Observations from a remote village

ICWA Zoom discussion with returning China fellow Matthew Chitwood

Five years ago, China’s Communist Party set a goal to completely eliminate the country’s deep and widespread rural poverty by 2020. How could such a staggering accomplishment even be possible? That’s what ICWA Levinson fellow Matthew Chitwood set out to find out during two years in a remote mountain village in southwestern Yunnan province, where he refurbished and lived in an abandoned mud-brick house.

Recently returned to the United States, Matthew joined executive director Gregory Feifer on June 6, 2020 to discuss his close-up observations of drastic rural social and economic change, the latest major transformation of Chinese society since the country first embarked on economic reform four decades ago. In addition to daily life in the village, he spoke about his extensive travels across the country’s most ethnically diverse region, where rapid economic opening is paying major political dividends to President Xi Jinping as the country expands its influence around the world even as it contends with the effects of Covid-19.


Matthew has developed, managed and taught for study-abroad programs including CET, CIEE and Where There Be Dragons. He has also worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Program. He holds a dual M.A. in China Studies and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and completed the graduate certificate program at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. He’s written for The New Republic, Foreign Policy and The American Interest magazines and is currently working on a book based on his fellowship research.