Denghua Zhang

Denghua Zhang

Denghua Zhang on Pacific Studies in China

12 February 2020

In the last couple of decades, China’s policy-driven academic research agenda has been a double-edged sword – it both promotes and hinders Pacific research.

DPA Research Fellow Denghua Zhang has published an overview of Pacific Studies programs at Chinese universities in an article for the Journal of Pacific History. Based on 39 interviews with Chinese academics, ‘Pacific Studies in China: Policies, Structure and Research’ offers a unique perspective on the uneven recent development of Pacific Studies as a discipline in the People’s Republic of China.

Stating that ‘Pacific research in China is still in its infancy’, Denghua nonetheless paints a picture of a discipline already affected by trends in government policy. According to Denghua, high profile diplomatic visits to the region by President Xi Jinping in 2014 and 2018, plus the development of the ‘Belt and Road initiative’, energized Chinese research on the Pacific. However, because it is unlikely that President Xi will make another visit in some time, others are less optimistic that this energy will be sustained.

Such are the challenges faced by China’s Pacific researchers that over half admitted to spending less than 50% of their time on Pacific research, and 15 of these put the figure at no more than 10%. Though noting that this problem is not unique to China, for Pacific Studies to further develop in China, Denghua would like to see a greater disentanglement of university research agendas from government policy.

Denghua’s article will appear as a Pacific Currents piece in issue 55:1 of the Journal of Pacific History. A shorter, open-access form of this article will soon appear in the DPA’s In Brief series.

What is Pacific Currents?

Edited by DPA visiting fellow Jon Fraenkel, the Pacific Currents section of the Journal of Pacific History publishes papers that deal with contemporary developments, but from a historical perspective. It suits submissions that, among other things, identify and explore new Pacific regional trends, or investigate important elections, significant constitutional developments or political crises in specific Island countries or territories. Jon encourages comparative papers, and/or papers that deal with the interactions of Island countries with countries outside the region. Preference is given to articles that offer a broad view of the Pacific region and place specific events in wider, enduring frameworks, in other words, those that will offer readers in 10 or 20 years’ time a solid historical account of contemporary developments.

For submissions, email Jon at:

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