Alumni Interview: Jessica Chen-Weiss, Founder of FACES

Jessica Chen-Weiss is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University and Research Fellow at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. Her research interests include Chinese politics and international relations, nationalism, and social protest. Her book, Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China's Foreign Relations, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press (Summer 2014). The dissertation on which it is based won the 2009 American Political Science Association Helen Dwight Reid Award for best dissertation in international relations, law and politics.

Her research has appeared in International Organization and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Princeton-Harvard China  & The World Program, Bradley Foundation, Fulbright-Hays program, and the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.

Before joining the Yale faculty, she founded FACES, the Forum for American/Chinese Exchange at Stanford, while an undergraduate at Stanford (B.A., 2003).

She teaches courses on Chinese foreign relations, state-society relations in post-Mao China, and anti-Americanism in world politics.


John:  To start off, what is your involvement with FACES?  Can you speak about your takeaways from you time with FACES?

JCW:  So I founded FACES in 2001 after coming back from a language program in Beijing.  In the aftermath of the 2001 EP3 collision, there was a lot of anger in China over what had occurred, which seemed at odds with the US media’s perception.  So when I came back to campus that fall, I decided to continue these important conversations to try to dispel this kind of miscommunication.

Being a new student group, it took time, including the recruiting of the initial officer core, the other VPs that would help spearhead the effort.  We  had to do a lot of fundraising, pitching the idea, and convincing others that a group like FACES was needed and that we were equipped to lead it.

 When conceiving the conference, we had to think of everything from the panels and who was going to be on them all the way down to who was going to make coffee or rent the golf cart.  A lot of the topics that we focused on were ones I thought really deserved more attention.  There probably was a political, security focus to one of the panels and environment and trade ones as well.  From looking at the programs you have put on, you’ve gotten a lot more innovative.  We were pretty vanilla back then.

 It was a great deal of fun, even if it meant I really didn’t do anything else during my senior spring.  But it was wonderful and one of the experiences that really made my time here at Stanford.

John: As president of the organization, how did FACES contribute and influence your later academic and personal endeavors?

JCW:  FACES is a network that had continued to grow, and one of the things that I’ve found most enriching is going to Beijing, sending out an email, and immediately getting a response of “Let’s get together” - even beyond meeting back up with people I knew from my time at FACES and deepening those friendships, but also meeting new friends and seeing the breadth of experiences that FACES alumni have had.  It is nice to get an email every once in a while saying somebody is doing something amazing, like starting and incredible organization.  I don’t think there are all too many networks that I belong to that are like that.

In fact, I don’t think there are any; FACES is pretty unique and awesome.

John:  Transitioning away from FACES, what type of academic work have you recently been involved with?

JCW:  What galvanized me to start FACES still influenced my academic research today, which is sources of misperceptions of the world regarding domestic politics, US-China relations, and China’s foreign relations.  Originating with my interest in forming more US-China links, the book that I recently wrote looks at the role of nationalism in China’s foreign relations.  I think it is important to understand that the recent crisis between China and Japan heated up due to misperceptions, where the Japanese side thought “this was going to be acceptable to the Chinese side”, and the Chinese said “how can they possibly cross the bottom line”.  The failure to communicate may lead to the first conflict between major powers in many years, according to some experts.  However, I am relatively optimistic about US-China relations.  The student to student and people to people communications are pretty healthy, but there is a real need to bring the poles rather than the centers together.  Groups like FACES tend to bring people of like minds together who are already aware of and interested in bridging these differences, but there are Americans who hate China or people in China who think the United States’ goal is to contain China.  Aiming to bring these opposing views together and dispel these misconceptions may be difficult, but creating a human connection is very important.

John:  So what would it look like when you get people on the poles together, and how would that work better than just reinforcing the values of already interested people?

JCW:  I think it has to do with recruitment: how do you reach out and involve people who’ve not had any experience with China before.  There’s a program at the Woods Foundation that only sends people, who either have never studied Chinese or been to China, to go to China.  FACES can do something similar in its conference, where a designated number of delegates are for people who don’t have that deep of a background, and can therefore learn from the other more well-versed delegates.