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Zhiying Ma

Assistant Professor, Anthropology

Office Information:

222-D West Hall
phone: 734-764-6858

Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies; LRCCS Faculty


BS & BPhil, Peking University, 2008
PhD, University of Chicago, 2016

I am a cultural and medical anthropologist with a geographical focus on China. My work in general explores how our bodily existence—its health, illness, capacities, and disabilities—is shaped by technical, moral, and politico-economic forces, and how social transformation impacts inequality and vulnerability.

My current book project, “Insanity, Intimacy, and Institution: Governance and Care Under the Mental Health Legal Reform in Contemporary China,” examines families’ involvement in the care and management of persons with severe mental illnesses in China. It draws on 32 months of fieldwork (2008-2014) in various institutional and community settings, interviews with policymakers, and archival and medial analyses. The book manuscript maps the workings of “biopolitical paternalism,” a mode of governance that legitimizes the post-socialist state’s population management as paternalistic intervention, and that displaces the paternalistic responsibilities onto the patients’ families. My second—and already ongoing—project traces the emergence of community mental health in China, with a focus on ideologies of "community" and processes of knowledge translation. A third project, which is at a more preliminary stage, examines the entanglement of bodily senses and political sensitization in China's disability rights movement.

Along with my anthropological research, I have been involved in policy advocacy in areas of mental health, gender and disability rights, and medical ethics. I have participated in collaborative research and actions on these topics.   

Research Interests

  • anthropology and social theory of medicine
  • psychological anthropology
  • critical disability studies
  • vulnerability, ethics, and rights
  • law, bureaucracy, and social policies
  • gender, family, and kinship
  • China


  • Doctoral Fellowship, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (United States)
  • William Rainey Harper Fellowship, University of Chicago
  • Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Pre-dissertation Grant for China Studies
  • Small Grant for Research Travel, China and Inner Asia Council, Association for Asian Studies
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellowship at Needham Research Institute, Cambridge, U.K
  • Lemelson/Society for Psychological Anthropology Pre-dissertation Fund

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