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Updated 8:45 AM March 24, 2009

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  Distinguished University Professor
Yu Xie speaks on social changes, inequality in China

Inequality is growing in China, but the impact may be smaller than predicted by many Western observers.

U-M researcher Yu Xie will explain why in an April 1 lecture honoring his appointment as the Otis Dudley Duncan Distinguished University of Professor of Sociology. The lecture, free and open to the public, will take place at 4 p.m. in Rackham Auditorium.

Born in a small city in Jiangsu Province, Xie, 49, received a Bachelor of Science in metallurgical engineering in 1982 from Shanghai University of Technology.

"I was in the first group of university students admitted after the Cultural Revolution," he says. "We all studied science and technology, because we were told that's what the country needed."

Xie soon realized that China also needed to understand the social changes sweeping the nation. So at the earliest opportunity, he altered his own career path, studying first the history of science and then sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Since coming to Michigan in 1989 right after receiving his doctoral degree from Wisconsin, his interests have come to center on statistical methods, demography and social stratification, along with the sociology of science. These interests are reflected in the faculty appointments Xie holds at U-M. He is a professor of sociology and of statistics, and a faculty associate at the Center for Chinese Studies. He also is a research professor at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), where he directs the Quantitative Methodology Program.

With ISR support, Xie has established a Survey Methodology and Quantitative Analysis Laboratory at Peking University, bringing two of Michigan's unique strengths in social science research to his native land. Top U.S. experts in the field come to Peking each summer to teach graduate students and junior faculty.

Xie also leads an ambitious new initiative with Peking University, with the goal of launching a nationally representative longitudinal survey of more than 50,000 individuals in 16,000 Chinese households in 2010. The survey is designed to provide crucial data that will enable academic researchers to better understand key aspects of contemporary Chinese society such as economic well-being, family life, intergenerational relations, migration, education and health.

In consultation with an international academic advisory committee, Xie is helping Chinese colleagues design this study, which will follow the same respondents year after year. As part of the effort, the ISR Survey Research Center is providing survey management software to Peking — a form of social science technology transfer that Xie believes will help ensure the success of the endeavor and the quality of the data being collected.

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