I always wanted to be an anthropologist. As my third grade teacher once told me, anthropologists get to travel, poke their noses into closets, listen to grannies gossip on the front porch, and call that a good day’s work. While other young girls worshipped Wonder Woman or The Bionic Woman (yes, I grew up in the 70’s), my super heroine was Margaret Mead.  I fantasized about taking excruciatingly detailed notes while sitting at the foot of a village elder in the middle of the jungle, just as I imagined she once did.

As an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley, my focus was Modern Chinese Society. Living in Beijing, China, as an exchange student from 1990-1991, I got to know the country during a very complex and pivotal time, as it was just on the verge of economic, social and political change.

As a graduate student of Anthropology at U.C. San Diego, I focused on transnational, diaspora communities, doing my fieldwork within the ethnic Chinese community of Vietnam.  My dissertation explored the re-emergence of Chinese identity after a decade of persecution, placing that within the context of Vietnam’s economic transformation. I am the very, very grateful recipient of both Fulbright and Wenner-Gren grants for my fieldwork.

While I don’t work in academia, I continue to engage with that world through conferences, guest lectures, and writing. Below are two of my most recent publications, focused on the over 20 years of research experience I’ve had in China.



Consumption in China: How China’s New Consumer Ideology is Shaping the Nation. Polity: 2014

“This is an extremely readable insight into the forces that drive consumer trends in what will one day become the world’s largest consumer market. It’s a book for any CEO hoping for a slice of the action.” – South China Morning Post

Consumption practices in China have been transformed at an unprecedented pace. Under Mao Zedong, the state controlled nearly all aspects of what people consumed, from everyday necessities to entertainment and the media; today, shoddy state-run stores characterized by a dearth of choices have made way for luxury malls and hypermarkets filled with a multitude of products.

Consumption in China explores what it means to be a consumer in the world’s fastest growing economy. Behind the often staggering statistics about China are the very human stories that highlight the emotional and social triggers behind consumption. This engaging book isa valuable resource for students, scholars and business professionals interested in a deeper understanding of what motivates China’s consumers, and what challenges they face as more aspects of everyday life become commoditized.



“China, the Emerging Consumer Power” in Routledge Handbook on Consumption. Routledge: 2017.

Consumption research is burgeoning across a wide range of disciplines. The Routledge Handbook on Consumption gathers experts from around the world to provide a nuanced overview of the latest scholarship in this expanding field. At once ambitious and timely, the volume provides an ideal map for those looking to position their work, find new analytic insights and identify research gaps. With an intuitive thematic structure and resolutely international outlook, it engages with theory and methodology; markets and businesses; policies, politics and the state; and culture and everyday life. It will be essential reading for students and scholars across the social and economic sciences.


Photo: LiAnne Yu