Dear Jude: A Tribute to Jude Howell (1956–2022)
For people who study Chinese civil society, the work of Professor Jude Howell is a familiar staple. For many, it’s an inspiration. For those who had the great luck of knowing Jude, her kindness, good humour, and generosity were every bit as uplifting as her work.
Through a fortuitous phone call from Professor Wang Ming, the director of Tsinghua’s NGO Research Centre, I came to meet Jude in Beijing. She was sitting there with Professor Wang in his office, on one of her frequent visits to see friends at the centre and find out about the latest developments in Chinese civil society. She graciously agreed to take time out of her packed schedule to meet me, a random PhD student she knew nothing about. To me, she was ‘The Professor Jude Howell’—the person whose work on women, power, and civil society in China I had been so gripped by in the Bristol University library. Her work was foundational to my original PhD proposal. And here she was, sitting across from me in a booth in a café by Beijing Normal University, giving me advice on being a woman in academia, on fieldwork, and on taking notes in ways to protect and respect sources and to let interviewees’ voices take pride of place. She asked me about my life and plans. The Jude Howell. If it had not been for that first meeting, I might not have made it through the PhD. Her encouragement and way of making me feel my work was worth it helped me escape a situation at home that could have otherwise broken me. It also struck me that someone so accomplished, whose research was so compelling, could also be so down to earth and kind.
It is difficult to imagine how many others Jude touched like this. It is impossible to capture the full extent of the impact of her research on the study of civil society in China today. But we at the Made in China Journal wanted to try as best we could to capture a little of it, and so the following collection came about.
With the deepest respect and gratitude, and with a promise to keep caring foremost about the people at the heart of the research.
Holly Snape, for the editors
Chris King-Chi Chan
Royal Holloway, University of London
It is so sad to lose Jude, a wonderful friend, and an outstanding scholar.
I was first introduced to Jude by Apo Leung, then Director of the Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC), in 2005, when I was doing my master’s degree at the University of Warwick. According to Apo, Jude’s friendship with the AMRC and Hong Kong labour nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) can be traced back to the early 1980s, when she conducted her PhD research on the Xiamen Special Economic Zone. I still remember how Jude greeted us in Portugal Street on a sunny afternoon.
When I pursued my PhD studies at Warwick from 2005 to 2008 as part of the research team led by Professor Simon Clarke, I was lucky to be able to join some of the events of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Non-Public Actions Programme directed by Jude. Her comments were always sharp and insightful. As a PhD student, I of course admired very much her scholarship in the field of Chinese civil society and was impressed by her leadership in the ESRC program. However, I did not anticipate that Jude would become such a good friend later in my career.
Jude visited Hong Kong frequently and we maintained an ongoing conversation even after I started my job in Hong Kong in 2009. She was invited a few times to present at conferences that I organised at City University of Hong Kong (CityU). In 2012, I put together a special issue for the Journal of Comparative Asian Development, a CityU publication. Jude kindly contributed a seminal paper entitled ‘Civil Society, Corporatism and Capitalism in China’, which called for bringing capitalism back into the study of civil society. I remember that Professor Joseph Cheng, the journal editor, was so happy that Jude, a paradigm-setting scholar in the debates over civil society in China, had agreed to write for us.
Jude’s support for my work went beyond academia. A few years ago, when I was a member of the Board of Directors of AMRC, she conducted an excellent program evaluation for the organisation. My colleagues were so impressed by her commitment and language skills in communicating with workers. We already knew she could understand the Sichuan accent of some Chinese migrant workers, but it was still a surprise to see her interviewing Indian female workers in Hindi.
In 2016, after the crackdown on labour NGOs in China, Jude and Tim Pringle co-organised a workshop in London that was attended by many Chinese labour scholars and activists. Unfortunately, I could not participate due to personal matters. In 2018, as global attention turned to the leftist students’ involvement in the Jasic Technology Factory mobilisation in Shenzhen, Jude visited Hong Kong again. On that occasion, she expressed strong sympathy for those labour NGO employees who had been detained as part of the crackdown, and we ended up co-authoring an op-ed piece with Professor Jack Qiu in Mingpao Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper, to call for the release of all detainees. This was part of the global movement of scholars to support labour NGOs in China that continued from 2015 to 2018—a movement in which Jude played an important role from the United Kingdom.
Shortly after I arrived in England last year, Jude applied for a scholarship to host me at the London School of Economics (LSE), where she was based. The scholarship was donated by the family of Professor Mayling Birney, another excellent scholar in the field of Chinese politics who tragically passed away in 2017. To prepare for my visit, Jude and I had frequent Zoom meetings and email communications until early April 2022. She had serious concerns about the developments in Hong Kong and was planning a workshop about the city for June 2022. Thanks to Jude’s good planning and excellent time management, the conference themes and proposed speakers were discussed as early as February. Jude had also started to consider other initiatives to support activists from Hong Kong. Despite her illness, she was still so organised and efficient.
I was unable to visit Jude in her final days due to the restriction on external visitors at the hospice, but at least three colleagues and friends who saw her then passed me her message that encouraged me to make the workshop happen according to schedule. I sent flowers to express my gratitude. Just a few days before she passed away, I received a warm reply through a friend who had visited her. All of this touched my heart so deeply. I returned from the funeral with some beautiful flowers: her family told me Jude did not want any decoration to be wasted.
Jude, you are such a thoughtful and lovely person. Thank you so much for everything you did for me and other friends from Hong Kong and China. You will be remembered by us all as a wonderful friend, an outstanding scholar, and a committed activist.
University of Westminster and London School of Economics
I did not know Jude very well, although I always imagined we would become close friends. In telephone conversations we had over the last months of her life, we shared a sense of pleasure in anticipating future meetings once the pandemic restrictions on socialising and mobility lifted. It was in these conversations that we began to exchange our mutual experiences of living with physical vulnerabilities. It did not occur to me then that this anticipated future would be so tragically curtailed by Jude’s death. Why did I not put in the time and energy to getting to know her better before it was too late?
Jude was a powerhouse of fantastically well-researched work on labour and women’s rights focusing primarily on China but always analytically situated within broader developmental and geopolitical contexts. Jude’s interests also led her to collaborate with researchers and scholars from the Global South, working on diverse but always politically significant topics, such as changing donor practices and the increasing securitisation of development policies under the impact of the ‘Global War on Terror’. She also wrote about the fundamental changes in the political and economic fabric of Central Asia with the emergence of new nation-states after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It was through her early work (with Gordon White and Shang Xiaoyuan) on civil society that I first came across her when she was just about to move from the University of East Anglia to the University of Sussex. Based on documentary and interview material, this work produced empirically grounded analyses of a range of ‘civil society’ organisations in China, including the official mass organisations such as the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), as well as other new-style social and trade organisations. For me, the book’s arguments concerning the blurred boundaries between such organisations and the Party-State cut a welcome swathe through what had been a certain vogue for applying Habermas-type arguments distinguishing civil and state organisations, which simply did not and could not apply in the historically constituted conditions of the state in contemporary China.
Given my own interests in women and gender in China, I was particularly drawn to Jude’s work on the changing character of the ACWF and the structural impediments to women’s greater political representation in China. At a time when the ACWF had earned itself widespread international condemnation for its failure to stand up against the abuses of women’s bodies during the implementation of the One-Child Policy in the 1980s, Jude adopted a measured approach to the topic of women and gender in China. Rather than simple condemnation of the organisation, she sought to set out the structural challenges facing the ACWF before moving on to critically review the political tensions both within the national organisation and its regional branches and between the organisation and the Chinese Communist Party. This work included a review of the new forms of women’s organisations that emerged particularly after Beijing hosted the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. Jude ultimately argued that in trying to forge a new identity to meet the social and economic challenges engendered by the post-Mao marketisation of the economy, the ACWF was basically unable to carve out a space of autonomy freed from its subordination to the Party-State.
Jude’s work on women’s decreasing rate of political representation at local levels interrogated the challenges faced by the ACWF from the perspective of local village elections. The ACWF’s explanation of the poor rates of women’s political representation focused on the legacy of enduring patriarchal attitudes long pre-dating 1949 that had been internalised by women themselves in a sense of inferiority. Jude accepted this argument but insisted that it overlooked the ideological and structural factors inhibiting women’s greater political representation under market reform. Alongside a much-subdued official discourse upholding gender equality, the public representation of women under market reform largely overturned the empowering images of gender equality of the 1960s and 1970s and, alongside the dismantling of rural collectives and the widespread adoption of the ‘household responsibility’ system, replaced them with images of women propelled back into household-based domestic contexts. The privatisation of childcare services added a further structural and economic element reinforcing the disjuncture between the rhetoric of gender equality and the reality of women’s lives. Neither the language, the content, nor the implementation of laws concerning women’s rights—eventually leading to the Domestic Violence Law in 2015—really came up to the task of what they claimed to do. All in all, in a social and gendered environment in which women were again being sidelined in favour of labour policies privileging men, and in which son preference was still prevalent, there were few incentives for women to buck the gendered trend and run for political office. In making such arguments, however, Jude took care to point out that market reform had enabled many women to benefit from its competitive advantages.
Jude was an enthusiastic supporter of activist feminist and LGBTQ initiatives in China. One of the last occasions we crossed paths in person was at a screening and Q&A session at the LSE of a film by Jude’s friend, the queer filmmaker and my former PhD student, He Xiaopei. It was then that I was brought face to face with the evidence in Jude’s appearance of the disease that finally killed her.
But, true to her resilient style, she continued to work and speak out on important and controversial issues. The last occasion I saw her was at a panel discussion in March 2019 on China’s reeducation camps in Xinjiang, chaired by the anthropologist Hans Steinmuller. In the form I had come to associate with her, she integrated an analysis of the Chinese Government’s explanations of what was happening in Xinjiang with a tempered but clear critique of Beijing’s policies and of the diminishing space for civil society activity in China under President Xi Jinping.
Jude’s fundamental political and ethical commitments to speaking out against the violation of human and civil rights not only in China, but across the globe and including the United Kingdom, are what drove her work as an academic. Yet, in contrast to many more strident academics, she sought to balance her critiques with well-documented accounts of the different positions taken by the various actors and institutions involved, from their own positionality rather than from a fixed ideological position embedded in the liberal values of Western democracy. Her profound knowledge of, familiarity with, and friendships with people across China’s political spectrum within both government and civil society gave her insights into their perspectives and positions that enabled her to mount persuasive critiques that went far beyond the binaries of outright condemnation.
Jude and I shared enough bonds to sustain an imagined future of friendship. Beginning with the most obvious, we both worked on China and, more specifically (though never exclusively), on women and gender. Our approach to our work as researchers and teachers was underpinned by shared political commitments to understand the structural conditions sustaining class and gender inequalities and to use our voices to advocate for change. Neither of us really had much time for the institutional trappings of elite academia.
At a time when research funding has been increasingly channelled to topics that correspond with corporate agendas, Jude never gave up on her determination to continue to reach out across linguistic, social, cultural, and political divides as the basis for being able to advocate for the needs of the disadvantaged. It is up to future scholars to take up the challenge of continuing this legacy.
University of New South Wales
Professor Jude Howell’s departure leaves a strong sense of loss among scholars who have devoted their academic careers to making sense of China’s development and the fate of its people during this process. She was an inspiration for my own academic career and for that of many other scholars.
I first met Jude in 2003–04, not long after she became the Director of the Centre for Civil Society at the LSE. She was an avid China-watcher and I was an early career social policy researcher. In a sense, it was good I only met her then, because I would not have understood her if we had met much earlier.
My education in China took place in the 1980s and the 1990s. It was an exciting time as the country opened to the outside world. In the classrooms, teachers conveyed to students the high hope of embracing a completely new era in which people would forget the endless political debates and focus on fulfilling their personal dreams. They criticised anything that was remotely ‘left-leaning’ and openly advocated slogans like ‘time is money’ and ‘efficiency is life’. The ‘can-do’ mentality was strong. In the university, our professors were often from US and Canadian universities, or Chinese returnees from the West. To us, economics thinking was ‘scientific’, ‘logical’, and ‘solid’. The professors were often happy to add to that list that ‘economics is value-neutral’. That statement fit the spirit of the time: people were traumatised by endless politics and the need to announce their political stance before doing anything. At the time, Jude was conducting research on social issues arising from the radical economic reform. The economists would have considered her ‘left-leaning’. Her focus on workers’ rights and unions would be perceived as standing in the way of economic liberalisation and as re-creating burdens the country had only just shaken off.
The Social Policy Department at LSE had two main programs: General Social Policy and Social Policy and Development. The General Social Policy program was very much UK-focused, with a couple of courses on European social policy. The Social Policy in Development program was about how people and communities in the ‘Third World’ sustained their livelihoods and made ends meet. Chinese students coming to the United Kingdom saw this as a not so difficult choice. Clearly, being able to talk about UK and European social policy would give us a more competitive edge if we were to return to China. And, since I was in the General Social Policy program, I did not meet Jude during my studies.
I first heard people mention Jude’s name when I visited the NGO Research Centre at Tsinghua University in 2002. The students and scholars there were very aware of her writing and assumed we must have known each other, as we both worked at LSE. I finally met her after I returned to the United Kingdom. I found that my approach to social policy was quite different from hers. Like many Chinese scholars concerned with social inequality, I was asking for more inclusive government policies. Jude advocated instead for more room for civil society.
Starting in 2005, I became much more appreciative of the governance challenge in social policy. I attended several workshops organised by Jude. She invited fellow researchers from China to hold joint events. Apart from the subject matter, the way Jude treated her Chinese research partners was refreshing. It was still a time when China studies were exotic to most. The ‘mainstream’ Western scholars did not refrain from showing pity to the Chinese people. Some Western scholars were comfortable talking about their touristic knowledge of China as if it were academic research and, when a Chinese scholar disagreed with a speaker, they were accused of being brainwashed. Jude was different. She gave a platform to her Chinese research partners and allowed them to express views that could be challenging to hers. That made her events intellectually stimulating. She treated her Chinese colleagues with respect and at the same time did not shy from asking difficult questions. To me, that was truly liberating.
Our paths separated again after I left for Australia. Later, Jude visited The Australian National University for three months, but unfortunately at that time I had to travel to China for field research. What a miss!
In September 2019, we organised a Chinese Social Policy Forum in the Australian Social Policy Conference at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. We invited a panel of distinguished scholars from Europe, the United States, and Asia who had worked on China’s social policy for decades. The line-up included several generations of scholars who talked about the ups and downs in their research careers. Jude was on the panel, and she shared her experience conducting field research in China. It was satisfying to see a room full of young Chinese and Australian scholars showing great interest in learning about social policy in China.
To a large extent, China research is often about the researchers themselves. Some are curiosity-driven and others agenda-driven. Some are reflective and others more prescriptive. Some think they can save the world and some just want to appreciate the world. People’s attitudes towards China may change as the situation in China changes. Their attitudes may also change as their own circumstances change.
One of Jude’s earliest publications was titled ‘China Opens Its Doors’. Covid-19 made it impossible for researchers to visit China and for Jude and me to meet, though we did participate in some online events. China became almost like a mirage that was far away and illusive. For scholars, decades of passionate intellectual pursuit and connections could be cut off in no time and some find themselves engulfed in the new dynamics of international relations. The last I heard from Jude was when she sent a message that she had received confirmation of a new special issue, and that she missed doing field research in China. A few weeks later, she left us forever.
Rest in Peace.
SOAS University of London
Jude and I knew each other for a long time. Our relationship evolved from interviewer to colleague, co-author, close friend. Combined, these different aspects meant more to me than the sum of their parts. I think Jude felt the same way, but then you had to spend a lot of time with Jude before personal feelings were cautiously revealed. She always seemed much more interested in other people and politics. Jude was a feminist and a socialist who maintained an intense opposition to neoliberalism and, in Jude’s words, the ‘triumphalism of capitalism’ that came with it. At her humanist funeral and on Jude’s written instructions, the celebrant handed out badges for us all to wear that proclaimed, ‘Fuck the Tories!’. I’ve worn it to every union meeting since.
I first met Jude in Hong Kong in 1998 when she interviewed me as a resident labour activist and researcher. I was struck by Jude’s quiet but determined pursuit of the consequences of existing conditions. At the time, most English-language labour scholarship was highly critical of the ACFTU and its legal obligation to operate under Communist Party leadership. While Jude did not shy away from a critical analysis of the ACFTU’s representative capacity, she was more focused on how unions were faring in China’s dramatic transition from a planned economy in which ‘socialist’ unions focused on production targets and distribution of workplace welfare. The re-emergence of capitalist social relations required the ACFTU to improve its representative performance or lose all relevance to both workers and even the party itself. Jude’s interest and research in this challenge that still confronts trade unions in China were not restricted to a scholarly perspective. For her, it was also about the potential to improve the lives of millions of workers.
I recall meeting Jude a few years later at a conference in Hong Kong on trade unions in China when things seemed to be edging in the right direction. Her mood was a mixture of palpable excitement and scholarly scepticism, and her contributions to the debates reflected it. In 2003, Jude published an important paper entitled ‘Trade Unionism in China: Sinking or Swimming?’ in the Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics. She rightly predicted continued growth in labour unrest but also that the unions were unlikely to ‘muster a force of union activists who are sufficiently competent to dampen the tide of unrest’. Despite some progress in union practice in Guangdong after the famous Honda strike of 2010, events have proved Jude largely correct.
Jude’s research was not confined to trade unions or China. She lived and worked in India, Mozambique, and Jordan, building a reputation for research on civil society and international development that helped her secure numerous grants. She was rightly proud of her time leading the Economic and Social Research Council program on Non-Governmental Public Action and the tangible impact of the research the program produced. Jude regretted very much that Covid-19—not cancer—kept her out of China in her final years although she maintained contact with colleagues and co-researchers there.
Jude was a prolific author throughout her academic career and continued to publish even after doctors informed her that treatment options for her cancer had run out. The news made little difference to her work rate and she continued to teach, research, and publish. Just six weeks before she died, Jude and I met to discuss an update to a previous publication we had co-authored on authoritarianism. In sum, Jude published one single-authored book, five co-authored books, and seven edited or co-edited books, alongside numerous peer-reviewed academic articles.
She joined the Executive Committee Board of The China Quarterly in 2012 and made a significant and enthusiastic contribution to the journal through participation in executive committee board meetings and rigorous reviews of manuscripts. Along with Professor Jane Duckett, Jude co-edited a well-received special section reassessing social policy in China during the Hu Jintao–Wen Jiabao era that was published in The China Quarterly in 2019.
I recall so well an intense period of working with Jude between 2017 and 2019. Along with Regina Enjuto Martinez, we planned, organised, ran, and wrote up a workshop involving 25 labour activists and academics working on China in the aftermath of a serious and ongoing crackdown on labour NGOs. Many have since written to express profound sadness at her death and I will here relay fond words of remembrance from people embedded in that challenging environment. Labour scholar Wang wrote that ‘Jude is a wonderful guide inspiring us to explore society and people’s wellbeing’; May Wong said: ‘Jude did a great job supporting Chinese women workers, and we love her very much.’
Jude’s rigorous and thought-provoking scholarly work aside, I will remember her most for her friendship, humour, optimism, and love. Even when she was very ill, Jude maintained an interest in and concern for the ups and downs of my own life and those of mutual friends and colleagues. I both leaned on and learnt from Jude as we spent hours despairing at the marketisation of higher education, union struggles at work, and the ever-increasing workloads that fall particularly on early career academics employed on insecure contracts. Our friendship strengthened over long hikes in the beautiful South Downs of East Sussex where we both live and during which Jude even talked about herself now and again. I walked the Downs this morning thinking about how to write up these recollections, stopping in places we had rested to take in the view, and feeling her presence all around me. Rest in peace, my brave friend.
University of New South Wales
Professor Jude Howell and I first met in the early 1990s. Our collaboration began with our research on Chinese civil society. I started as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex in 1991 and worked there as a research officer until 1998. From the very beginning, I was mentored by Professor Gordon White, a well-known researcher on China. Jude was also studying at the IDS at the time. Back then, China was still in the early stages of its ‘Reform and Opening Up’. Although still weak, civil society was beginning to grow, and Professor White proposed a study on the topic, which then gained funding support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Jude had a strong interest in both China and civil society and so, when the study began, she joined our research team. This was the first collaborative research on which Jude and I worked together.
At that time, the political climate in China was still shadowed by the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, but Chinese society was moving step by step towards greater openness as the economic system was reformed. I organised the field investigations for this project in China. Our surveys focused on the development and evolution of trade unions, women’s federations, and various industry associations, and also covered workers’, women’s, and entrepreneurs’ groups. Both Gordon and Jude travelled to China and participated directly in the fieldwork in Shenyang and Beijing.
Working closely together, I was deeply impressed by Jude’s concerns about the conditions of workers and the trade union movement, her clear understanding of the development of civil society organisations, and the profoundness and boldness of her academic insights. At that time in China, it was still risky to conduct such research. We could not claim that the research was explicitly on NGOs, as the notion of ‘nongovernmental’ was deemed ‘anti-government’ back then, and it was therefore not safe to do such research. The concept of NGO was officially accepted only in 1995, when the UN Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. The event also included a large NGO forum, and the All-China Women’s Federation defined itself as an NGO to host the conference. As a result, China accepted the concept of ‘nongovernment’ and the perception that NGOs were not anti-government organisations. The output of this research project was our joint book In Search of Civil Society: Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China, published in 1996 by Oxford University Press—the first work in English on the development of civil society in China since the beginning of Reform and Opening Up. Professor White was the spiritual leader of the study, and Jude was also credited for her invaluable contribution.
I started my PhD studies at the University of Sussex in 1995. After receiving my PhD, I left the IDS and later worked at the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at the University of New South Wales in Australia. I had no direct academic collaboration with Jude for a considerable period back then, but I consistently followed her research. I was moved by her attention to Chinese trade unions and workers’ movements. Her research on NGOs has been a great inspiration to me and my colleagues at the SPRC in our research on child welfare organisations in China. During this period, we focused on the development of NGOs and the growth of civil society in China from our different perspectives. In 2015, my colleague Karen Fisher and I set out to conduct a research project on nongovernmental child welfare organisations in China. The subject was closely related to Jude’s research on civil society, and she was delighted to accept our invitation to participate in the project and came to Sydney several times to meet and discuss with our team. We also met in Beijing to reflect on our reunion and renewed collaboration. The year 2018 saw the publication of the output of this project, the book NGOs and Accountability in China: Child Welfare Organizations, which Jude and I co-authored with Karen Fisher and was published by Palgrave Macmillan. This was Jude’s last monograph published during her lifetime.
After reuniting with Jude, our research areas were once again reunited, and this produced fruitful results. From a social policy development perspective, the SPRC team planned to study the Chinese Government’s fledgling practice of purchasing public services, with the expectation that this new policy initiative would have a positive impact on the provision of child welfare services and avoid some of the negative shocks experienced in the West. Jude readily agreed to collaborate with us on the study.
At the same time, Jude was also keenly aware of the important implications of this new policy for the development of NGOs in China. She therefore proposed and led the ESRC study ‘The Politics of Services Subcontracting to NGOs in China’, which was carried out in both the United Kingdom and Australia. I was very much hoping that the cross-disciplinary collaboration with Jude would lead to a fresh meeting of minds and new outputs. Unfortunately, before the study was completed, Jude suddenly left us and the academic work she loved without seeing the full results of the study published.
My acquaintance, friendship, and many years of academic collaboration with Jude began with our joint work on Chinese civil society. Until Jude’s passing, the themes of our collaboration always remained the development of civil society and the relationship between the state and civil society. Jude’s dedication to topics related to civil society reflected her pursuit of the ideals of democracy, freedom, and human rights. Civil society in China has emerged since Reform and Opening Up and has gradually developed but remains weak. Although the current space for the activities of civil society in China is limited, eventually it will gain its own independent status. There is belief that Jude’s vision will eventually be realised.
In my fond memories of Jude, she was a deeply compassionate person who had a great love for wildlife, bushwalks, and other outdoor pursuits. She had a deep concern about environmental issues and ate only vegetarian food. I never came to learn that she had cancer until the very end of her life. She hid her personal suffering from us and never talked about herself. On reflection, I think she must have made a double effort to fight against her disease and to carry out truly excellent research.
May Jude rest in peace.
Social Innovations Advisory (formerly, China Labour Bulletin and China Development Brief)
I like to think that Jude and I shared the same trajectory in terms of our interest in China. We both did our dissertation research about the same time and on similar topics, exploring the political economy of China’s opening to the world based on fieldwork in Xiamen. But later we gravitated to writing about, and working on behalf of, civil society and labour. I remember in my last conversation with Jude, back in January of this year (2022), reminiscing about our shared fondness for the lovely port city of Xiamen where we had done our early fieldwork. At the end of our conversation, I sent her a photo of a recent trip I had taken to Xiamen to show her how much things had changed there.
The similarities between Jude and me ended there, of course, because Jude went on to a storied academic career, writing many books and articles on civil society, labour, and gender not only in China but also in other parts of the developing and developed worlds. The breadth of her scholarship was truly remarkable. She managed to be a specialist, a generalist, and a practitioner all at the same time. She was a distinguished China scholar, producing wonderful analyses of an emerging civil society, and the politics of gender and labour. But she also came to be known as a distinguished development specialist, writing broadly, critically, and practically about the relationship between civil society and development.
Jude of course never let any of her success go to her head. She was a very humble, very real person, more interested in hearing about your life than in talking about her own projects and achievements. I had the chance to get to know her better as a person when she came to stay with us in Guangzhou a few years ago. She insisted on bringing us coffee and tea from the United Kingdom, and we spent most of the time telling her about our own lives. When she left, I realised I had not had much of a chance to ask her about her own life and work.
Underlying much of Jude’s work was an interest in using her scholarship to make a difference in people’s lives—for example, highlighting the role of workers and women in their pursuit of empowerment and equality. The practitioner/activist side of Jude was apparent when I was invited by Jude and Tim Pringle to London in 2015 for a workshop on new developments in state–labour relations in China. Present at the workshop were not only younger scholars, but also several labour practitioners from Hong Kong NGOs that had been assisting Chinese workers and labour activists for years.
Back in 2014, when I first began working at the China Labour Bulletin, Jude was the first person I thought of to carry out an evaluation of our women workers’ program in China. Her body of work, and her concern for advancing the interests of women and workers, made her the perfect candidate. She of course jumped at the opportunity and spent many hours interviewing the women worker leaders involved in the program during a period when labour activists in China were coming under greater scrutiny and pressure from the government. Despite these challenges, within a few months, Jude produced an amazing evaluation that showed an astute understanding of the program, a wonderful eye for important practical details and gaps, and offered a valuable and realistic set of recommendations.
Thinking back on that time, I am hard pressed to come up with another person so perfectly suited to carry out that evaluation. It says something about the gap her passing has left in the China field—a gap I know will be filled by younger scholars inspired by Jude’s work and mentorship. She will be sorely missed.
Jessica C. Teets
Middlebury College, Vermont
Jude Howell was serving as Professor of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science when she passed away, and her scholarship and mentorship leave a legacy for those of us studying civil society in China. She epitomised a scholar truly in love with learning, researching a wide variety of topics all over the world, and serving as a public intellectual, sharing her findings widely with practitioners, the media, and government and intergovernmental agencies. She is my academic role-model: generous with her time and encouragement for junior scholars, rigorous in her research, and willing to ensure that her findings have policy relevance. Thus, I was grateful when the editors invited me to contribute to a memorial issue and, as I reflected on her influence on my career and scholarship, I also reached out to several friends and colleagues to share a more collective reflection. I have identified their thoughts below, and through this process I was able to see how widely Jude impacted her community and how much she will be missed.
Jude was intensely curious and researched widely in the broad interdisciplinary field of development studies, studying the politics of policy processes, state–society relations, the securitisation of aid, and authoritarianism and development in China, India, Mozambique, Jordan, Malawi, Kenya, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu. However, I first became familiar with her based on her research on civil society in China as I began my dissertation fieldwork in 2006. Jude was able to break through the democratisation lens that was so predominant when she published her first articles on civil society in China and focused on what these emergent NGOs were accomplishing and how they were organising themselves. She understood that civic participation was vital for development and good governance, and she devoted her scholarship to studying how best to bring citizen voices into this process—in China and around the world.
Her approach influenced my work on civil society in China, and I also focused on good governance and how to bring civic participation into the policymaking process in authoritarian regimes. Jennifer Hsu at the Lowy Institute echoed my experience:
Jude’s writings were an indispensable part of my graduate studies in the mid 2000s. As I was doing my PhD, I thought I had come across the jackpot with Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration (which she wrote with Jenny Pearce) and In Search of Civil Society Market Reform and Social Change in Contemporary China (which she wrote with Gordon White and Shang Xiaoyuan). She effortlessly fused the study of civil society, development studies, and China. After years of reading her work, I finally met her in person at a conference in Cambridge in 2008. It was only much later in my career that I realised this diminutive figure was a marathon runner. This intellectual giant continued at a frantic pace in her work on Chinese civil society and I shall always be in her academic debt.
Her recent work on civil society in China explored the idea of NGO accountability and contracting of social services, which is the next generation of civil society research. This initial research has already been influential in establishing a foundation for understanding NGO contracting and, as Carolyn Hsu remarked: ‘I cited her in almost everything I ever published. She was clearly the giant upon whose shoulders we stood.’ Most scholars studying civil society in China would agree that Jude’s research created a strong foundation for our future research.
In addition to her leadership role with scholarship, she believed very strongly that research should be shared widely with communities, NGOs, and policymakers. She worked hard to make her research accessible, including consulting widely for international development agencies such as the UN Development Programme, UNICEF, the International Labour Organization, Australian Aid, Ford Foundation, the UK Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Save the Children, the British Council, Christian Aid, and the Asia Monitor Research Centre. Her research helped establish new frameworks for state–civil society engagement and partnership that served to strengthen the advocacy role played by NGOs. At the time of her death, she was directing an ESRC research grant on the politics of government contracting of welfare services to NGOs in China, and I believe this project, too, will help shape government contracting to NGOs for decades to come.
Although we will miss her scholarship and her public intellectual role, in my opinion, the biggest loss is that of Jude’s mentorship. As Timothy Hildebrandt (LSE) remembers:
Although I came to study Chinese civil society and NGOs in the relatively early years of the mid 2000s, I was acutely aware that even then I was standing on the shoulders of giants—or, to be more accurate, one particular giant: Jude Howell. So, you can imagine my excitement, but also trepidation, when I joined the LSE, where Jude spent the last part of her career. My imposter’s syndrome was in full force. But I soon came to appreciate that, though a scholarly giant, Jude was exceedingly gentle and caring. She made me feel like I always belonged and that my work was truly valuable.
Like Tim, I also benefited from Jude’s mentorship and support when I first began studying civil society in China. As a young scholar trying to figure out your research focus and how best to make a scholarly contribution, you face a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt. When I shared some of my initial research with Jude, she was so encouraging and made me feel like this was a project worth continuing. That work of course culminated in my book project, Civil Society under Authoritarianism: The China Model (Cambridge University Press, 2014). I would not be where I am today without her initial encouragement, and I hope I may learn from her example to always do rigorous, thought-provoking research, to make my research accessible to policymakers and the broader public, and to support and encourage new scholars in the field. This is a powerful legacy that Jude created that lives on in me and everyone with whom she interacted.