HKUST Social Science Professor wins Barrington Moore Book Award
05-08-2014

Prof Wenkai He, Associate Professor from the Division of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), became a co-winner of 2014 Barrington Moore Book Award of the American Sociological Association (ASA) on comparative and historical sociology. He is the first scholar from a non-American university to have won this prestigious award.

Prof He’s publication “Paths Toward the Modern Fiscal State”, which compares the history of modern public finance between England, Japan and China, is hailed by his peers as “a genuinely important piece of scholarship that has the potential to become a benchmark in the literature.” It is now an assigned reading for postgraduate students in several top American universities including the University of Chicago.

Prof James Lee, Dean of Humanities and Social Science, congratulated Prof He for his recent accolade.  “The Barrington Moore Award of the American Sociological Association’s Comparative and Historical Sociology section is an important international and disciplinary recognition of HKUST faculty accomplishment,” he said.  “This is the tenth international prize from a major academic disciplinary association awarded to faculties at the School of Humanities and Social Science, and a major achievement in which we should all take pride.”

Prof He, who is proficient in Japanese as well as English and Chinese, spent more than a year examining archives in The No. 1 Historical Archives of China in Beijing. His work intensively used both historical files and research materials in English, Chinese and Japanese, in an attempt to find the answer to why some governments learned to invest tax revenue in the long-term financial market, and eventually managed to build a modern fiscal state and strengthened their state capacities through the use of fiscal, monetary and financial policies, whereas others did not.

“I have been fortunate to receive so much help and invaluable advice from great experts in this field and colleagues in the School of Humanities and Social Science at HKUST, as well as the participants in the book workshop organized by the School,” said Prof He. “I could not have achieved this without their help.”

In announcing the result, the award committee of ASA said, “Prof He’s book does a wonderful job in moving us beyond the argument that taxation (especially centralized taxation) can only occur in war-time. The care with which he chose these three cases, and the extremely detailed and linguistically taxing archival study he conducted on them impressed us immensely. In the end, his research demonstrates the benefits of an ‘eventful’ institutionalist approach to this particular aspect of modern state-building, one that incorporates not only agency and structure, but also historical contingency.”

Prof He shared this book award with Prof Cybelle Fox from the University of California, Berkeley. Previous recipients of this award include Andrew G Walder of Stanford University, also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, Prof Michael Mann of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Prof Karen Barkey of Columbia University. All of them are prominent scholars in sociology.

Prof He obtained a PhD degree in Political Science and an MA degree in Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is a graduate of Tsinghua University. He was an An Wang post-doctoral fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University before joining the HKUST as an assistant professor in 2008. He will attend the award presentation ceremony in San Francisco on August 16, 2014.

Prof Wenkai He

Prof Wenkai He

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