On August 26, 2021, the China Journal of Social Work announced the 2020 Best Article Award, honoring a study by an international team of scholars that includes Center for Social Development (CSD) affiliates Michael Sherraden, Li Zou, Suo Deng, Jin Huang, Margaret Sherraden, and Nancy Morrow-Howell, as well as Shanti Khinduka, former dean of the Brown School at Washington University.
Given annually by the journal’s Editorial Committee, the award recognizes the best article published in the prior calendar year. In bestowing the award, the committee cited the study’s “originality, the significance of its findings, and the theoretical contributions to social work in China.”
“We are delighted to accept this award from the China Journal of Social Work, which continues to set the highest standards for social work scholarship in China,” said Michael Sherraden, the study’s lead author. He is the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University and the Founding Director of CSD.
“Re-emergence of social work in modern China: A perspective by Chinese and U.S. partners,” published in the journal’s April 2020 issue, traces social work’s resurgence on the mainland through a case study on a longstanding partnership among Peking University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Washington University in St. Louis.
Study coauthor and Peking University Professor Sibin Wang reflected on the relationship among the institutions. “Over the past two decades, the Peking University–Hong Kong Polytechnic University China Social Work Research Centre and the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, based on mutual respect and trust, have carried out extensive and in-depth exchanges and collaboration on academic research and talent training in the fields of antipoverty, asset building, and financial social work. Peking University’s social work program and the development of social work in China have benefited greatly from this collaboration.”
He added, “The article led by Professor Sherraden crystalizes the fruitful China–U.S. social work academic collaboration. I would like to extend my warm congratulations to the entire team for winning the China Journal of Social Work Best Paper Award, and I look forward to even greater collaboration with Washington University in the future.”
Angelina Woon Ki Yuen-Tsang, another of the study’s authors, said, “The paper is not just an academic endeavor, but it is the result of a long-term visionary partnership between the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and U.S. partners to co-evolve social work education and practice in the Chinese mainland which is practice-based, culturally appropriate and relevant to the local context.” Yuen-Tsang, formerly Vice President of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, codirected the China Social Work Research Centre, a joint effort of Peking University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
She added, “I am privileged to be involved in part of this process, and I hope the partnership will continue to thrive in the years to come.”
“In a world where large political and economic forces can pull people apart, this example of academic and policy collaboration is a small yet meaningful contribution to pulling people together,” the study notes.
The study focuses on research and policy collaborations in the areas of asset building, productive aging, and financial capability. It also discusses the efforts of the partner institutions to infuse research insights from those areas into the training for social workers and other human-service professionals in China.
Impetus for the award-winning article came from a 2018 event at Peking University to mark the 30th anniversary of social work’s re-emergence on the mainland after a decades-long hiatus prompted by the 1949 communist revolution. The gathering drew over 600 policy makers, practitioners, and scholars, including the authors of the study.
“This study details what can be achieved when scholars cross national borders to foster innovation through mutually respectful partnerships,” said Jin Huang, one of the study’s authors. Huang is Professor at Saint Louis University, Research Associate Professor in the Brown School at Washington University, and a CSD Faculty Director.
Renowned for his expertise on financial capability and asset development and their applications in social work on the mainland, Huang leads much of CSD’s work in Asia.
A journey of trust and mutual exchange
The longstanding partnership among Washington University, Peking University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University began in the 1970s through the leadership of then Brown School Dean Shanti Khinduka. It grew through efforts by Peking University Professor Wang and Hong Kong Polytechnic University Professor Yuen-Tsang, who have worked to adapt social work education for mainland China. Washington University formalized the partnership with the two Chinese universities in 1999.
Peking University is also a partner institution of Washington University’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy, which fosters partnerships with and recruits students from the world’s top academic institutions.
CSD’s work on the mainland began in 2004 with an international conference on asset building and social development cohosted with Shandong University Professor Gao Jianguo, a coauthor of the study. CSD subsequently conducted research on the Hutubi Rural Social Security Loan program with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In 2008, CSD advised researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in an evaluation of the HK$300 million Child Development Fund. CSD also worked with study coauthor Ben Hok-Bun Ku, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University on a postearthquake asset-building initiative in Sichuan, China.
CSD, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Peking University have cohosted several academic conferences. Gatherings on productive aging convened in 2009 at Shandong University and in 2011 at Peking University. Both events resulted in books and journal special issues edited by CSD Faculty Director Nancy Morrow-Howell and colleagues. Ageing International devoted a special double issue to papers from the 2011 conference, which drew contributions from six of the McDonnell Academy’s partner universities.
In 2012, CSD and colleagues at the two universities again cohosted a conference at Peking University on asset building and collaborated on the resulting editorial efforts, which led to a special issue of the China Journal of Social Work and to “Asset Building Policies and Innovations in Asia,” a full-length book published both in English and Chinese.
Additional collaborations followed. Study author Deng Suo, Associate Professor at Peking University and CSD Faculty Director in Global Asset Building, has led two pilot projects testing Child Development Accounts for disadvantaged children in China’s Shaanxi province. In 2018, CSD, Peking University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University worked with the China Central University of Finance and Economics to sponsor an international symposium on financial capability in social work. A 2019 project created asset-building accounts for children with disabilities in China.
As the award-winning article notes, a consistent feature of the partnership has been the interest in the development of training content for social workers. Knowledge from the emerging field of “financial social work,” much of it generated through CSD’s work on financial capability and asset building, has become an increasingly prominent part of those educational efforts.
“Social workers wrestle everyday with the financial difficulties of their clients. If we care about what happens in the lives of families and communities, if we want to help families meet their needs, gain financial stability, and set aside resources for the future, we need to equip social workers for the problems they will encounter,” said Margaret Sherraden, an author of the study.
A pioneer in research on financial capability and a leader in financial social work, Margaret Sherraden is a Research Professor in the Brown School and Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She is one of the principals directing CSD’s work on financial capability and asset building. The textbook she coauthored on financial capability for social workers is being translated into Chinese.
The development of financial social work and the financial capability of human-service workers will likely remain the center of future collaborations among the three institutions, said Li Zou, the International Director at CSD and one of the study’s authors.
Acknowledging the partnership’s contributions to mainland social work and human-service education, Zou said, “We are truly honored to have partnered with wonderful colleagues from both Peking University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University to advance our mutually interested research agendas over the past two decades. This award is a great recognition for all team members’ commitment and contribution.”