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Embracing the Tension Between Ethnic Identity and Academic Identity: An Analysis of Challenges to Chinese American Political Scientists’ Presentation of Knowledge

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An increasing number of foreign-born Chinese political scientists teach and engage in research at colleges and universities in North America. Like other foreign-born scholars, these Chinese American political scientists must manage the tension between their ethnic identities and academic identities. What is the ethnic identity of Chinese American political scientists? What do their ethnic identities have to do with the objects of their critical inquiries? What challenges will they face on their way to reaching an epistemological middle ground between professional judgment and subjective perception? By using survey, discourse analysis, and ethnography, this essay analyzes the influence of ethnic identity on the work of Chinese American political scientists. Rather than comment on their individual scholarship, this essay examines the impact of ethnic identity on the effectiveness and quality of their presentation of scholarship to the public.

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  1. 1.

    “Political scientist” is defined broadly here, and includes faculty teaching in the subfields of American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political theory, political economy, research methods, public administration, policy studies and analysis, and so forth.

  2. 2.

    Chinese Americans, broadly defined, are the Americans of Chinese descent, including the first-generation immigrants and their descendants. This essay only defines “Chinese American political scientists” as the first-generation immigrants of Chinese descent who teach and conduct research in the discipline of political science in both the U.S. and Canada. The number of Chinese Canadian political scientists is much smaller than their counterparts in the U.S., and their ethnic identities and academic identities are very similar to their counterparts in the U.S. This essay includes them as a part of the community of Chinese American political scientists.

  3. 3.

    For further discussion about identity as dependent and independent variables, see [1], Measuring Identity: A Guide for Social Scientists.

  4. 4.

    Morgenthau suggested that cultural patterns had influenced national power in history, for example, the elementary force and persistence of the Russians, the individual initiative and inventiveness of the Americans, the un-dogmatic common sense of the British, and the discipline and thoroughness of the Germans. See [20:51].

  5. 5.

    For example, from 1989 to 1998, the portion of mainland Chinese immigrants gaining American permanent residence status increased from 58.5 % to 74.5 % among the total population of Chinese emigrants from Greater China. See Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission (Taiwan) [21], p. 2.

  6. 6.

    On September 7, 1901, the Qing Government was forced to sign the “Boxer Protocol,” the most exploitative unequal treaty in China’s modern history. China had to pay war reparations of 450,000,000 taels of fine silver (around 74,062,500 lb, or 333 million U.S. dollars then) to eight Western powers. The reparation would be paid within 39 years, and would be 982,238,150 taels with interest (4 % per year) included.

  7. 7.

    This author’s estimate is based on the following data: (1) The Association of Chinese Political Studies’ Annual Conference Programs from 2005 to 2012, which were provided by the ACPS upon this author’s request; (2) the American Political Science Association’s Membership and Governance Data (URL: https://www.apsanet.org/content_7589.cfm); (3) this author’s own extensive online search in the web sites of colleges and universities across the United States and Canada.

  8. 8.

    Under the U.S. law, a foreign citizen can be in H1B status for a maximum period of 6 years at a time. Due to the inconvenience of applying for H1B extension or re-applying for a new H1B, it makes sense for the H1B visa holders to apply for the U.S. permanent residence before their H1B visas expire.

  9. 9.

    For a good summary of Taiwanese political scientists’ discussion on national identity, see Shelley Rigger [23].

  10. 10.

    Issues & Studies is a quarterly published by Institute of International Relations, National Chenchi University, Republic of China (Taiwan).

  11. 11.

    The existence of 55 ethnic minorities in China is a political construct of the communist government. The communist government’s understanding of ethnic minority was borrowed from Joseph Stalin’s Soviet model, and may not be an accurate reflection of the actual multiethnic character of China.

  12. 12.

    The membership information of “cps@lists.gatech.edu” in this essay is based on the information provided by Fei-ling Wang in his email sent to all email list subscribers on January 14, 2010.

  13. 13.

    Scott Savitt’s comments on his perception of mainland-born Chinese political scientists were made in his email to the “cps@lists.gatech.edu” email list on August 10, 2012. Scott Savitt is a veteran journalist who spent two decades as a foreign correspondent in China.

  14. 14.

    For detailed discussion of the influence of European émigré scholars on American political science, see Loewenberg (2006). According to Loewenberg, within three decades in the first half of the twentieth century, the Jewish émigré scholars contributed masters to every subfield of American political science.


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The author is grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their critical comments and helpful insights on the first draft of this essay. The author is also grateful to the anonymous reviewers of Journal of Chinese Political Science, and to Diana Zoelle, for many useful suggestions and comments on the recently revised draft of this essay. Finally, this author would like to thank Association of Chinese Political Studies for data support, and those nine Chinese political scientists for their participations in this author’s online surveys.

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Correspondence to Sheng Ding.

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Ding, S. Embracing the Tension Between Ethnic Identity and Academic Identity: An Analysis of Challenges to Chinese American Political Scientists’ Presentation of Knowledge. J OF CHIN POLIT SCI 17, 379–399 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11366-012-9214-2

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  • Chinese American Political Scientists
  • Ethnic Identity
  • Academic Identity
  • Knowledge Presentation
  • Responsible Scholarship