Jean C. Oi is the William Haas Professor of Chinese Politics in the department of political science and a Senior Fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. She is the founding director of the Stanford China Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. Professor Oi is also the founding Lee Shau Kee Director of the Stanford Center at Peking University.
A PhD in political science from the University of Michigan, Oi first taught at Lehigh University and later in the Department of Government at Harvard University before joining the Stanford faculty in 1997.
Her work focuses on comparative politics, with special expertise on political economy and the process of reform in transitional systems. Oi has written extensively on China's rural politics and political economy. Her State and Peasant in Contemporary China (University of California Press, 1989) examined the core of rural politics in the Mao period—the struggle over the distribution of the grain harvest—and the clientelistic politics that ensued. Her Rural China Takes Off (University of California Press, 1999 and Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 1999) examines the property rights necessary for growth and coined the term “local state corporatism" to describe local-state-led growth that has been the cornerstone of China’s development model.
She has edited a number of conference volumes on key issues in China’s reforms. The first was Growing Pains: Tensions and Opportunity in China's Transformation (Brookings Institution Press, 2010), co-edited with Scott Rozelle and Xueguang Zhou, which examined the earlier phases of reform. Most recently, she co-edited with Thomas Fingar, Fateful Decisions: Choices That Will Shape China’s Future (Stanford University Press, 2020). The volume examines the difficult choices and tradeoffs that China leaders face after forty years of reform, when the economy has slowed and the population is aging, and with increasing demand for and costs of education, healthcare, elder care, and other social benefits.
Oi also works on the politics of corporate restructuring, with a focus on the incentives and institutional constraints of state actors. She has published three edited volumes related to this topic: one on China, Going Private in China: The Politics of Corporate Restructuring and System Reform (Shorenstein APARC, 2011); one on Korea, co-edited with Byung-Kook Kim and Eun Mee Kim, Adapt, Fragment, Transform: Corporate Restructuring and System Reform in Korea (Shorenstein APARC, 2012); and a third on Japan, Syncretism: The Politics of Economic Restructuring and System Reform in Japan, co-edited with Kenji E. Kushida and Kay Shimizu (Brookings Institution, 2013). Other more recent articles include “Creating Corporate Groups to Strengthen China’s State-Owned Enterprises,” with Zhang Xiaowen, in Kjeld Erik Brodsgard, ed., Globalization and Public Sector Reform in China (Routledge, 2014) and "Unpacking the Patterns of Corporate Restructuring during China's SOE Reform," co-authored with Xiaojun Li, Economic and Political Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2018.
Oi continues her research on rural finance and local governance in China. She has done collaborative work with scholars in China, including conducting fieldwork on the organization of rural communities, the provision of public goods, and the fiscal pressures of rapid urbanization. This research is brought together in a co-edited volume, Challenges in the Process of China’s Urbanization (Brookings Institution Shorenstein APARC Series, 2017), with Karen Eggleston and Wang Yiming. Included in this volume is her “Institutional Challenges in Providing Affordable Housing in the People’s Republic of China,” with Niny Khor.
As a member of the research team who began studying in the late 1980s one county in China, Oi with Steven Goldstein provides a window on China’s dramatic change over the decades in Zouping Revisited: Adaptive Governance in a Chinese County (Stanford University Press, 2018). This volume assesses the later phases of reform and asks how this rural county has been able to manage governance with seemingly unchanged political institutions when the economy and society have transformed beyond recognition. The findings reveal a process of adaptive governance and institutional agility in the way that institutions actually operate, even as their outward appearances remain seemingly unchanged.