Organizational sociology may not be the first academic field people tend to look to for an explanation of the origins of a public health crisis such as the spreading Wuhan coronavirus, but from the perspective of Stanford sociologist and APARC faculty member Xueguang Zhou, who specializes in institutional change in contemporary Chinese society, the writing on the wall has long been there for all to see. Zhou, who is also Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in Economic Development and senior fellow at FSI, studies Chinese organizations, Chinese state building, and Chinese bureaucracy. His work sheds light on the characteristics of and tensions in governing China, and is pertinent to understanding the unfolding of the coronavirus crisis and the Chinese government’s response to it.
In the following interview, Zhou talks about these issues, his research into the institutional foundations of governance in China, and some of the challenges the country now faces. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.