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Note: The application window for the 2020 Sixth Tone Fellowship is currently CLOSED.

Research Topic

The theme of the 2020 Sixth Tone Fellowship is “Social Innovation and Rural China.”

The economic reforms of the past forty years stimulated China’s economy and unleashed an array of productive economic forces, but for years gains were largely concentrated in the country’s urban areas. Recently, however, new social organizations have sprouted up across the Chinese countryside, bringing with them innovative approaches and ideas for revitalizing China’s rural hinterland. The question now becomes: Can non-state actors and social organization reinvigorate rural China? And if so, how?

With academic support from our partner, the Fudan Development Institute at Fudan University, Sixth Tone will fund 15 young professionals from around the world to explore how China’s grassroots are responding to the country’s call for rural revitalization. Beginning in May 2020, Sixth Tone Fellows will spend six weeks in China, conducting research and performing fieldwork in locations all over the country.

Of the 15 available fellowships, a maximum of four will be set aside for visual artists in residence. These Fellows will take up residency in villages around China, where they will have the opportunity to explore rural issues through their own unique lenses.

We encourage applicants to frame their research proposal with the following fields in mind:
1) Economics
2) Talent Attraction and Retention
3) Culture
4) Ecology
5) Governance


After arriving in China, Fellows will participate in a one-week group tour of selected organizations to get a general picture of the state of social innovation in China. They will also attend a panel on rural revitalization organized by the Fudan Development Institute.

Fellows will then split up to conduct self-driven fieldwork on their topics of interest.

Potential fieldwork sites:
-Zhejiang province: Tonglu, Deqing (village tourism, local craftsmanship)
-Guangdong province: Shunde, Kaiping, Conghua (cultural preservation)
-Yunnan province: Dali, Shaxi (cultural preservation, migration and rural gentrification)
-Shaanxi province: Yuan Village (collective economy, village governance)
-Shanxi province: Yongji (grassroots organization and governance, women’s empowerment)

During the program’s final week, fellows will return to Shanghai, where they’ll attend an academic workshop and take part in a panel discussion with experts in rural commerce. Visual arts fellows will also present their work in a gallery format.


1) The program is open to young scholars and visual artists with less than 10 years of professional experience.
2) Applicants should possess a strong command of written English and spoken Chinese. Ability to communicate in the dialect of your chosen site is a plus. The program team cannot provide dialect and translation services.
3) Those with a background in sociology, anthropology, economics, or related majors will be given preference for the 2020 fellowship. We encourage tandem applications from a scholar and a visual artist interested in the same theme.
4) Applicants should demonstrate a deep understanding of rural China and related issues.
5) Applicants should demonstrate diligence, as well as an ability to work under pressure and in difficult conditions.
6) An active presence on social media is a plus.

Publication requirements

While in China, each fellow will be responsible for writing at least one approximately 800-word commentary article, including pictures and/or videos, to be published on the websites of Sixth Tone and its sister publication, The Paper.

One month after the end of their fellowship, non-artist fellows must submit a 2,000-word policy report based on their fieldwork to both Sixth Tone and the Fudan Development Institute.

Visual artists fellows must submit a visual project to Sixth Tone, which will arrange an exhibition. Photos and videos are both welcomed. Photo projects should include a minimum of 20 photos, and videos should be a minimum of 3 minutes.


Sixth Tone will pay for a round trip airline ticket to Shanghai, all fieldwork related flights, and train/bus costs incurred within China, and housing.


May 4 to June 12, 2020 (subject to change)

How to apply

Applicants should send the following materials to fellowship@sixthtone.com with the email subject of “Your Name + Category (scholar or visual artist or a team of both) + Desired Fieldwork Site.”
1) Personal resume;
2) Self-introduction video in Chinese or English (under one minute);
3) Two letters of recommendation;
4) Detailed research proposal or filming plan (in English, 2 pages);
5) Samples of your past work to demonstrate your research ability and story-telling skills for mass media.

Sixth Tone and the FDDI will invite a steering committee of experts to review candidates’ applications and make the final selections.

As being able to communicate with local residents is a must when doing field research in China, applicants may have to demonstrate their proficiency in Chinese through a telephone or Skype interview.


Applications will be reviewed starting November 1, 2019 (Beijing time). To receive full consideration, applications should be received by that date.