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Dr Yang ZHAN

Dr Yang ZHAN

Assistant Professor


Dr Yang Zhan is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Applied Social Sciences and a member of the China and Global Development Network at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She was selected as a Research Fellow of China India Institute at New School for Social Research in 2021. Dr Zhan’s research interests include infrastructure of development, urbanisation and migration, mobility and temporality, voluntarism and anthropological theory. Through the lens of development and migration, her work explores a wide range of issues, including governance, labour, social reproduction, and morality.

Dr Zhan has conducted extensive fieldwork in several Chinese cities including Beijing, Chongqing and Shenzhen, and is now extending her research to other places in and beyond China. Her articles have appeared in Urban Studies, Cities, Dialectical Anthropology, Urban Anthropology, Anthropological Forum, Positions, China Information, Pacific Affairs, among others. She also writes in Chinese and published in Chinese academic journals, such as Academic Journal of Tsinghua University and Tianjin Social Sciences. Dr Zhan is the winner of 2020 Eduard B. Vermeer Prize for the Best Article. Her paper received honorary mention by Association for Political and Legal Anthropology in 2016. Her research projects (as PI) have been supported by the Association for Asian Studies, Hong Kong Research Council, and Kaifeng Foundation.

Dr Zhan is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Brutal Temporary: Venturing and the Politics of Future on Beijing’s Urban Fringes. This ethnography focuses on Chinese rural migrants who struggled to live a dignified life through venturing on the metropolitan fringe of Beijing. The book brings time and temporality to the fore to understanding the modes of social marginalisation and the politics of hope in urban China. It also complicates our understanding of China’s internal migration regime by looking beyond factories and into urban informal economies. Her other book project investigates the short-lived NGO activities in Beijing’s rural migrant communities from the early 2000s to mid-2010s. Since 2020, she has started a new project on emergent small city urbanisation transforming both urbanisation and migration dynamics and experiences in China, and she hopes this project will help us to understand China’s urban condition in the context of COVID-19 too.


Recently, she has begun to explore the possibility of a new ethnographic project on China’s energy construction projects, particularly wind power projects, in the context of environmental degradation, fast urbanisation and governmental ambition.

Education and Academic Qualifications

  • PhD, The State University of New York
  • MA, The State University of New York
  • MA, Beijing Normal University
  • BA, Beijing Normal University

Research Interests

  • Infrastructure of development
  • Rural-urban dynamics, construction projects and urbanization
  • Migration, mobility and temporality
  • Value(s) as both economic and cultural phenomenon
  • Anthropological theory and knowledge production

Grants (selected)

2022   Departmental General Research Grant, APSSPrincipal Investigator, Powering the Wind: China's Energy Infrastructure and Construction Economy.

2021 General Research Grant, Hong Kong Research CouncilPrincipal Investigator, The Making of a Surplus Population? An Exploratory Study of Livelihoods among Resettled Peasants under Economic Uncertainties in Industrial Hubs in Western China.

2020 General Research Grant (Early Career Scheme), Hong Kong Research CouncilPrincipal Investigator, When Rural Migrants Become Urban Homeowners: The Endgame for China’s Floating Population? 

2019  The China and Inner Asia Council Small Grants, Association for Asian Studies, USA (tenure-track faculty line)Principle Investigator, “From Laborers to Homeowners: The Urbanization of Rural Migrants in China’s Small Cities”. 4/2019-4/2020.

2019 Department General Research Grants, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Principle Investigator, “The Housing Question Revisited in Shenzhen: The Informal Housing Upgrade Program and Its Everyday Impact on Migrant Workers”. 06/01/2019-06/01/2021.


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