Tianjian Shi's Ongoing Impact on Political Science

Duke political scientist died in 2010, but colleagues keep his work alive

Tianjian Shi.jpg
Political scientist Tianjian Shi taught at Duke from 1993-2010. Colleagues continue to support his work.

Tianjian Shi did not live long enough to see the global impact of his work as a political scientist.

Shi, an associate professor who arrived at Duke in 1993 and held posts at Tsinghua University in China and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, died on Dec. 25, 2010. He was 59.

But his influence across academia continues.

One such example is the Center for Asian Culture and Public Governance at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu, China. The center exists largely because of Shi's relationship with Xuchuan Lei, associate dean of the School of Public Administration at the Chinese university.

While Lei was a visiting scholar in Duke's Department of Political Science from 2009-2010, Shi suggested Southwest Jiaotong could benefit from a center that focuses on empirical research in social sciences. If needed, Shi agreed to help with the establishment and operation of the research center.

Lei pursued the idea, and the center became a reality in late 2010. Shi was to speak at the opening ceremony that November, but illness made the trip impossible.

To honor Shi’s role in the birth of the center, the university has organized an annual Tianjian Forum. Launched in 2014, the two-day forum invites well-known domestic and foreign scholars who have made significant achievements in social science empirical research to speak about their work.

This year's forum in June highlighted Shi'sposthumous book, "The Cultural Logic of Politics in Mainland China and Taiwan" (Cambridge University Press, December 2014), which colleagues edited and got published.

Also at this year's forum, a public ceremony honored Duke political scientist John Aldrich and his wife Cynthia for their donation to sponsor research at the center. The center has named its research library after the Aldriches.

The couple was unable to attend the Tianjian Forum, so John thanked the forum and center via video.

"It is a special treat for us and a very significant honor for which we are most grateful," Aldrich says in the video interview.  "We miss him greatly and we are so pleased that his work has reached this point, it's a very important piece of work. It's a special honor that the library is in the center that's dedicated to T.J.'s work." According to a Duke Today story published after his death, Shi was best known for his work on political participation and elections in China. His influential work, "Political Participation in Beijing," was the first of five books and monographs that examined Chinese culture and politics. His course on the topic was regularly cited by Duke Ph.D. students as the single best of their graduate career.