Penn China Research and Engagement Fund

Launched in March 2015, the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund is a five-year, $10 million competitive matching program designed to stimulate and support activity in China.  

Fund Objectives

The primary goals of the fund are:

  1. To develop new, or strengthen existing, institutional and faculty-to-faculty relationships with Chinese partners.

  2. To support outstanding research projects from across the University that are poised to make significant contributions to their field.

  3. To increase the study and understanding of China at Penn and create opportunities for meaningful student engagement.

  4. To highlight the Penn Wharton China Center as a preeminent space in China for knowledge exchange and professional consultation.

Through the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund, we seek to deepen and strengthen Penn’s engagement with the goal of creating sustainable impact for the Penn community and beyond.

Application Requirements and Criteria

The Penn China Research and Engagement Fund supports activities that advance the study, teaching, and engagement of China. Managed by Penn Global on behalf of the Office of the Provost, the Fund supports faculty members across all twelve schools

Applications must be submitted by a Penn faculty member or senior administrator, must provide some form of matching funding or support equal to the amount requested from the Fund, and should engage the Penn Wharton China Center either as an event venue or outreach partner.   

CREF looks for proposals that include a clear plan for sustainable, long-term impact.  In addition, CREF encourages proposals that:

  1. Enhance the study, teaching, and engagement of China at Penn;

  2. Involve participants from multiple disciplines;

  3. Build durable partnerships between schools and centers at Penn as well as between Penn and external entities;

  4. Are relevant to policymakers, business leaders, and other external constituencies;

  5. Demonstrate availability and commitment of matching sources of funding and support.

Beginning in 2019, CREF will prioritize proposals that involve researchers, practitioners, and external partners from multiple disciplines; help raise Penn’s profile, visibility, and impact with respect to the study, teaching, and engagement of China; and convene both China and non-China specialists to examine issues or questions of significance to China and the world at large.

How to Apply

Interested applicants should submit a brief statement of interest via the Provost's Office online application portal that 1) describes the objectives and key components of the proposed project or activity; 2) outlines how it contributes to research, teaching, or policy engagement with respect to China; and 3) briefly states how the proposed project or activity meets the CREF evaluation criteria described below. Short-listed submissions will be invited to develop a full proposal in consultation with Penn Global. 

The 2019 Call for Proposals has now closed. 

Prospective applicants are also encouraged to reach out to Penn Global with questions via email at global@upenn.edu or by phone at 215-898-5675. 

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Impact

CREF has funded 30 projects that have generated over $3 million in other funding, including from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and private companies in China. In addition, CREF projects have generated over two-dozen publications on topics ranging from linguistics to medicine to the management of China’s aviation sector. Just as important, CREF projects have generated plenty of visibility for Penn in China.   Professor of Anthropology Deborah Thomas’s project “China in the Caribbean and the Caribbean in China,” for example, was featured on CCTV. An Artificial Intelligence and Robotics summer camp led by Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science Jianbo Shi was also featured in articles in the financial publications Yicai and Yuanshihui.

CREF HANDOUT

 

Penn Student Engagement

CREF directly benefits Penn students, and has led to development of eight new courses at Penn across a wide range of subject areas. These include Ruth Meltzer Director of the Jewish Studies Program Kathryn Hellerstein’s new Freshman Seminar, “Jews and China: Views from Two Perspectives,” which addresses the long but little-known history of Judaism in China. Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology Guobin Yang’s Penn Media Scholars in China program, meanwhile, exposes Penn students to China’s social media landscape, with visits to companies like NetEase in Hangzhou. 

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CREF Principal Investigator Guobin Yang with Penn Media Scholars in China Participants

 

Policy Engagement

Projects funded by CREF have directly improved the lives of people in China. The Targeted Stroke Therapy project led by Renyu Liu, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, partnered with Minhang Hospital, an affiliate of Fudan University, to develop and publicize a new system to help identify stroke victims, helping to save lives and improve treatment outcomes. The new system, called “Stroke 1-2-0”, was officially adopted by the Chinese Stroke Association and featured on Chinese television. Thanks to this publicity, Stroke 1-2-0 gained over 100 million views on social media.

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CREF Principal Investigator Renyu Liu with Stroke 1-2-0 Banner

 

Supporting Research Across Penn

CREF has helped to support and encourage China-related research and teaching in nearly every corner of the University, from history to healthcare. CREF has awarded funding to faculty representing 11 of Penn’s 12 schools.

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CREF Awards by Field
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CREF Awards by School

 

CREF Principal Investigator Stories

Viewing World History from China’s Perspective

Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde, Professor of Economics, is using his CREF award to write a global economic history from China’s perspective, which he ways is under-represented. In a short interview with China Program Director Scott Moore (SM), Fernandez-Villaverde (JFV) previews the main message of the book:

SM: Why do we need an economic history from China’s point of view? Is existing scholarship that biased?

JFV: Yes. Pretty much everything that doesn’t belong to Western Europe plays a minor role in existing texts. This [China] was very much a peripheral part of the planet. Looking at history from China’s point of view helps us understand who grew, who didn’t, any why—it helps us look at questions like, ‘is this institution good or bad for growth in the long run?’

SM: Tell us more about that. What does explain long-term economic growth and success?

JFV: It’s about concentration versus diffusion of power. The concentration of power is very fragile because you’re always one bad emperor away from having very bad policies. If you look at China, power was always concentrated in the hands of the emperor. Western Europe, in comparison, had a very deconcentrated structure of power, wherein kings were limited by parliament, by the Church, and other constraints on their power. This gave Europe an edge.

SM: What does this tell us about the recent debate that China is “less innovative,” as a leading Chinese commentator recently suggested, than the West?

JFV: What matters is institutions, not culture. China still doesn’t have the institutions that are open enough to really sustain innovation. What China has been doing for the past few decades is catching up to the rest of the world, and it’s done an amazing job. China’s current institutional set-up will probably allow it to get to about 50-60% of US GDP per capita. The big question is whether it can get beyond this threshold. At the moment, I don’t see a lot of evidence to indicate that China can move past this level with its current institutions, however.  

CREF Principal Investigators in the News

Why China needs to become more like Hong Kong

Penn Student Engagement

CREF directly benefits Penn students, and has led to development of eight new courses at Penn across a wide range of subject areas. These include Ruth Meltzer Director of the Jewish Studies Program Kathryn Hellerstein’s new Freshman Seminar, “Jews and China: Views from Two Perspectives,” which addresses the long but little-known history of Judaism in China. Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology Guobin Yang’s Penn Media Scholars in China program, meanwhile, exposes Penn students to China’s social media landscape, with visits to companies like NetEase in Hangzhou. 

CREF 3
CREF Principal Investigator Guobin Yang with Penn Media Scholars in China Participants

 

Policy Engagement

Projects funded by CREF have directly improved the lives of people in China. The Targeted Stroke Therapy project led by Renyu Liu, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, partnered with Minhang Hospital, an affiliate of Fudan University, to develop and publicize a new system to help identify stroke victims, helping to save lives and improve treatment outcomes. The new system, called “Stroke 1-2-0”, was officially adopted by the Chinese Stroke Association and featured on Chinese television. Thanks to this publicity, Stroke 1-2-0 gained over 100 million views on social media.

CREF 1
CREF Principal Investigator Renyu Liu with Stroke 1-2-0 Banner

 

Supporting Research Across Penn

CREF has helped to support and encourage China-related research and teaching in nearly every corner of the University, from history to healthcare. CREF has awarded funding to faculty representing 11 of Penn’s 12 schools.

cref 5
CREF Awards by Field
cref diagram 2
CREF Awards by School

 

CREF Principal Investigator Stories

Viewing World History from China’s Perspective

Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde, Professor of Economics, is using his CREF award to write a global economic history from China’s perspective, which he ways is under-represented. In a short interview with China Program Director Scott Moore (SM), Fernandez-Villaverde (JFV) previews the main message of the book:

SM: Why do we need an economic history from China’s point of view? Is existing scholarship that biased?

JFV: Yes. Pretty much everything that doesn’t belong to Western Europe plays a minor role in existing texts. This [China] was very much a peripheral part of the planet. Looking at history from China’s point of view helps us understand who grew, who didn’t, any why—it helps us look at questions like, ‘is this institution good or bad for growth in the long run?’

SM: Tell us more about that. What does explain long-term economic growth and success?

JFV: It’s about concentration versus diffusion of power. The concentration of power is very fragile because you’re always one bad emperor away from having very bad policies. If you look at China, power was always concentrated in the hands of the emperor. Western Europe, in comparison, had a very deconcentrated structure of power, wherein kings were limited by parliament, by the Church, and other constraints on their power. This gave Europe an edge.

SM: What does this tell us about the recent debate that China is “less innovative,” as a leading Chinese commentator recently suggested, than the West?

JFV: What matters is institutions, not culture. China still doesn’t have the institutions that are open enough to really sustain innovation. What China has been doing for the past few decades is catching up to the rest of the world, and it’s done an amazing job. China’s current institutional set-up will probably allow it to get to about 50-60% of US GDP per capita. The big question is whether it can get beyond this threshold. At the moment, I don’t see a lot of evidence to indicate that China can move past this level with its current institutions, however.  

CREF Principal Investigators in the News

Why China needs to become more like Hong Kong

Learn More About the Fund

Interested in applying?  Received an award but have questions about fund management?  Check out our resources and tools for Fund Seekers and Fund Awardees.

Meet Previous Fund Recipients

Since 2015, the University of Pennsylvania has supported nearly 30 projects at a total funding level of nearly $6 million.  The work is carried out by faculty and staff representing all of Penn's 12 Schools, and all four research themes. 

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Penn China Research Symposium

Each year, Penn Global and Penn China Initiatives host an interdisciplinary symposium to highlight and facilitate discussion on activities supported by the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund (CREF) and other China-related work at Penn.  The symposium features research “blitz” presentations, highlighting Penn faculty work across a broad range of fields, and programmatic workshops on conducting research and activities in China.  

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Penn Wharton China Center

The Penn Wharton China Center (PWCC) provides on-the-ground support for the growing numbers of programs, including all projects funded through the Penn China Research and Engagement Fund, and collaborations between Penn’s 12 schools and many academic, government,  and business partners throughout China.