The International Endowment for Chinese Studies (IECS) is a France-based foundation that seeks to support excellence and independence in academic research on modern Chinese societies, especially modern China, through programs devoted to support young innovative scholars, to fund critical research projects, and to establish a world-class digital China library. IECS aims to sustain a vibrant community of scholars passionate about China. Its objective is to nurture critical, empirically based, and clearly reasoned scholarship.
- Who we are
The International Endowment for Chinese Studies was established in March 1990. Its core mission involves supporting scholars at academic institutions in France and in Europe to undertake innovative research projects in the humanities and social sciences that can shed new light on contemporary Chinese culture and society.
IECS undertakes grant-making activities in France and other EU countries under three major programs: Research Grants, Junior scholars chairs, and Dissertation fellowships. It also supports a major research infrastructure in the form of a unique digital library endowed with rich collections on Chinese societies that feature advanced search and analytical capabilities. IECS is resolutely committed to promoting pure academic scholarship and the production of ground-breaking knowledge throughout the European academic community.
The Board of Directors is the IECS’s highest body for decision and policymaking. There is also an Investors Board that supervises the management of the IECS’s endowment. The IECS’s headquarters are located in Aix-en-Provence, where the President and Vice-President manage its day-to-day operations.
The main mission of IECS is to create the conditions for the development of a vibrant academic research on China and greater China in France, yet with a broader European scope and agenda. To achieve this mission, it focuses its action on two domains:
- To create and develop the 21st Century Chinese World Digital Library 二十一世紀華界數位圖書館, a free online research infrastructure open to all China scholars and students, as well all social actors and decision-makers. Documentary resources are a most critical factor in supporting innovative research, building new knowledge, and facilitating intellectual exchange. Beyond scholars, it is also critical to make available documentary resources to wider circles of people with an interest in China and Chinese societies (business, media, artists, etc.). The 21st Century Chinese World Digital Library will acquire digital resources to meet the massive amount of digital data and documents produced in China and worldwide about China and Chinese societies.
- A string of specially endowed programs to support research projects (Research Grant), early-career scholars (Junior scholar chair), and Dissertation writing (Doctoral fellowship). IECS sets its priority on the production of new and innovative knowledge and the recruitment of the next generation of scholars, hence a privileged mobilization of its resources for the Research Grant and the Junior scholar chair programs.
- The objectives and modalities of the various programs are described in the Programs section.
- France and Europe
IECS is an initiative taken by a French scholar with the explicit goal of making up for the appalling lack of resources and research about modern Chinese societies in France. Despite a long history of “sinological studies” that started with the Jesuits in the 18th century, Chinese studies have been slow to develop in France and Europe with the major part devoted to philosophy, language, and literature. In the field of social sciences, universities have failed to integrate in their departments scholars specializing in Chinese societies. Throughout Europe, with very few exceptions, there has been no increase in the necessary expertise commensurate with the rise of China as a superpower.
Whereas major U.S. universities like Stanford or Harvard support strong research centers on China — they rely on rich endowments — the system of public universities in France, as well as intellectual traditions that set apart Chinese studies, have failed to provide a comparable institutional context. Yet France also has considerable resources, especially scholars, who can offer expertise in many fields about China. The ranks of young scholars have been steadily growing. IECS believes that this potential remains untapped and seeks to support these talents and provide documentary resources that are also badly missing.
The geographical scope of action of IECS is geared toward France as a first and necessary step — there is considerable potential, that IECS intends to mobilize to alter the worldview and recruitment patterns of French universities and research institutions — but its ultimate objective is to serve a broader community and open its programs to applicants from other European countries with a view to support excellence centers about China and Chinese societies.
China as a geopolitical entity is of course a central concern of IECS’s strategy to develop knowledge and research about it. Yet if we move the focus from China as a geopolitical entity to the Chinese as a people and to the cultural values shared by various communities beyond mainland China, a more complex and richer image emerges, which encompasses a multitude of communities and societies imbued with a common culture and writing system.
For centuries, the Chinese have migrated throughout Asia, then, starting with the nineteenth century, to many parts of the world. This is a process that continues to this day, which resulted in the formation of strong Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, then in the United States, and more recently in Europe or Africa. Historical events have also contributed to reshaping the contours of Chinese societies, with the emergence of separate entities such as Singapore or Taiwan.
IECS does not make any judgment and does not take sides on issues of names and status of Chinese communities and societies outside of China proper. Its position is that there is a tangible historical reality that requires careful analysis and understanding, which can only be done through critical academic research. IECS means to support such research and facilitate mutual dialog and comprehension.
China’s rise as a superpower on the world stage is a reality that few could foresee in France and in Europe when IECS was established. Despite a long history of contacts and exchanges between China and several European countries, including France, knowledge about China, and especially genuine research on Chinese history, culture, politics, economics, and science lags behind in French academia. Across Europe, there are very uneven levels of development across Europe, but in most countries a clear deficit in resources and academic positions is noticeable.
In view of the challenges that the emergence of China has set in motion – the increasing flows of people, ideas, goods, and capital across frontiers – and the forceful impact China as a geopolitical entity has on the planet — as an economic, political, military, and scientific power — there is a crucial need for institutions that can produce in-depth and genuine knowledge on China, its people, and its interaction with the world. This is a major goal of IECS in France and, provided resources increase accordingly, across Europe
Is there anything more vital in the early 21st century than studying China? Is there any subject more relevant than delving into the dynamics and accomplishments of Chinese communities and societies beyond China’s borders? The International Endowment for Chinese Studies (IECS) firmly believes that both France and Europe suffer from a significant deficit in knowledge and understanding of what China represents today. This includes its historical trajectory over the past century, as well as the intricacies and diversity of Chinese societies in the modern world.
IECS makes it its mission to create the conditions for the production and circulation of in-depth knowledge on Chinese societies rooted in vibrant and independent academic research. Its main target is French universities and research organizations that have failed to adjust their recruitment and training programs to meet the challenges of the 21st century. There is a most pressing need to provide the adequate level of expertise required for a fruitful encounter and dialogue with China and modern Chinese societies.