Development), Ann Crigler (College, political science), and Yongheng Deng (Policy, Planning, and Development)

The Role of Civic Engagement in Securing Property Rights: A Comparison of the US and China


After tremendous internal debate, China’s National People’s Congress voted earlier this month to amend the nation’s property laws. These changes were first proposed more than a decade ago and the original bill was brought to National People’s Congress in 2002. Professors Cooper, Crigler, and Deng head a team of researchers investigating the role played by home owner associations in asserting and protecting property rights. They and others from USC’s Civic Engagement Initiative are working with Chinese scholars including Chen Youhong and Mao Shoulong of People’s University. These scholars and others will participate in a Beijing conference in June to lay out a collaborative research agenda for the next five years.


From the project abstract: “The Chinese government has encouraged home ownership to create stability, but the absence of property rights in China has produced turbulence and agitation among the well educated and affluent class able to purchase condos.  This bind between the absence of property rights and China’s drive toward a market economy has to be resolved.”


“Condo developers and management firms are hired by the government. These management firms exploit the homeowners’ lack of property rights by selling advertising space on building walls and renting out the common space (gardens, recreation rooms, meeting rooms, etc.) to make money.  When the homeowners complain, the security forces employed by the management firms beat up and harass the homeowners.  Homeowners are organizing associations and building networks among their leaders to try to establish property rights.  They are engaging in demonstrations against the government, developers, and management firms for redress of grievances.  They are running candidates for local offices against the Communist Party and winning some races. Also, they are winning some suits against the government and developers.”

This collaboration of USC and Chinese researchers is investigating how economic changes and tensions are affecting China’s political discourse and structure, looking at the functions performed by homeowner associations and how institutional norms affect strategies and practices.


Joshua Goldstein (College, history) 

International Recycling Trade in China


Professor Goldstein has been assessing scrap collecting and recycling for a couple of years and is now focusing on its international dimensions, including the enormous shipment of recyclable waste from the U.S. to China. The grant will fund summer fieldwork in China. The following is from his project abstract. “In 2005 the Beijing scrap scavenging and recycling sector processed approximately 1.5 million tons of post-consumer materials, generating US $270 million in profits and employing nearly 300,000 rural migrant laborers.  On a national scale, scrap scavenging and recycling in the China accounts for several million jobs and several billion dollars in profits annually.  Yet this huge sector has gone largely neglected by social scientists, both Chinese and foreign…”   


“China’s recycling sector is more than merely a municipal or domestic concern; recyclable scrap now plays a major role in China’s international trade.  If paper, plastic and metals are aggregated together, then in 2004 the U.S.’s largest export to China was recyclable scrap, amounting to over US $3.1 billion. The scrap industry has also arisen as a fairly sensitive area in U.S.-China trade relations; in the last few years controversies over the U.S.’s export of toxic electronic waste as well as several accusations of unfair trade practices in the steel and paper industries all intersect in this burgeoning new sphere, the global scrap trade.”


Mark Harris (Cinematic Arts)  

Documenting the Global City, Enhancing Cultural Understanding Between China and the USA


Projects such as this one explain why Mark Harris recently received the honor of being designated a “University Professor.” He pairs USC documentary students with students at the Communication University of China and has them collaborate in producing short bilingual documentaries on “the global city.” In summer 2006, students working in Los Angeles produced six documentaries. Another team documented the pairs at work. These films were screened at both universities and have been broadcast on the Documentary Channel in the US and CCTV in China. In summer 2007, the collaboration moves to Beijing where USC-CUC student teams will produce short films about Beijing as a global city.


The films produced by this project will also be used in an interactive installation which will be exhibited in public venues in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. USC’s Marsha Kinder heads the Labryinth Project which will produce the installation. As the project abstract notes, “Labyrinth will produce an interactive database documentary that addresses relations between Los Angeles and Beijing.”  


Merril Silverstein (Gerontology, College, sociology) and Iris Chi (Social Work)

Population Aging in China: Social, Health, and Policy Implications


Thanks to lengthening life expectancy and the impact of family planning initiatives, China’s population is aging and families are shrinking. While about 10% of China’s 1.3 billion people are currently over age 60, many expect the proportion to double within twenty years. Meeting the medical, financial, and other needs of that population is an enormous challenge. Professors Silverstein, Chi, and others at USC have been working on these questions. This grant funds continued collaboration with scholars from Peking University, Renmin University, Xi’an Jiaotong University, and the China Research Center on Aging and will provide for preparatory work on a fall USC conference. The project aims (in the words of the abstract) “to (1) strengthen on-going cross-school research at USC on the topic of population aging in China, (2) widen collaborative efforts with Chinese colleagues in the field of aging who are eager to strengthen their ties to USC, (3) provide graduate students with an intellectual and training infrastructure within which they can better develop their dissertation research on aging in China, and (4) sponsor a conference at USC that will bring together scholars from China and the U.S. to address issues pertaining to population aging in China, with the intention of producing an edited volume from the proceedings.” As Silverstein and Chi note, understanding this massive demographic shift and addressing its impact is not only a pressing issue for China, but a global concern.


USCI will also fund 2007-2008 faculty research projects. The application period for those grants has just closed. Twenty-one faculty or faculty teams from nine USC schools have applied. These grants (of up to $15,000) will be awarded in late April. In addition twenty-eight graduate students from ten schools have applied for summer fieldwork grants to support pre-dissertation or dissertation research in China. These grants (of up to $4,000) will be announced in mid-April.