Studying China with an Eye on the Past—and the Future
Jing Li PhD'04
Associate Professor of International Business, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
“I was very impressed with Bloomington and Kelley. It’s a beautiful campus, and the Business Economics and Public Policy program is well defined, offering lots of interesting classes.”
Jing Li was fated to study the economic rebirth of her home country, China. She was born in Shandong, China, in 1979, the same year that the communist country embarked on a bold plan to reform its stagnating state-run economy into a more Western-style market economy.
Now, more than 30 years later, China’s economy is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing, with experts predicting it could outpace the United States by 2020. Li had a front-row seat to the reforms, and she’s made it her life’s work to study them.
“Growing up, I noticed lots of changes, especially at the supermarket where my mom worked,” says Li, who is now an associate professor of international business at Simon Fraser University in Canada. “Before the reforms, nobody really had the incentive to work because the salary was the same, no matter if you worked harder. All the employees had cold faces, and they weren’t really friendly.” By the early 1990s, says Li, the store started implementing Western-style incentives for its employees, and their attitudes became friendlier and more positive. “That was the first time I heard the word ‘bonus,’” she recalls.
Those experiences sparked Li’s interest in the reforms of China’s state-owned enterprises, and she pursued her education accordingly. She earned an undergraduate degree in economics from one of China’s most prestigious universities, the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing.
For her doctoral studies, she applied to several American graduate business programs, and accepted the full scholarship she received from the Kelley School of Business without ever setting foot on campus. “I was young at that time and not afraid of anything,” she says, laughing. “I was very impressed with Bloomington and Kelley. It’s a beautiful campus, and the Business Economics and Public Policy program is well defined, offering lots of interesting classes.”
Li credits Kelley faculty members with making her feel at home in Indiana, and with teaching her the fundamentals on industry organization and international business in a way that allowed her intellectual creativity to shine.
“The individual attention PhD students get from the BEPP department benefitted me greatly. I was able to work with leading professors on a daily basis.”
Reassurance like that is commonplace among the BEPP faculty, says Li. “These people are so generous, always helpful and kind and easy to approach.” She loved her classes with Michael Baye, who she says taught her how to apply industry organization theories to real-life problems.
When it came time to go on the academic job market, Li knew she wanted a job in North America, as did many of her classmates. Now that she’s got one, she says she owes it all to her Kelley colleagues, especially her thesis advisor Alan Rugman. “We all got jobs in the United States or Canada, and it’s because of the training we received at Kelley: all the experiences, the classes, and the faculty’s generous help.”
Best thing about being a professor: “It’s the perfect balance of everything: I get to do research, and my teaching load is very reasonable. I choose to teach all my classes on one day (six hours’ worth) so I have lots of time for my research.”
Favorite Bloomington memory: “BEPP held weekly seminars where we had lots of interesting discussions with professors from the United States or Canada. Afterward, we would go to a bar and chat with professors about lots of things, not just academics.”
What I love about Vancouver: “There are so many parks here that, especially in summer, I go hiking almost every week and in winter we go snowshoeing or skiing.”