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David Bulman

Jill McGovern and Steven Muller Assistant Professor of China Studies and International Affairs

U.S. Director of the Pacific Community Initiative


David J. Bulman is the Jill McGovern and Steven Muller Assistant Professor of China Studies and International Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where he is also U.S. Director of the Pacific Community Initiative. His research looks at economic and political development in China and the implications for US-China relations. He focuses on how central-local relations shape political incentives and local economic outcomes, and he analyzes China’s development in a broader comparative lens to provide insights into questions related to growth slowdowns and middle income transitions. Additionally, Bulman’s research analyzes the implications of China’s changing development model for China’s foreign economic behavior and for U.S. foreign policy. His first book, Incentivized Development in China: Leaders, Governance, and Growth in China’s Counties, published by Cambridge University Press in 2016, examined the political foundations of local economic growth in China, focusing on the institutional and economic roles of county-level leaders and the career incentives that shape their behavior. Current research projects further analyze central-local relations and local economic policy implementation in the Xi Jinping era and the global implications of China’s efforts to create a state capitalist welfare state.

Previously, Bulman was an Economist at the World Bank and a China Public Policy Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. He is a 2021-2022 Woodrow Wilson Center China Fellow and a 2021-2023 National Committee on U.S.-China Relations Public Intellectual Program fellow, and he was previously a visiting scholar at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and a University of Chicago and Ford Foundation New Generation China Scholar. Bulman received his MA and PhD in China Studies from Johns Hopkins SAIS and his BA in Economics from Columbia University.


Incentivized Development in China: Leaders, Governance, and Growth in China’s Counties (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Peer-reviewed articles and book chapters

“Instinctive Commercial Peace Theorists? Interpreting American Views of the US–China Trade War.” Business & Politics (forthcoming 2022).
“Picking Losers: How Career Incentives Undermine Industrial Policy in Chinese Cities” (with Xun Yan and Qiong Zhang). Journal of Development Studies (forthcoming 2022).
“Financial Sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative Before and After Covid-19,” in David Arase and Pedro Miguel Carvalho (eds.), The Belt and Road Initiative in Asia, Africa, and Europe  (Routledge, forthcoming 2022).
 “Localism in Retreat? Central-Provincial Relations in the Xi Jinping Era” (with Kyle Jaros). Journal of Contemporary China 30(131) (2021): 697-716.
“The Economic Security Dilemma in US-China Relations.” Asian Perspective 45(1) (2021): 49-73.
“Loyalists, Localists, and Legibility: The Calibrated Control of Provincial Leadership Teams in China” (with Kyle Jaros). Politics & Society 48(2) (2020): 199-234.
“Leninism and Local Interests: How Cities in China Benefit from Concurrent Leadership Appointments” (with Kyle Jaros). Studies in Comparative International Development 54 (2019): 233-273.
“Transitioning from Low-Income Growth to High-Income Growth: Is there a Middle Income Trap?” (with Ha Nguyen and Maya Eden). Journal of the Asia Pacific Economy 22(1) (2017): 5-28. 
“Good Countries or Good Projects?  Comparing Macro and Micro Correlates of World Bank and Asian Development Bank Project Performance” (with Walter Kolkma and Aart Kraay). Review of International Organizations 12(3) (2017): 335-363.
“Expanded Privilege, Adjusted Risks: Developing Countries and Renminbi   Internationalization.” In Carla Freeman (ed.), Handbook on China and Developing Countries (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2015), pp. 226-251.

Policy publications and opinion pieces

“China’s Position in Global Supply Chains: Understanding the Effectiveness of Industrial Policy.” Testimony presented to the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 9, 2022.
“‘Common Prosperity’ and China’s State Capitalist Welfare State: Implications for U.S. Policy.” In Lucas Meyers (ed.) Essays on China and U.S. Policy (Washington, DC: Wilson Center, 2022), pp. 101-132.
“The longer Trump’s China tariffs are in place, the greater the harm to America,” The Hill, February 17, 2022.
The US and China in Asia: Mitigating Tensions and Enhancing Cooperation (editor and contributor).  A publication of the Pacific Community Initiative (Washington, DC: 2019).
World Development Report 2017: Governance and the Law (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2017) (co-principal author with Edouard Al-Dahdah, Deborah Isser, Marco Larizza, Luis Felipe López-Calva, Ezequiel Molina, Abla Safir, Siddharth Sharma, and Yongmei Zhou).
Citizens as Drivers of Change: How Citizens Practice Human Rights to Engage with the State and Promote Transparency and Accountability. (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2017) (co-principal author with Shaazka Beyerle and Berenike Schott).
“The Governance Game” (with Sheheryar Banuri, Luis F. Lopez-Calva, Ezequiel Molina, Abla Safir, and Siddharth Sharma). World Bank Working Paper No. 112876 (2017).
Urban China: Toward Efficient, Inclusive, and Sustainable Urbanization. Contributor. (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014).
China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative Society. Contributor. (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2013).
“Growth in China 1978-2008: Factor Accumulation, Factor Reallocation, and Improvements in Productivity” (with Aart Kraay). World Bank Working Paper No. 92552 (2011).

Work in progress

Current book project: China’s Emerging State Capitalist Welfare State
“Capture versus Redistribution: Local Determinants of Pension Fund SOE Share Transfers in China”
 “Do Official Rotations Diffuse Policies?  Evidence from China”



  • Asia
  • China


  • China Studies
  • Political Economy
  • Economics
  • Governance
  • International Development
  • International Organizations


  • Chinese

In the News

Biden slams 'failed system' of communism amid debates over Cuba, China.

David Bulman quoted on Sinclair Broadcast Group, 07/19

U.S.-China relations remain frigid as officials head into Alaska summit.

David Bulman quoted on Sinclair Broadcast Group, 03/17