Fellowship on Social Groups & Media 2017, Mercator Institute for China Studies, Germany

Publish Date: Feb 01, 2017

Fellowship in the Research Programme “Society”

Focus: Social Groups & Media

The Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) is a research and analysis institute established in 2013 and based in Berlin. MERICS conducts independent, practical and policy-oriented research on China. MERICS provides the public with insight into China through up-to-date research and communication. It informs decision-makers in politics, business and society and acts as a key contact for the media. MERICS is an initiative of Stiftung Mercator, a major private European foundation.

This research programme analyses the political challenges posed by increasing social friction and focuses on two main issues: on the one hand, chances and limitations for societal organisation in the context of increasing surveillance and control; on the other hand, the struggle on information control and credibility between state and society paying particular attention to the interplay between social networks and state-controlled media.

Society|Social Groups and Media

Chinese society has grown increasingly varied over the years: people’s incomes, working environments, lifestyles and personal values now differ from one another more than ever. New technologies and social media are making new kinds of communication and information possible as well as helping people develop and share opinions about issues in a novel way. The friction and demands created as a result have been putting the Chinese Government under growing pressure, however.

The urban middle class, particularly the ‘urban professionals’ (i.e. lawyers, journalists, IT experts and scientists, among others), have developed increasingly high expectations regarding their personal quality of life. They criticise shortcomings in the way the country is run, e.g. China’s serious problem of widespread environmental pollution, and the lack of food safety. Anyone who is in a position to do so will try and move their assets and their family abroad if possible – or at least ensure they gain the right to permanent residence there.

Groups of people living on low incomes such as rural migrant labourers and farmers are still struggling with a system granting unequal access to education and social services. Expropriation of land and property, environmental damage and employment disputes are the main reasons for an increasing known number of protests in the PRC increasing.

To ensure the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party in the twenty-first century, Xi Jinping needs to have a society exhibiting both economic dynamism and political conformity at the same time; enthusiastic and innovative private entrepreneurs are meant to help China on its way to becoming a high-tech, digital nation. In contrast, Beijing rigorously suppresses independent organisations representing private citizens’ interests and any divergent notions of political order.

At a time when the economy is showing signs of weakening, the Chinese state could mobilise nationalist sentiment to divert people’s attention away from domestic problems. The Government would then find itself under pressure to show citizens that its verbal threats were not just empty rhetoric, however.

MERICS’ Society programme analyses the political challenges posed by increasing social friction and focuses on two main issues:

Chances and limitations for societal organisation

Despite seeing increasing surveillance and control, the internet still makes it possible for users to network with other people in various ways. Religious groups, demobbed soldiers and discontented workers, in particular, have developed an amazing ability to mobilise the like-minded for their causes through such virtual channels and then meet one another in the real world. Research focuses especially on two questions:

  • What ideas and organisational resources do the individual groups possess?
  • What direct or indirect influence do they exert on Chinese politics? 

(The) Struggle on information control and credibility (between state and society) 

Currently, what the general public learns and thinks about an event in China is influenced more by social networks than by the state-controlled media. The Chinese leadership has realised that it can’t get public opinion on its side by censorship alone. Two questions are of special interest here 

  • How exactly do China’s netizens shape debates on relevant political, economic and social topics?
  • And how does this influence the Chinese Government’s communications policy at home and abroad?

MERICS is looking for internationally outstanding scholars and experts:

  • With exceptional expertise on societal organisation or media policy in China
  • Preferably for short-term fellowships (between two and three months), in well-justified special cases for long-term fellowships (between four and twelve months). 

Application process:

  • Flexible
  • Applications may be submitted anytime
  • A decision on the granting of the fellowship can be expected approximately four weeks after submission of the application 

What to expect as a MERICS-fellow:

  • Close cooperation with a professional research team
  • Individual research adviser at MERICS
  • Active participation in scientific publications
  • Active involvement in events and workshops, both internal and external
  • An outstanding research location and a high-class global research network
  • Lively scientific exchange in an international environment
  • Individual full-service support before and during the entire stay in Germany


Send an application, if you have gained exceptional expertise on societal organisation or media policy in China based on years of research and/or professional experience, and, if you are willing to share and deepen it in cooperation with MERICS. With your experience, you will contribute actively to the independent research work of one of the largest international research institutes for contemporary China.

Please send your application documents (#1: letter of motivation (2-3 pages) referring explicitly to the respective MERICS research programme; #2: Curriculum Vitae; #3: list of publications or list of equivalent analytical qualifications based on professional experience) to Marie Hoffmann: marie.hoffmann@merics.de.

You can learn more information about the application requirements in the MERICS Fellowship Programme Guidelines here (PDF).

For more information please click "Further Official Information" below.

Further Official Information

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