Course Code


Course Name

Selected Themes on Chinese Anthropology


Thursday 01:30PM - 04:15PM




Dr. SUN Lin

Teaching Assistant

Huang Xiaotong

Course Description

This course introduces anthropological perspectives on a range of intimate relationships in contemporary Chinese society. It seeks to denaturalize notions such as family, marriage and love through contextualization–putting them back in the historical, political and socio-cultural context in which they are embedded. The questions that will be raised in class include: What factors shape the economic and social formations of intimate relationships in contemporary China? What does it mean to say that romantic love is an ideology? How do Chinese people “do” family today? Are intimate relationships formed in the virtual world any less authentic than those formed in the real world?

The course approaches various kinds of intimate relationships through an anthropological lens, which means that we will explore people’s intimate life experiences via ethnography. Based on a series of captivating readings, video clips, discussions and other class activities, this course invites the students to pay attention to the interconnectedness between the “private” and the “public” — the everyday practices and the economic and socio-political processes. Moreover, this course aims to show how to conduct ethnographic fieldwork and how to use the data collected during fieldwork for analyzing intimate relationships in Chinese society.

Course Outline

WEEK 1 (7 Sep): An Anthropological Approach to Intimate Relationships in Contemporary China

  • Yan, Yunxiang. 2003. “Introduction: The Chinese Family and the Study of Private Life”. In Private Life Under Socialism: Love, Intimacy, and Family Change in a Chinese Village 1949-1999, pp. 1-13. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

WEEK 2 (14 Sep): Constructing Ideals: Changing Public Discourses Surrounding Family, Love and Sexuality I
(Sign up for the tutorial facilitation)

  • Illouz, Eva. 1997. “Constructing the Romantic Utopia”, In Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, pp. 25-47. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Lee, Haiyan. 2007. “Introduction: What’s Love Got to Do with It?”, In Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900-1950, pp. 1-8. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

WEEK 3 (21 Sep): Constructing Ideals: Changing Public Discourses Surrounding Family, Love and Sexuality II

  • Hooper, Beverley. 1998. “‘Flower Vase and Housewife’: Women and Consumerism in Post-Mao China.” In Sen, Krishna, Malia Stivens eds., Gender and Power in Affluent Asia, pp.167-194. London: Routledge.
  • Li, Xuan. 2016. “The ‘Nursing Dad’? Constructs of Fatherhood in Chinese Popular Media”. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 39.
  • **2Rubin, Gayle. 1992. Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.

WEEK 4 (28 Sep): Learning Ethnographic Methods for Studying Everyday Intimate Experiences

  • Liu, Jieyu. 2006. “Researching Chinese Women’s Lives: ‘Insider’ Research and Life History Interviewing.” Oral History 34 (1): 43-52.

WEEK 5 (5 Oct): Courtship, Love and Premarital Sex

  • Farrer, James. 2014: “Love, Sex, and Commitment: Delinking Premarital Intimacy from Marriage in Urban China”. In Deborah David, ed., Wives, Husbands, and Lovers: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Urban China, pp. 62-96.
  • Yan, Yunxiang, 2002. “Courtship, Love and Premarital Sex in a North China Village”. The China Journal (48): 29-53.

WEEK 6 (12 Oct): The Politics of Conjugal Relationship I (Gender Dynamics)

  • Wolf, Margery. 1972. “Uterine Families and the Women’s Community.” In Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan, pp. 32-41.
  • Du, Shanshan. 2000. “‘Husband and Wife Do It Together’: Sex/Gender Allocation of Labor among the Qhawqhat Lahu of Lancang, China.” American Anthropologist 102(3): 520-537.

WEEK 7 (19 Oct): The Politics of Conjugal Relationship II (Love and Sexuality)
Ethnographic Interview Due

  • Friedman, Sara. L. 2000. “Spoken Pleasures and Dangerous Desires: Sexuality, Marriage, and the State in Rural Southeastern China.” East Asia: An International Quarterly 18(4): 13-39.
  • Farrer, James. 2012. “Good Stories: Chinese Women’s International Love Stories as Cosmopolitan Sexual Politics”. Sexualities 16 (1/2): 12-29.

WEEK 8 (26 Oct): The Politics of Conjugal Relationship III (Economic Aspect)

  • Yan, Yunxiang. 2005. “The Individual and Transformation of Bridewealth in Rural North China.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(4): 637-658.
  • Davis, Deborah S. 2010. “Who Gets the House? Renegotiating Property Rights in Post-Socialist Urban China.” Modern China 36 (5):463-492.
  • **Liang, Samuel Y. 2010. “Property-driven Urban Change in Post-Socialist Shanghai: Reading the Television Series Woju”. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 39(4): 3-28.

WEEK 9 (2 Nov): Intergenerational Relationship I: Parenting

  • Kuan, Teresa. 2011. “‘The Heart Says One Thing But the Hand Does Another’: A Story about Emotion-Work, Ambivalence and Popular Advice for Parents.” The China Journal (65): 77-100.
  • Zhu, Jianfeng. 2010. “Mothering Expectant Mothers: Consumption, Production, and Two Motherhoods in Contemporary China.” Ethnos 38(4): 406-421.
  • **Fong, Vanessa L. 2004. Ch2. “Great Expectations: Singletons as the Vanguard of Modernization.” In Only Hope: Coming of Age under China’s One-Child Policy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

WEEK 10 (9 Nov): NO CLASS, 92nd Congregation
Final Research Paper Proposal Due (OPTIONAL)

WEEK 11 (16 Nov): Individual Consultation (TBA)

WEEK 12 (23 Nov): Intergenerational Relationship II: Filial Piety

  • Yan, Yunxiang. 2016. “Intergenerational Intimacy and Descending Familism in Rural China.” American Anthropologist 0 (0): 1-14.
  • Shen, Yifei. 2011. “China in the ‘Post-Patriarchal Era: Changes in the Power Relationships in Urban Households and an Analysis of the Course of Gender Inequality in Society’”. Chinese Sociology and Anthropology 43(4): 5-23.
  • **Zhang, Hong. 2016. “Recalibrating Filial Piety: Realigning the State, Family, and Market Interests in China”. In Transforming Patriarchy: Chinese Families in the Twenty-First Century, pp. 234-250.

WEEK 13 (30 Nov): Beyond Normative Family and Marriage: Sexuality and Performativity

  • Choi, Susanne. Y. P. and Ming Luo. 2016. “Performative Family: Homosexuality, Marriage and Intergenerational Dynamics in China.” The British Journal of Sociology 67(2): 260-280.
  • Lo, Kam Yip Lucetta. 2010. “Opening Up Marriage: Married Lalas in Shanghai”. In As Normal As Possible: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender in Mainland China and Hong Kong, pp. 87-102.
  • **Mclaren, Anne E. 2007. “Online Intimacy in a Chinese Setting”. Asian Studies Review 31 (4): 401-422.

Friday, 8 December 2023: Final Paper Due

Assessment & Assignments

Attendance and Participation 15%
Discussion Facilitation 20%
Ethnographic Interview 25%
Research paper 40%

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed VeriGuide declaration that they are aware of the policies, regulations and procedures.