Julie Yu-Wen Chen – Ethnicity and Chinese politics

In January 2016, Julie Yu-Wen Chen (b. 1980), the Taiwan-born doctor of social sciences and ethnicity researcher, began her work as the University of Helsinki’s first professor of Chinese studies. She has published several studies on politically controversial topics, such as China's ethnic and linguistic minorities.

Chen has also studied Chinese cyberspace and its restrictions from the perspective of minorities. In addition to minorities, she is interested in China’s international relations.

The University of Helsinki is investing in studying the culture and politics of China, an increasingly powerful country.

International ethnicity research

In her most famous work, Chen studied China’s Uyghur minority. The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority of approximately 10 million people in China, and some of them are demanding more autonomy from the government. Chen focused on the methods the Uyghurs use to work towards their goals in an international setting and interviewed Uyghur activists in different countries, from the US to Germany.

Chen has also studied ethnicity in other Asian countries and is the editor-in-chief of the international Asian Ethnicity journal, which is published by Routledge. In addition, she is the editor-in-chief of two academic publication series focusing on critical Chinese studies.

Before assuming her professorship at the University of Helsinki, Chen has researched and taught in several different countries, including Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Germany, Singapore, the UK, the US and Kazakhstan.

Tourism is politics

At the University of Helsinki, Chen intends to continue her research on China’s international interaction. She is particularly interested in what kind of image China is building in the international arena and how other countries relate to it. Chen has long studied China’s ways of using tourism for political gains.

According to Chen, tourism is not just commerce – tourists function as grassroots ambassadors in the countries where they holiday, influencing the image people in these countries have of the Chinese. For example, seeking to soften its image, the Chinese government has encouraged its citizens to visit the African countries with which China has economic relations and increasing investments.

Chen has dubbed this tourism strategy “soft power”. Normal, friendly Chinese people spread awareness of Chinese culture and its people, and the country is no longer just a frightening, distant superpower.

Professor Chen’s first order of business at the University of Helsinki has been to gather researchers from different faculties and units who are interested in Chinese studies. She has already found some researchers at the Faculty of Law who are interested in the development of Chinese labour legislation.

Julie Yu-Wen Chen, Professor of Chinese Studies: Publications and activities.