China Institute

Dr Jieyu Liu

Key information

China Institute Deputy Director, SOAS China Institute Member
China Institute
PhD (York, UK)
Paul Webley Wing (Senate House)
Email address
Telephone number
+44 (0)20 7898 4899
Support hours
Appointment by email


Jieyu Liu is Reader in Sociology of China and Deputy Director of SOAS China Institute at SOAS University of London. Her research interests include gender, sexuality, family and generation in China. Her first monograph Gender and Work in Urban China: Women Workers of the Unlucky Generation (Routledge 2007) was concerned with the gendered impact of China’s economic reforms upon women from the Cultural Revolution Generation. It examined women’s experiences in the socialist work unit (danwei, the institution through which the urban population was organized, housed and regulated). It demonstrated that the interconnection of the public and private spheres endorsed by the socialist work unit resulted in another form of segregation and subordination for women. Her latest monograph Gender, Power and Sexuality in Chinese Companies: Beauties at Work (Palgrave 2016) explored the performance of emotional, aesthetic and sexual labour within the organizational cultures of Chinese companies and examined the situation facing young educated women who had to negotiate a sexualized work culture in a society where women’s sexuality is strictly moralized and rarely discussed. Her recent research has expanded into contributing to the understanding of rapid demographical transitions and social change in China – this appeared in leading journals such as Sociology, British Journal of Sociology, Geoforum and Journal of Aging Studies. In 2015, she was awarded a five-year European Research Council grant to examine changing family relations in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Through a multi-sited ethnography, this project is the first of its kind to compare family practices in various sites and examine how they are the by-products of particular socio-cultural configurations.

Research interests

Women and gender in China; gender and work; sexuality and organizations; migration; gender and intergenerational relations; ageing and family transitions; unemployment; social policy and welfare reforms in China. 

Member of UK Economic and Social Research Council Peer Review College
Member of British Sociological Association

Current project
Doing Intimacy: A Multi-sited Ethnography of Modern Chinese Family Life (Principal Investigator, funded by European Research Council, 2015-2020)
This project will provide the first comprehensive study of practices of intimacy in Chinese families, their intertwining with gender and intergenerational dynamics, and interrelations with local and global change. The research will be rooted in case studies of Chinese communities in urban and rural China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. These sites have been selected to bring to the fore how particular socio-economic- political and cultural configurations feature in intimate family practices. The project will provide sophisticated answers to complicated questions such as 'How are Chinese families changing and adapting to wider social changes?' and ‘How do different socio-economic and political configurations shape family behaviours?’

Previous projects
Gender and unemployment in urban China

I explored the gendered implications of economic reforms by collecting the life histories of older women workers who had been made redundant during the economic restructuring.  I examined their experiences in the danwei (work unit) during the pre-reform period in China, and the role the danwei played as arbiter in the career and the personal lives of its employees. I argued that the highly interventionist role of the work unit continued the patriarchal role of pre-socialist institutions in shaping and constraining the life opportunities of women. Indeed, the study has shown that the women workers from the Cultural Revolution Generation had borne the brunt of sufferings accompanying China’s socio-economic development (see Liu 2006, Liu 2007a, Liu 2007b).

White-collar beauties in urban China (Principal Investigator, funded by British Academy 2008)

I examined the sexualization and aestheticization of white-collar work in urban China and identified new forms of inequality in the Chinese workplace. Through ethnography of Chinese companies, I showed that women’s sexuality had become a commercial resource deliberately initiated and developed by their organizations. However, as women’s sexuality was strictly moralized, the Chinese white-collar beauties ended up walking a fine line between respectability and disreputability (see Liu 2008, Liu 2013).

Ageing in rural China (Principal Investigator, funded by Economic and Social Research Council 2011-2013)

This recently completed project examined the impact of rural-urban migration on familial support for older people in rural China. Through in-depth studies of two rural villages, this project examined the extent to which rural-urban migration has reshaped expectations and experiences of familial support in old age and explored whether and how intergenerational relations had been transformed by migration.

PhD Supervision

Name Title
Biye Gao Gender, Class and Reproduction in Post-Socialist Rural China (working title)
Ms Nina Sun Intra-household Gender Relations and Modern Marriage Ideal in urban China
Yuan Zhong How do gender norms influence the marriages between tongzhi and tongqi?


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