Dr Yan Zhang

BSc (Econ) (Yunnan), MA (Turin), MPhil, PhD

Bye-Fellow, Assistant Tutor, Postgraduate Mentor

College Roles

  • Bye-Fellow
  • Assistant Tutor (Undergraduates)
  • Postgraduate Mentor

University Roles

  • British Academy Research Fellow & Affiliated Lecturer Centre of Development Studies (POLIS)


Telephone: 01223 763928 (College)

Telephone: 01223 764039 (Department)

Email: yz333@cam.ac.uk


Dr Yan Zhang is an economist with a focus on environmental studies and public policy.

She currently works as the British Academy Research Fellow and Affiliated Lecturer at the Centre of Development Studies, Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, where she is leading the British Academy research project on China’s transformative energy governance.

Yan received her PhD from Cambridge with a focus on China’s governance and transformations in renewable energy and water governance, in particular political economy analysis of hydropower development along the Lancang-Mekong River.

As an economist with a strong background in environmental studies, political/institutional economics, and development studies, Yan also has six years’ first hand work experience of public policy and practice in the Chinese government.

She is a Visiting Fellow at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy and leading a small project on “Can the innovation-centred city-cluster approach drive Chinese urban sustainability? Case of Yangtze River Economic Belt”.

She serves as the Research Associate of “Belt and Road” Initiative and Chinese development at the China Centre of Jesus College.

Her research monograph Governing the Commons in China (Routledge, 2017) was published by the Routledge Studies on the Chinese Economy series. She is producing a second monograph from her current research project on the social-ecological systems model by the Oxford University Press, and she is also editing a book about Yunnan as a local state in China’s global interactions (Routledge).

Research Interests

Dr Yan Zhang’s research embraces multi-disciplinary perspectives, which requires the capacity of reaching out to other disciplines. Her research began by asking, what are the ‘commons’ and how can we best promote and maintain collective action for the most sustainable interactions between human and natural systems?

Her work builds to some extent on Elinor Ostrom’s work, but not uncritically. She examines the dynamic complexity of policies, institutions, governance and human behaviours under the social-ecological system (SES) model to explore scalable and integrated solutions for complex dilemmas.

The research she has been conducting for many years is policy-relevant and empirical: she is particularly excited about water governance as the management of available water resources; renewable energy with a focus on more environmentally sustainable approaches to energy production and consumption; innovation of technology and institutions; and sustainable urbanization approaches, particularly on the Chinese urban development.