I am a business school-trained sociologist and I use mixed methods in my research: interviews, textual coding, and statistics. As my empirical research settings span several fields and centuries, in what follows, I chronicle four areas from the earliest observation to the most recent phenomenon.

The first area is on science and civilization of ancient China. It is featured by my co-authored book manuscript, under contract with the Princeton University Press. We revisit the famous Needham question of why Chinese science and technology led the world so many centuries and then collapsed around the 17th century. Based on more than 10,000 hand-collected inventions and discoveries over 2,000 years, we confirm Needham’s perspective that China used to lead the world in terms of technological advancement, but sharply depart from their view by identifying the decline started as early as the 6th century. Our theoretical argument rests on the roles and the functions of the state. We propose a tripartite typology of the Chinese state, a framework that conceptualizes Chinese history as a journey that transitioned through three distinct phases of polity with dramatically contrasting implications for technological development. These are: a) the polycentric state (5th century BCE to 6th century CE), when China was fragmented both politically and ideologically; b) the enabling state (from the 6th century to the 13th century), when China retained some of the ideological polycentrism, while polycentrism of the political kind largely disappeared; and c) the controlling state (from the 13th century on), when state capacity was substantial except it was applied exclusively toward maintaining political absolutism and ideological uniformity.

The second area revolves around meritocracy during the Renaissance period. Using a dataset of more than 12,000 students who passed Chinese civil service examinations (CSE) between 1400 and 1580, I have three articles exploring meritocracy through different theoretical perspectives: a) in an article forthcoming at Canadian Review of Sociology, we treat the CSE as a complicated hiring scenario of an elite labor market and address a debate over whether it is meritocratic or not. We contend that it was a two-stage evaluation framework–first merit-based assessment and then organizational fit–to select political elites by the Ming dynasty; b) in another article published at Sociological Studies (in Chinese), we trace the rise and evolution of CSE system and the meritocracy ideal it attempted to uphold. We argue that the CSE system became an inhabited institution, as there existed three inherently incompatible goals for elite selection: fairness, anonymity, and effectiveness; and c) in an article currently under minor revision at a sociology journal, we explore how a newly enforced regional quota system on the existing CSE in the early 15th century triggered a turning point in Chinese history. Since that, political elites began to primarily identify with colleagues from the same native place (rather than/less with those with equivalent status).

The third area is focused on a more recent treaty-port era, especially Western missionaries and merchants and their lasting impact on economic transactions in China today. In an article under revise & resubmit at a sociology journal, we document relatively random selection of Chinese cities entering various colonial contracts (e.g., colonial cities) with western powers in the late 19th century and match them with a list of control cities (with adjacent boarders but without such contracts), and then explore how missionary education and merchant activities brought with them cultural brokerage. We then test our argument by examining the association between different forms of cultural brokerage during China’s treaty-port era and the city-level distribution of foreign production today.

The fourth area tackles contemporary issues. These are: a) organizational emergence of a prestigous temple, initially founded by students from elite universities. An article on this topic is conditionally accepted at British Journal of Sociology; b) government venture capital and its negative effect on startups’ IPO valuation, which we term as over-reliance on political connections. A relevant article is under revise & resubmit at a sociology journal; 3) anatomy of Chinese foundations, their goal setting strategies, and the consequences; and 4) how firms deal with the call for corporate social responsbility (see my CV for a list of related publications).