I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, specializing in political theory. My research and teaching interests include modern Western political, social, and economic thought; political epistemology; moral psychology; and comparative political theory. I have published peer-reviewed articles in The Adam Smith Review and Política & Sociedade and made an invited contribution to Hobbes Studies. At UW–Madison, I have also demonstrated teaching excellence, winning both the College of Letters & Science’s Teaching Mentor Award and the Department of Political Science’s Inaugural Teaching Assistant Award.

My research is motivated by a question at the intersection of the history of political thought and political epistemology: how can citizens get to know their “true interests” in politics? Drawing insights from texts in different historical and cultural contexts, I explore the proper roles that academics in social sciences and humanities ought to play in facilitating the transformation of citizens’ unreflective political preferences into reflective understandings of their interests. In particular, I seek to theorize what academics should do to help citizens perceive their interests in ways that are more resistant to manipulations by partisan elites and less susceptible to cognitive biases caused by power asymmetries. 

My research agenda unfolds in three strands: the first, with my dissertation as its centerpiece, examines social scientists' obligations in creating public knowledge that informs and empowers citizens. The second, consisting of my three publications, explores how awareness of power dynamics can drive innovations in political theory. The third is a planned project that studies political knowledge-making outside the state’s propaganda system in contemporary China.

Originally from Beijing, I received bachelor’s degrees in international politics and history (2012) and a master’s degree in comparative politics (2015) from Peking University. I have also been an exchange student at the University of Tokyo and Seoul National University. Before joining the Ph.D. program at UW–Madison, I studied political theory at Duke University as a master’s student and received an M.A. in political science from Duke in 2017.

Feel free to contact me at xzhao322@wisc.edu