Yan Sun

Position: Professor
Degrees/Diplomas: Nanjing University, Beijing School of Foreign Affairs and the Johns Hopkins University
Research Interests: China: domestic and international politics, political corruption, ethnic politics
Personal website
Prof. Sun is the author of The Chinese Reassessment of Socialism 1976-1992 (Princeton, 1995) and Corruption and Market in Contemporary China (Cornell, 2004).  She has also published in Comparative Politics, Communist and Post-Communist StudiesCurrent History, Asian SurveyCrime, Law and Social ChangeModern China StudiesOxford BibliographiesOxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World and others. She has contributed articles to the New York Times’ Room for Debate forum. Professor Sun is a recipient of the Presidential Research Award from CUNY Queens College.


From Empire to Nation State: Ethnic Politics in China (Cambridge University Press, 2020)
Many scholars perceive ethnic politics in China as an untouchable topic due to lack of data and contentious, even prohibitive, politics. This book fills a gap in the literature, offering a historical-political perspective on China’s contemporary ethnic conflict. Yan Sun accumulates research via field trips, local reports, and policy debates to reveal rare knowledge and findings. Her long-time causal chain of explanation reveals the roots of China’s contemporary ethnic strife in the centralizing and ethnicizing strategies of its incomplete transition to a nation state-strategies that depart sharply from its historical patterns of diverse and indirect rule. This departure created the institutional dynamics for politicized identities and ethnic mobilization, particularly in the outer regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. In the 21st century, such factors as the demise of socialist tenets and institutions that upheld interethnic solidarity, and the rise of identity politics and developmentalism, have intensified these built-in tensions.
Corruption and Market in Contemporary China (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004)
Despite the well-known observation that economic liberalization has resulted in rising corruption in emerging markets, few works have systematically studied the linkages between the two phenomena. This book tackles the task by examining the interactions between the evolving courses of economic reform and the changing causes/consequences of corruption in post-Mao China . Contrary to those who blame the lingering role of the state or the ruling party, this book argues that recent corruption is largely a byproduct of post-Mao economic reforms, spurred by the economic incentives and structural opportunities in the emerging marketplace. Contrary to the neo-liberal euphoria over the “invisible hands” of the market, the book shows that the steady retreat of the state has both increased mechanisms for cadre misconduct and reduced disincentives against it. Contrary to the standard efficiency arguments about corruption’s effects on economic development, this study shows that corruption may co-exist with successful economic reforms and growth in the short run through unintended and informal mechanisms. Over time, however, these mechanisms may take on a life of their own and undermine the central state’s ability to implement its developmental policies, discipline its staff, enforce its regulatory infrastructure, and fundamentally transform the economy.
The Chinese Reassessment of Socialism, 1976-1992 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995).
A momentous debate has been unfolding in China over the last fifteen years, only intermittently in public view, concerning the merits of socialism as a philosophy of social justice and as a program for national development. Just as Deng Xiaoping’s better advertised experiment with market-based reforms has challenged Marxist-Leninist dogma on economic policy, the years since the death of Mao Zedong have seen a profound reexamination of a more basic question: to what extent are the root problems of the system due to Chinese socialism and Marxism generally? Here Yan Sun gathers a remarkable group of primary materials, drawn from an unusual range of sources, to present the most systematic and comprehensive study of the post-Mao reappraisal of China’s socialist theory and practice.
Rejecting an assumption often made in the West, that Chinese socialist thought has little bearing on politics and policy making, Sun takes the arguments of the post-Mao era seriously on their own terms. She identifies the major factions in the debate, reveals the interplay among official and unofficial forces, and charts the development of the debate from an initially parochial concern with problems raised by Chinese practice to a grand critique of the theory of socialism itself. She concludes with an enlightening comparison of the reassessments undertaken by Deng Xiaoping with those of Gorbachev, linking them to the divergent outcomes of reform and revolution in their respective countries.
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