When Jie Chen left China 15 years ago, he had no idea that one day he would be afraid to return to his homeland.
Chen, associate professor of political science, was selected as a Fulbright Scholar for the fall semester. However, he has decided to postpone his research in China until April, when he hopes the political climate there will be more favorable for an American social scientist of Chinese origin.
"In light of the tension between the two countries, I think it's more reasonable for me to wait," he said.
However, if some dramatic change occurs "in a desirable direction in the immediate future," Chen said he will hop a plane in September as planned.
Regardless of when he goes, Chen will use the Fulbright sponsorship to conduct a public opinion survey of Chinese citizens living in rural areas, working with his research partner at the People's University of China on a study of attitudes toward democracy, particularly toward individual liberty vs. social order.
The two collaborated on similar studies in 1995 and 1997, which focused on residents of Beijing, China's second largest city; the majority of the country's population (about 75 percent) live in rural areas. To more accurately gauge opinions of the overall population, they realized they needed to include rural areas in their study.
The researchers will compare the new data with what they learned previously to determine if there is a difference in attitude between people in rural and urban settings.
While Chen is disappointed that his research is on hold for now, he remains optimistic that the political situation will eventually improve and that he can embark on the project by next year. Meanwhile, he is thrilled about receiving the prestigious Fulbright, particularly considering it is the first time he applied.