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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

Social-ecological systems integration


Yan Zhang is British Academy Research Fellow and Affiliated Lecturer at the Centre of Development Studies at the University of Cambridge, where she is leading a research project on sustainability and transformation in China (2018-2023). Dr Zhang serves as the Director of Studies in Economics Tripos and Bye-Fellow and Tutor at Newnham College; Research Associate at China Centre of Jesus College; Visiting Fellow at Cambridge Bennett Institute for Public Policy. Dr Zhang received her MPhil and doctorate at Cambridge. As a highly motivated economist with a strong background in public policy, political economy, and sustainability studies, she has also obtained six years’ first-hand work experience of public policy and practice in the Chinese government. Dr Zhang’s expertise lies in studies on dynamic policy coevolution (the process) of complex adaptive systems under the institutionalised governance process. She exams the dynamic complexity of policies, institutions, governance and human behaviours under the social-ecological system framework to explore scalable and integrated solutions for complex social dilemmas. Her research focuses on several topics such as water, renewable energy, innovation and urban studies, with a geographical focus on China and Southeast Asia. Her latest book is Governing the Commons in China (Routledge, 2017).


Key publications: 

1. Zhang, Y. (2021). “Understanding China’s Dam-induced Resettlement under the Institutionalized Governance Process of Policy Coevolution”, Journal of Environmental Management.

2. Zhang, Y. (2020). “The map is not the territory: coevolution of technology and institution for a sustainable future”, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.

3. Zhang, Y. (2020). “The Struggle to Govern the Commons: An Institutionalist Engagement of Ontological Reasoning of Collective Action”, New Geographies.

4. Zhang, Y. (2020). “How did the Lost Shangri-La get lost? The tragedy of the groundwater commons in Lijiang”, Water. Book (Research Monograph)

5. Zhang, Y. (2017). Governing the Commons in China, Oxford: Routledge. Routledge Studies on the Chinese Economy series, January 2017, ISBN: 9781138696693. Book Chapter

6. Zhang, Y. (2012). Heritage as Cultural Commons: Towards an Institutional Approach of Self-Governance, In E.E. Bertacchini, G. Bravo, M. Marrelll and W. Santagata (Eds.), Cultural Commons: A New Perspective on the Production and Evolution of Cultures, Edward Elgar Publishing, August 2012. Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

7. Zhang, Y. (2019). “Peter Nolan’s Contribution to Marxist Theory and its Application in China” (Chinese) Social Science Abroad, 2019, Vol. 6 (6). November.

8. Zhang, Y. (2018). “Governing the Water Commons in China: From Historic Oriental Despotism to Contemporary Fragmented Hydraulic State”, International Journal of Water Resources Development, 2018, September. DOI:10.1080/07900627.2018.1508989.

9. Zhang, Y. (2018). “Accelerating Sustainability by Hydropower Development in China”, East Asian Policy, Vol. 10 No. 4, Oct/Nov 2018, November.

10. Zhang, Y. (2017). “Crossing the Divide: an integrated framework of the commons”, Evolutionary and Institutional Economics Review, 2017. DOI 10.1007/s40844-017-0077-2.

11. Zhang, Y. (2017). “Accelerating Sustainability by Hydropower Development in China: The Story of HydroLancang” Sustainability, 2017, (8), 1305.

12. Zhang, Y. (2016). “Hydropower: is prosperity without growth possible?”, International Journal on Hydropower & Dams, 2016, Special Edition, Issue Five, Sept 2016.

13. Zhang, Y. (2006). “Eco-Museums Network within the Old Town of Lijiang: UNESCO ‘Lijiang Model’ for Sustainable Development”, Political Science, University of Torino- International Labour Organization, 2006.

14. Zhang, Y. (2010). “Rethinking Cultural Heritage: Valuations and Dilemmas”, University of Cambridge, Development Studies, 2010, 1-25.

15. Chang, H.-J. & Zhang, Y. (2011). “Institutions and economic development: theory, policy and history”. Journal of Institutional Economics 7.4 (2011): 473. Translated in Chinese, in Review of Evolutionary Economics and Economics of Innovation, 2011-01. Conference Paper

16. Zhang, Y. (2010). “Institutional Approach of Self-governance on Cultural Heritage as Common Pool Resources”, EBLA Working Papers, 2010. Policy Papers

17. Zhang, Yan. 2018. “China’s Hydropower Development under the 13th Five Year Plan”, Policy Brief for the Singapore Government, published at EAI-NUS, October 2018.

18. GHF, Global Heritage Fund. 2012. "Global Heritage-Based Development: A New Paradigm for Developing Countries," New York: Global Heritage Fund (GHF).

19. Zhang, Yan. 2017. "Lessons and Reflections on the Millennium Village Project," Cambridge, United Kingdom: Smart Villages Initiative (SVI).

20. van Gevelt, Terry and Yan Zhang. 2017. "Making Smart Villages a Reality," J. Holmes, Technical Report for Smart Villages. Cambridge: Smart Villages Initiative (SVI).

21. Zhang, Yan. 2017. "Case Study: Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) India," J. Holmes, Case Studies. Cambridge: Smart Villages Initiative (SVI).

22. SVI, Smart Villages Initiative. 2017. "The Smart Villages Initiative: Findings 2014-2017," Cambridge, United Kingdom: Smart Villages Initiative (SVI).

23. SVI, Smart Villages Initiative. 2017. "Wr33: Health-Education Nexus and Concluding Workshop for Smart Village’s Engagement Programmes in Asia," SVI, Workshop Report. Cambridge: Smart Villages Initiative (SVI). Other Publication

24. Zhang, Y. (2015). “The State and the Advocate: Case Studies on Development Policy in Asia, by Teresita Cruz-del Rosario”. Journal of Southeast Asian Economies, Vol. 32, No.1 (2015), 183-184.

Research Associate at China Centre of Jesus College
Visiting Fellow at Cambridge Bennett Institute for Public Policy (BIPP)
Bye-Fellow and Tutor at Newnham College

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