Opportunities for Chinese study bring former carpenter to KU
John Kennedy, assistant professor of political science,
meets with a village leader and village party secretary in China’s
Shaanxi Province in October 2000. Kennedy traveled in China and studied
election processes in western, rural China as part of his doctoral dissertation.
He hopes to create an exchange program for students and faculty at KU
and Northwestern University in Xian, China. John Kennedy/Contributed
Professor hopes to initiate new Chinese exchange program for KU
By Jennifer Kepka
There’s a new John Kennedy in the political science department at
KU, but don’t let the name fool you. The elections this Kennedy
is interested in are happening halfway around the globe.
Kennedy, an assistant professor of political science, made his way to
KU last fall after 10 years of study into Chinese political development.
His was not the traditional path to academia, though.
After high school, Kennedy worked as a carpenter for 12 years in California.
Many of his coworkers were Chinese, and many also were concerned about
the course of international politics, particularly as the Cold War wound
“The concern at the time was that we’d be replacing the Russian
bear with the Chinese panda,” Kennedy said.
Fascinated by the stories his coworkers told of the political developments
in western China, Kennedy began taking classes at a local community college
in the evenings, studying political development and Mandarin Chinese.
Eventually, Kennedy quit his carpentry work and earned bachelor’s
and master’s degrees in political science from the University of
His next stop was northwestern China to study the political development
of small villages.
“Chinese economic and social development is extremely uneven,”
Kennedy said. “The eastern and coastal regions are getting richer,
while the western provinces are developing at a slower pace.”
Kennedy spent two years traveling in northwest China and studying village
life with assistance from colleagues at the Northwestern University, Xian.
Kennedy completed his doctoral dissertation on village elections in western
rural China. After earning his Ph.D. in political science from UC-Davis,
Kennedy came to KU to begin teaching.
The town of Xian in China, where NWU is located, is a sister city of Kansas
City, making Kennedy’s connections across the globe feel slightly
more local. Kennedy’s eventual goal is to create an exchange program
between NWU and KU.
He and his colleagues at NWU “want to bring undergraduate and graduate
students to observe and participate in survey research in China.”
He envisions a center that would facilitate research and exchanges of
interest to students and professors of political science, sociology, anthropology,
geography and economics.
Chinese students and teachers also would be invited to visit and study
at KU, Kennedy said. Already, Kennedy and his colleagues have been working
with students in China, training them to conduct surveys. Kennedy, now
fluent in Chinese, will travel to China this summer to do follow-up surveys
from his earlier research and to begin setting up for the exchange program.
He’ll be back in the fall, though, joined soon by his wife, artist
Hong Chun Xang, who is completing her master’s degree in fine arts
Despite his world travels, though, Kennedy said KU is exactly where he
wants to be.
“We have a strong point of doing research in other countries, in
nontraditional places,” Kennedy said. “I love the political
science department here. I like my colleagues, and I love the students.”