The 4th Pre-Conference of the Forum of

Critical Chinese Qualitative Research (May 17, 2019)

Dr. Ping-Chun Hsiung, Chair


As a Special Interest Group, the Forum of Critical Chinese Qualitative Research held its 4th pre-conference on May 18, 2019, in conjunction with the 15th International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. This year, the Forum received submissions from 34 participants, a twofold increase compared to last year. I worked with Professor Sida Liu to structure the Forum into three sections.

The Forum began with a panel presentation by participants who had developed their work after presenting it at the Forum in previous years. The section was designed for them to share their work after it had been brought into fruition. This was followed by concurrent small discussion groups. The format departed from conventional conference presentations. It was inspired by the principles of participatory action research. We envisioned the participants to be active contributors to the intellectual community that the Forum set out to develop. We had asked the participants to send their papers to and prepare feedback for their group members in advance. We wrapped up the Forum with a section allocated for brainstorming initiatives to advance the Forum.


Section # 1

Sida Liu presented his work (with Di Wang) on doing ethnography on social media in contemporary China. Based on their studies of the Chinese feminists and lawyers, Liu discussed the meaning, challenges, and opportunities of “living on the sites” and interacting with the research subjects in the digitalized world. Yige Dong compared and contrasted the strengths and limitations of two types of data: archival sources and in-depth interviews. She argued that the former reveals the perspective of the state while the latter focuses on the voices of individuals. Based upon her study of female textile workers in Maoist China (1949-76), she illustrated the fundamental tension between the hierarchical labor system and the ‘gender equality’ discourse in the Mao era. Ping-Chun Hsiung called for an expansion of the inductive approach in qualitative inquiry. By analyzing feminist inspired NGO activism in contemporary China, Hsiung challenged the primary lenses that have been used to frame and assess the development of NGOs, civil society, and the women’s movement in China. She called upon documents and interviews to examine a project whose goal was to increase women’s political participation in rural governance through village elections. She argued that an NGO-centered framework was imperative to adequately understand feminist inspired NGO activism. She also presented methodological insights and epistemological lenses derived from such an alternative framework.


To wrap up the first section, Ping-Chun Hsiung provided an overview of current scholarship on the practices of social science research in China Studies. She identified weaknesses of the field and commented on how the Forum could address them and contribute to existing scholarship on qualitative research that is primarily centered on the Global North.


Section # 2

There were six small discussion groups. The group members not only presented their own research but commented on the work of their group members. The small groups then presented the results of their discussion to all participants in the Forum. The discussion stimulated heated debates and generated many unresolved questions. The follow excerpt from Xi Wang (graduate student in the Sociology Department at University of Chicago) very much captures the spirit of the discussion:


What I find the most valuable and helpful is the combination of the resistance against the outside and the reflection on the inside. On the one hand, by applying qualitative methods to Chinese studies, we have been attempting to deny the kind of pre-existed, grand, unified theories mostly from the West and strive to constitute our own authenticity against the broader Westernized context. On the other hand, we have also looked back to our own research practices, tearing the practical processes apart and examine the underlying holes and problems in diverse issues. As a graduate student, I really appreciate the distinct role of the forum which has provided me with the perspective and practice related to my cultural identity and concerns that I could not obtain in my daily coursework. 


Meanwhile, I feel that the forum is more for generating and identifying questions than simply providing solutions. For instance, although I have been inspired by seeing all kinds of problems in doing our research, such as applying Western theories to the East, I haven’t developed clear ideas on what we should do specifically in the next step. There are uneasiness and tensions. But maybe we need to learn to use these irritating feelings as a kind of guidance and motivation for our future journey.


Section # 3

The Forum identified three initiatives for 2019-20:

  • Developing a lecture series during the year to sustain global inter-institutional exchanges and to support local initiatives at individual sites. Drs. Sophy Cai, Pengfei Zhao, and Gary Yu Hin Lam are the officers of the Outreach and Development Committee, which will implement this initiative.
  • Organizing thematic presentation(s) at other professional conferences (e.g. the Association of Asian Studies, American Sociological Association, or International Sociological Association).
  • Further developing the Forum into an intellectual space to accumulate and disseminate critical qualitative research in China Studies.

Since May, the Outreach and Development Committee has carried out a survey to identify topics and formats for the lecture series. Professor Sida Liu and I will be working with the Committee to organize the lecture series. Several Forum participants will be submitting a panel proposal to the annual conference of the Association of Asian Studies (to be held in Boston) in March, 2020. The Call for Papers for the Forum’s 5th pre-conference will include additional information on how the Forum intends to further consolidate its efforts to advance critical qualitative research in China Studies.



The Forum would like to express sincere gratitude to Drs. Norman K. Denzin and James Salvo. Their continuous support and the logistic and administrative assistance provided by the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry have enabled the Forum to cultivate an intellectual space for critical qualitative inquiry.