By Published: Feb. 14, 2022

Christian "Payne" Hennigan named assistant professor in the School of Economics, where he will also utilize Chinese fluency gained at CU Boulder

Christian "Payne" Hennigan, who will graduate with a PhD in economics from the University of Colorado Boulder this May, has just been named assistant professor in the School of Economics at Peking University—considered one of the most prestigious universities in China.

Hennigan, who will start the position on Sept. 1, 2022, in Beijing, said he considers it an honor to be part of Peking University and a “privilege to be in the capital city of such a dynamic” country.

Christian "Payne" Hennigan

At the top of the page: The West Gate of Peking University (Wikimedia Commons). Above: Christian "Payne" Hennigan.

“I will be around some of the best minds and best students in the world all engaged in the same kind of research that I am doing, with the support and community that comes with that,” Hennigan says. “More generally, I have found that many people in China are very optimistic about the future and full of hope in life. There will be more things going on than I could ever hope to fully experience.” 

A few years ago, Hennigan, who also earned his master’s degree in economics at CU Boulder in 2017, spent two months in China visiting a friend who had gone to Peking University.

“The friend took me to visit the campus,” Hennigan says. “I remember thinking at the time how beautiful the campus was. It was winter and the famous Weiming Lake at the center of campus was frozen over, and people were ice skating over the top of it. I remember thinking how nice it would be to study there, let alone be a part of the institution.” 

In 2017, Hennigan began studying Mandarin Chinese and Japanese languages in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations. He’s now fluent in both languages.  

“As a PhD student, I was fortunate enough to be able to take any course in exchange for teaching classes, and so I began to take Japanese and Chinese language classes,” he says.

Keller Kimbrough, professor and chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, said Hennigan took a course in classical Japanese with him last fall, and that Hennigan also studied advanced modern Chinese with teaching professor Yingjie Li in 2020 and 2021.

“To have secured a job there as an assistant professor is an extraordinary achievement, and it speaks to the global opportunities that may be awaiting our students—both graduate and undergraduate—who choose to study less commonly taught languages at CU,” Kimbrough says.

Kimbrough adds that many students in his department wonder what to do after they graduate.

“This story shows that there are opportunities beyond the U.S. for those who think globally, take risks, and pursue their interests, even if those interests diverge from one’s expected path, such as studying Chinese and Japanese while earning a PhD in economics.”

Hennigan praises both Kimbrough and Li, along with other professors in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations. 

“They really kept me motivated and went above and beyond encouraging me to do independent writing and research. The work I’ve done for these classes is some of the most rewarding I’ve ever done, and it has kept me balanced with all of the math and economics classes.” 

This story shows that there are opportunities beyond the U.S. for those who think globally, take risks, and pursue their interests, even if those interests diverge from one’s expected path​."

Hennigan adds that his interest in the two languages happened completely by chance.

“While in college, I enjoyed walking through the library, going to a section I’d never been to before, and randomly choosing a title based on what cover I found most interesting. I happened to pick up a book of Japanese literature—a novel named “Sanshiro” by Natsume Soseki. I loved the novel and kept reading more and more Japanese literature and eventually Chinese literature. In the end I wanted to read them in their original languages.”

In addition to teaching at Peking University, Hennigan says he’ll be researching ways to develop better economic policies “that can help people in a real way.” 

His dissertation explores how central banks should jointly think about monopolistic pressures in an economy, distortions associated with inflation when creating policy, and applying new computational techniques.

“This kind of approach makes economic research the most fun I think, in that I’m not adding complexity just to have a new paper, but building new techniques to answer classic, difficult questions.”