Cheng Li


Cheng Li.png
  • Director, John L. Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution
  • Board Director, National Committee on U.S.-China Relations


Li grew up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. In 1985 he came to the United States, where he received a M.A. in Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University. From 1993 to 1995, he worked in China as a fellow with the U.S.-based Institute of Current World Affairs, observing grassroots changes in his native country. Based on this experience, he published a nationally acclaimed book, Rediscovering China: Dynamics and Dilemmas of Reform (1997).

Li is also the author or the editor of numerous books, including China’s Leaders: The New Generation (2001), Bridging Minds Across the Pacific: The Sino-U.S. Educational Exchange 1978-2003 (2005), China’s Changing Political Landscape: Prospects for Democracy (2008), China’s Emerging Middle Class: Beyond Economic Transformation (2010), The Road to Zhongnanhai: High-Level Leadership Groups on the Eve of the 18th Party Congress (in Chinese, 2012) and The Political Mapping of China’s Tobacco Industry and Anti-Smoking Campaign (2012). He is currently completing two book manuscripts: Chinese Politics in the Era of Collective Leadership and Middle Class Shanghai: Pioneering China’s Global Integration. He is the principal editor of the Thornton Center Chinese Thinkers Series published by the Brookings Institution Press.

Li has advised a wide range of government, business and non-profit organizations on working in China. He is a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a member of the Academic Advisory Group of the Congressional U.S.-China Working Group, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a director of the Committee of 100. Before joining Brookings in 2006, he was the William R. Kenan professor of government at Hamilton College, where he had taught since 1991.

Li has been a recipient of fellowships or research grants from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Freeman Foundation, the Peter Lewis Foundation, the Crane-Rogers Foundation, the Emerson Foundation, the United States Institute of Peace, Hong Kong Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. From 2002 to 2003, he was a residential fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

He is frequently called on to share his unique perspective and insights as an expert on China. He has recently appeared on CNN, C-SPAN, BBC, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, PBS NewsHour, Charlie Rose, Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria and NPR’s Diane Rehm Show. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, The Economist, Newsweek, Business Week, Foreign Policy magazine and numerous other publications. Li is also a columnist for the Stanford University journal China Leadership Monitor. He is a regular speaker and participant at the Bilderberg Conference.