Research topics

Contemporary China Studies at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

China related research at VU Amsterdam takes place in a broad range of areas involving several faculties and multiple Chinese partners.

As entrepreneurship is already a field in which SBE has distinguished itself internationally, the research themes developed in the VU China Research Centre will also be linked to entrepreneurship in the broadest sense of the term. Entrepreneurship research in China is already conducted by SBE and colleagues of our main partner in China: Renmin Business School (RBS) in Beijing. The products in the form of journal articles and book chapters are already appearing.

Sources ofChinese entrepreneurship
The social embeddedness of entrepreneurs has been a theme in contemporary debates on entrepreneurship for some time. Due to the rapidly increasing influence of China on the global economy and the equally rapidly growing political influence of Chinese entrepreneurs, understanding the social embeddedness of Chinese entrepreneurs has become more than a simple academic interest. It is a basic topic affecting all other aspects of the operation Chinese enterprises.

SBE’s Dr. Peter Peverelli has been engaged in this topic since 2008, in close cooperation with RBS partner Dr. Lynda Song Jiwen. This has resulted in the publication of a book entitled Chinese Entrepreneurship - A Social Capital Approach' in June 2012. The focus of their research has now shifted towards Chinese social entrepreneurship.



Business innovation and development

Du Jingshu's passion in research covers innovation and international management. More specifically, open and collaborative innovation, Intellectual Property (IP) strategies, new product development, business model innovation, emerging economies and growth, and cross-cultural management. In her doctoral research, Jingshu investigates the effects and organization of open and collaborative innovation at micro levels (e.g.: project/ individual level) by focusing on how R&D collaborations contribute to innovation performance of new product development, what are the contingencies of R&D collaborations, and how to manage innovative projects successfully. Jingshu’s research is conducted in close collaboration with leading European firms in manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. Jingshu’s research output has appeared on several international academic journals such as Research Policy, R&D Management, Journal of Product Innovation Management, and in three books (Oxford University Press, Imperial College London Press, and Springer, respectively).


Chinese investment in Europe
A second research topic is the expansion to Europe of Chinese companies. Chinese companies are increasing their investments in Europe, either by setting up their own subsidiaries or by acquiring European companies. Some of us are interested in studying the strategic considerations of Chinese enterprise in their efforts to gain market share in Europe, while others are interested in the way Chinese companies manage their European daughters.

Chinese PhD candidate Ma Yuan has started working within the scope of this theme in September 2012. Her research will focus on the political implications of Chinese investment to Europe. She will conduct her research under the supervision of Prof. Henk Overbeek, Professor of International Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences.


Integration of Chinese business elites into Western corporate elite networks


Dr. Nana de Graaff (1973) is an assistant professor at the Political Science and Public Administation Department of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. She graduated with distinction from the Vrije Universiteit on a PhD project about the rise of state-owned energy enterprises from emerging economies such as China, Russia and Venezuela and their impact on global energy markets and international business communities (for which she received the Faculty of Social Sciences Dissertation Prize in 2013). Dr. De Graaff has published in e.g. European Journal of International Relations, Global Networks, Globalizations and with Routledge, Cambridge University Press and Palgrave MacMillan. For a complete list of publications, see Dr. De Graaff’s academic home page. Her research on China has so far focused on Chinese state-owned oil companies and the internationalization of their investment strategies, boards of directors and corporate governance, in particular the patterns of collaboration with Western firms and directors. Her future research agenda broadens towards other sectors and aims to map process of integration of Chinese business elites into Western corporate elite networks with the recent wave of Chinese outward FDI into Europe and the US.


Employees’ creativity

Wenjing Caiis a PhD in Department of Science, Business and Innovation (SBI). Her current research interests focus on how the interactions of various personal (e.g., PsyCap, intrinsic motivation) and contextual factors (e.g., supervisor support, leadership, job characteristics) take effect on employees' creativity. She recently also collaborates with the Innovation Research Center of School of Public Affairs in University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) to investigate the process of individual and organizational innovation.


Service innovation

Yu Muis a PhD in Department of Science, Business and Innovation (SBI). Service innovation has become a hot topic in both research and practice as a part of theory of innovation, which may contains technological, product, managerial, mode innovation, etc. Innovation stakeholders have a significant impact on service innovation in enterprises, including customers, employees, management, suppliers, partners, etc. In the process of participating in service innovation, not only the stakeholders themselves can affect service innovation individually, but the interaction between stakeholders can also have an effect on it. How do the innovation stakeholder interactions influence service innovation and what kind of mechanism it follows? This is the core problem the research tries to solve.


Social benefits

Matthias Stepan is has conducted his PhD research in the field of social security in China.

For the longest period of the 20th century, The social security system in the China was a dualist system that provided the urban population with a generous system of benefits and services, whereas the rural population was not benefiting of any institutionalized public support, solely relying on family. With the decentralization in the 1980s territorial boundaries were added to the lines of fragmentation. As a result income inequality grew and alarmed the Chinese elites. In the 1990s the central government gradually started to develop a stronger social policy profile. Programs such as social assistance, basic pensions and health insurance were institutionalized on nationwide basis and show first effects of income redistribution. Matthias Stepan searches for an answer to the question how the fragmentation was eventually overcome at the example of public basic pensions. He analyzes the effect of institutional change, especially though the changing relationship between the different state actors in China's multi-level government set-up, and the role of policy diffusion. As for the empirical material he is making use of expert interviews and archival records. His research largely benefitted from the affiliation with the EU-China Social Security Reform co-operation Project in the years 2009-2011 and two terms as guest researcher in the China Social Security Research Center at Renmin University in the fall semesters of 2011 and 2012.

Although this particular PhD research has been finalised, contacts with Renmin University regarding this theme remain.



The Faculty of Theology has entered into a relationship with the School of Philosophy of Renmin University. It is expected that this relationship will facilitate joint research in topics like social entrepreneurship, charity, social diversity, civil society, etc. This research is partly linked to that of Peter Peverelli, as a group of religion inspired entrepreneurs is emerging in China.

Bram Colijn has recently joined the School as a PhD candidate with research topic: ‘Families of Faith. A study of ritual negotiation in multi-religious Chinese families’
China’s ‘religious renaissance’ has favored two movements in particular: Chinese Protestantism and Popular Religion. Thousands of local and regional temples have been rebuilt since the 1980’s while the number of Protestants has increased from an estimated seven hundred thousand in 1949 to over sixty million at the turn of the twenty-first century. The central question of this project is: How are family rituals negotiated between Protestants and practitioners of Popular Religion in Xiamen? Twenty families, both rural and urban, will be asked to participate, with special attention for families scattered across rural and urban areas due to labor migration. Negotiations over family rituals marking births, weddings, deaths, Chinese New Year, and ancestor veneration can be considered excellent critical incidents for studying interfaith interactions. This project may enhance our understanding of the ways people position themselves within dominant discourses in Chinese society, particularly with regard to the rise of Protestantism in the context of a nationwide ritual revival.



International law 

Chen Sijie, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law, is finalising her PhD on China's Compliance with WTO Systemic Obligations.



The School of Criminology at VU Amsterdam is recognised as one of Europe’s leading criminology schools. It has a history of over 50 years of teaching and research in criminology. With over 40 academic staff members, it is one of the largest criminology schools in Europe. The School closely collaborates with the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR), a world-leading research institute that is funded by the Dutch Research Council, the Ministry of Justice and VU Amsterdam. In its China related research, the School cooperates with the Netherlands China Law Centre of the University of Amsterdam.



PhD candidate Sun Xilin is doing research about 40Ar/39Ar muscovite dating as a constraint on the sediment provenance and evolution of the Yangtze River, with Prof. Jan Wijbrans of VU Amsterdam as supervisor and Prof. Li Chang'an of the University of Geosciences (Wuhan) as co-supervisor.  He has collected modern sediments from the Yangtze River and measured the 40Ar/39Ar ages of the detrital muscovite separated from these sediments. Comparing the ages of muscovite grains from the Yangtze delta with those from the major tributaries will allow him to figure out the provenance of the sediment now reaching the mouth of the Yangtze River.  He also collected some older sediments from several basins in the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River. He will compare these old samples with those above tributaries in the upper Yangtze to reconstruct the paleo-drainage pattern.



VCRC is also in the course of attracting more Chinese PhD candidates. In time we will develop a regular PhD exchange programme with our Chinese partners