Professor Jieyu Liu
Jieyu Liu is Professor of Sociology and China Studies at SOAS University of London. Her research interests include gender, sexuality, family and generation.
She has been the principal investigator for a number of research projects supported by major funders such as the European Research Council, UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and British Academy.
She currently serves as co-editor of The China Quarterly, editorial board member for Asian Anthropology, Contemporary Social Science and advisory board member for Economy and Society. She is also a member of the ESRC Peer Review College and the ESRC Doctoral Training Partnerships Peer Review Group.
Beyond academia, Jieyu is a frequent commentator on gender and social issues on China for various media outlets. She has served as a speaker and consultant for a range of interested parties including government bodies (such as the British Foreign Office, Irish Embassy and US Embassy), charities (such as Help Aged International, UNICEF and Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation) and media organizations (including as an advisor to the BBC drama ‘Call the Midwife’). Drawing upon her research on Chinese families, she led the curation of an exhibition in central London (China Exchange) and produced a documentary entitled ‘British or Chinese: Stories of Migration, Family and Identity’.
Chinese society (urban and rural), gender, sexuality, ethnography of organizations, family, migration, ageing and care, inequalities.
Jieyu’s early research examined the interplay between gender, sexuality and work. Her first monograph Gender and Work in Urban China: Women Workers of the Unlucky Generation (2007 Routledge) examined work and life experiences in the socialist work unit (danwei), recounted through the life histories of women workers born in 1950s urban China. It extended global feminist theorizing on ‘gendered organizations’ and revealed how the interconnection of the public and private spheres, epitomized in the work unit system, resulted in another form of segregation and subordination for women. The book also disputed a linear model of change in gender roles and revealed the complex and often paradoxical continuities in the construction of gender between diverse post-socialist presents and their corresponding socialist and pre-socialist pasts.
In response to the growing sexualization of women in the market reform era, Jieyu went on to develop a research project on the ‘white collar beauty’ phenomenon in China (funded by the British Academy). Drawing upon an ethnography of organizations, she published her second monograph Gender, Sexuality and Power in Chinese Companies: Beauties at Work (Palgrave 2016). It provides the first ethnographic account of the experiences of highly educated young professional women (only-child generation) and exposes the organizational apparatuses that wield gendered and sexual control in Chinese workplaces. This interest on gender and sexuality also generated two co-edited volumes of papers East Asian Sexualities: Modernity, Gender and New Sexual Cultures (2008, with Jackson and Woo) and Routledge Handbook of East Asian Gender Studies (2019, with Yamashita).
Jieyu’s recent research has expanded into interpreting and assessing rapid demographic transitions and social change in East Asia. The first step towards this was to examine ageing, migration and intergenerational relations through a project on ‘Ageing in Rural China’ (funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council). Through ethnography of two rural villages, this project explored the spatial and temporal intricacies as well as the gender and intergenerational mechanisms in the interplay between migration, ageing and care; the research output has appeared in a range of peer-reviewed journals including Sociology, Geoforum and Journal of Aging Studies.
Between 2017 and 2023 Jieyu led a research project entitled ‘Doing Intimacy: A Multi-Sited Ethnography of Modern Chinese Family Life’ (funded by the European Research Council). This project is the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive study of family practices in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, their gender and intergenerational dynamics, and their local and global impact. By capturing the intertwining processes of modernization and family change, the project contributes to theoretical discussions on sociology of family and modernity beyond the prevailing Euro-American model. The project has produced research output in peer-reviewed journals such as British Journal of Sociology, Ageing and Society and Children and Society. The article entitled ‘Childhood in urban China: A Three-Generation Portrait’ published in Current Sociology (official journal of International Sociological Association) won the 2022 Sage Best Paper Prize for its originality, innovation, significance and influence in the field. The project findings have also been disseminated to a wider public audience through a variety of activities including media interviews, diplomatic briefings and knowledge transfer outputs (e.g. article in The Independent, China in Context podcasts).