Mayfair Yang

Mayfair Yang
Ph.D., Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley

Professor of EALCS & Religious Studies Departments

Specialization: China: Chinese religions, modernity, environment, and the state, gender, media studies

Office: HSSB 2222

Office Hours: Fall 2023 -- sabbatical
Personal Website:

I am a 50% faculty member in Department of Religious Studies and 50% in Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies.

I am a cultural anthropologist interested in the intertwined processes of religiosity, secularization, and state operations in modernity, post-colonial, and Communist conditions. Areas of research and teaching: Chinese religions &  secularization; critical theory; religion and ecology or religious environmentalism, China Studies, sovereignty and state power; gender and feminism; media studies; cultural approaches to political economy.

I specialize in the study of China, with an interest in Sinophone cultures of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the West. Although my research is based on fieldwork in contemporary China and Taiwan, it is always informed by a vision of the longue durée of Chinese history, and I seek to reconcile Western critical theory with Chinese philosophy and Chinese empirical findings.

I have assumed teaching, research, and visiting scholar positions at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Beijing University, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Center for the Study of World Religion at Harvard University, National University of Singapore, Fudan University, and Institute for the Study of Religious & Ethnic Diversity, Goettingen, Germany. I was Director of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia 2007-09.


    With a five-year National Science Foundation research grant, I have conducted fieldwork in rural Wenzhou, China since 1991 on the revival of popular religion and their negotiations with state secularization.
    杨美惠教授,华裔美籍人类学家。出生于台北市,在多国长大。80 年代在北京大学作交换研究生。1986年获美国加州大学伯克利分校人类学专业博士学位。现任美国加州大学圣塔芭芭拉分校宗教学系及东亚语言与文化系教授。曾任澳大利亚悉尼大学亚洲研究中心主任、中央民族大学”985工程”短聘教授。
    杨美惠教授长期致力于中国研究的理论化,从1980年代开始多次到中国从事调查研究,其著述以对中国社会人情往来的”礼物”的”关系学”探讨而著称。其 代表性著作Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China 现已在台北翻译出版,该书简体中文版《礼物,关系学与国家:中国人际关系与主体性建构》,2009年由江苏人民出版社出版。此外,她在国际重要学术杂志上发表论著,其中包括”横跨台湾海峡的女神妈祖:国家,进香,和卫星电视”、”关系的力量”和”传统,旅行的人类学,与中国的现代性话语”等数篇中文论文,并曾主编三本学术文集:《她们自己的地方:全球华人女性的公共空间》 (Spaces of Their Own: Women’s Public Sphere in Transnational China, 1999);《中国人的宗教感:现代性的痛苦与国家构建》(Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation,2008),《中国环保道德:宗教,本体论,实践》(Chinese Environmental Ethics:  Religions, Ontologies, and Practices, 2021).  《现代性的重魅:温州的礼仪经济与社会》(Re-enchanting Modernity:  Ritual Economy & Society in Wenzhou, China, 2020) 将更集中地呈现她对中国民间社会的一贯关注和近些年来的思考。


  • Chinese Environmental Ethics:  Religions, Ontologies, and Practices.  Edited by Mayfair Yang.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Co.  2021.
  • Re-enchanting Modernity:  Ritual Economy & Society in Wenzhou, China.  Duke University Press, 2020.
  • Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation. Edited by Mayfair Mei-hui Yang. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
    link to the e-book version, free online:
  • 《礼物,关系学,与国家:中国人际关系与主体性建构 杨美惠著。 江苏人民出版社,2009 年 (Mainland China public., slightly censored)
  • 《禮物,關係學,與國家﹕  中國人際關係與主體性建構》楊美惠著.  台北:  南天書局.  (Taiwan public., uncensored)
  • Spaces of Their Own: Women’s Public Sphere in Transnational China. Mayfair Yang, editor. University of Minnesota Press, (1999).
  • Gifts, Favors, and Banquets:  the Art of Social Relationships in China. Cornell University Press, (1994). (American Ethnological Society First Book Prize, 1997)

Selected Articles

Other Publications:

  • “National Allegory and Masculine Performativity:  Chinese Media in the Context of K-Pop and American Rambo” in Routledge Handbook of Gender and Sexuality in China, edited by Jamie J. Zhao and Hongwei Bao. New York:  Routledge (forthcoming, 2024).
  • “Chinese Popular Religion and Economics” in Oxford Handbook of Religion and Economic Ethics, edited by Albino Barrera and Roy Amore.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press (forthcoming, 2023).
  • “Mauss or Bataille?  Gifts, Sacrifice, and Feasting Across China and the Northwest Coast” in Mauss International, No. 2, November 2022    Yang Mauss or Bataille 2022
  • “From Sovereignty to Governmentality and Back:  China and the U.S.”  in Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale (journal of European Association for Social Anthropologists), special issue on Covid-19. June 2020.
  • “Chinese Maritime Economy:  Historical Globalizing Forces”  in China, India and Alternative Modernities.  Kumar, Sanjay, Satya P Mohanty, Archana Kumar and Raj Kumar, eds.  New York:  Routledge, 2019.
  • “My Father’s Hometown, 1982” in China Tripping: Encountering the Everyday in the People’s Republic, edited by Jeremy Murray, Paul Pickowicz, & Perry Link.  Rowman & Littlefield Publ. Co., 2019.
  • “礼物和宴会的两个逻辑:中国和西北海岸的谱系”(“Two Logics of the Gift and Banquet:  Genealogies of China and the Northwest Coast) in《西北民族研究》(Northwest Ethnological Studies), 刘明月, 黄子逸, 兰婕 /譯.  Aug. 2019, no. 102, pp. 54-69.
  • “Millenarianism in the Soviet Union and Maoist China” in Book Forum on Yuri Slezkine’s House of Government, a special topic in The Immanent Frame:  Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere.  November 23, 2018.
  • “Shamanism & Spirit Possession in Chinese Modernity:  Some Preliminary Reflections on a Gendered Religiosity of the Body” in Review of Religion and Chinese Societyvol. 2, pp. 51-86, 2015.
  • “Gazing into the Future of Religion and the State in China” in The Immanent Frame (an academic internet blog), Nov. 2013.
  • “Two Logics of the Gift and Banquet:  A Genealogy of China and the Northwest Coast”禮物與筵席的兩種邏輯:中國與北美西北海岸之淵源關係,  in The Gift of Knowledge:  Re-Examining Gift Cultures. 《知識之禮:  再探禮物文化》.  Edited by Chang Shangguan  張上冠主編.  Taipei:  National Chengchi University, Institute of Foreign Languages, Translation Center (2013). Electronic Version Here
  • “The Future of China’s Past: An Interview with Mayfair Yang” with Nathan Schneider, in The Immanent Frame (an academic internet blog), Oct. 2010.
  • “Postcoloniality & Religiosity in Modern China: the Disenchantments of Sovereignty” in Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 3-45. Electronic Version Here
  • “‘温州模式’的礼仪经济”(” ‘The Wenzhou Model’s’ Ritual Economy” ) in 《学海》 (Sea of Scholarship), Sept. 2009. Electronic Version Here
  • “Thoughts on Postcoloniality & Modern Chinese Religiosities” in 《社会学人类学刊》(Journal of Sociology & Anthropology),Nov. 2009.
  • “Ritual Economy and Rural Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics” in Cultural Politics in a Global Age: Uncertainty, Solidarity and Innovation. David Held & Henrietta Moore, eds. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007. Electronic Version Here
  • “A Sweep of Red: State Subjects and the Cult of Mao” in Religion und Politik in der Volksrepublik China (Religion and Politics in Contemporary China). Wiebke Koenig, Matthias Koenig, and Karl-Fritz Daiber, eds. Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2006.
  • “Spatial Struggles: State Disenchantment and Popular Re-appropriation of Space in Rural Southeast China” inJournal of Asian Studies, (August, 2004). Electronic Version Here
  • “Goddess across the Taiwan Straits: Matrifocal Ritual Space, Nation-State, and Satellite Television Footprints” in Public Culture (May, 2004) available at:
  • “The Resilience of Guanxi and its New Deployments: A Critique of Some New Guanxi Scholarship” in China Quarterly (June 2002). Electronic Version Here
  • “Using the Past to Negate the Present: Ritual Ethics and State Rationality in Ancient China” in Religion: A Reader in the Anthropological Tradition. Michael Lambek, ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.
  • “Une histoire du present: Gouvernement rituel et gouvernement d’Etat dans la Chine ancienne”, in Annales, no. 5, Sept.-Oct. (in French, 1991). Electronic Version Here
  • “Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis” in The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Jonathan Inda and Renato Rosaldo, eds. Oxford: Blackwell (2002). Electronic Version Here
  • “Putting Global Capitalism in its Place: Economic Hybridity, Bataille, and Ritual Expenditure” in Current Anthropology, vol. 41, no. 4, (2000). Electronic Version Here
  • “Film Discussion Groups in China:  State Discourse or a Plebeian Public Sphere?”  in Visual Anthropology Review, 1994, vol. 10, no. 1.  Film Discussion Groups 1994
  • “The Gift Economy and State Power in China”, Comparative Studies in Society & History, vol. 31, no. 1, January (1989). Electronic Version Here
  • “The Modernity of Power in the Chinese Socialist Order”, Cultural Anthropology, v. 3, no. 4, November (1988).

Documentaries and Audio Interviews:

  • “Through Chinese Women’s Eyes” directed, written, produced by Mayfair Yang (1997) 50-minute documentary comparing Chinese urban women’s lives during the era of state feminism and gender erasure during the Maoist era, with the current era of commercialization, featuring gender difference, commodification of sexuality, and globalization. Film includes clips of Cultural Revolution and “revolutionary model operas”, as well as interviews with urban workers, intellectuals, and social workers in Shanghai and Beijing. (distributed by Women Make Movies: and screened at the Creteil Women’s International Film Festival in Paris, France).Video Clip 1
    Video Clip 2To order this film, click here:
  • audio interview:  “Re-enchanting Modernity:  Ritual Economy and Society in Wenzhou, China”  Interview about Mayfair Yang’s book with Victoria Lupascu, New Books Network, July 2020.
  • “Public & Private Realms in Rural Wenzhou, China” (1994) 50-min. documentary about changes in a local community in rural southeast China:  scenes of market economy, plowing of rice paddy, household factories, deity temple festival, lineage ancestor hall, Old People’s Association, Catholic Church, and private school (formerly distributed by U.C. Media Extension)
  • (video clip in Quicktime link -takes a few seconds to load )
  • (To order this film, please contact the filmmaker, Mayfair Yang, directly at: Only DVD’s available to institutions for $45.00 (+ $5 shipping) and for private individuals for $15.00 (+ $5 shipping). No rentals.
  • One-hour radio interview on religion in China on “Speaking of Faith,” with Krista Tippett on National Public Radio, (NPR, USA) first broadcast in 200 American cities, June 17, 2008, available online @

Courses Taught

  • Religious Environmentalism and Science in the Anthropocene:  Asia and the U.S.  (EACS/Relig Stud 128 undergrad lecture class)
  • “Religious Environmentalism in the Anthropocene”  (EACS/Relig Stud 228 grad seminar)
  • “Critical Theory” (Relig Stud 200D  grad seminar)
  • “Religion, the State, and Modernity in Asia” (EACS/Relig Stud 268 grad seminar)
  • “Ethnographic Approaches to the Study of Religious Life” (Relig Stud 292EG)
  • “Anthropology of China” (Chin 242; EACS 103A)
  • “Chinese Religions: Past and Present” (Relig Stud 125)
  • “Problems in the Study of Religion” (Relig Stud 104)
  • “Sovereignty & Governmentality” (Relig Stud 273)
  • “Anthropology of Religion” (Relig Stud 204)
  • “Theory and Method for East Asian Studies” (East Asian 215)
  • “Gender & Sexuality in Modern Asia” (East Asian 40)
  • “Religious Practices & the State in China” (Relig Stud 183B)
  • “Contemporary Issues in Cultural Anthropology” (Anthro 229C)
  • “Anthropology of Gender” (Anthro 125)
  • Gender & Sexuality in Modern Asia (EACS 40)
  • “Anthropology of Media, Gender and Globalization” (Anthro 255)
  • “Modernity and East Asia,” (Anthro 154)
  • “Anthropology of the State,” (Anthro 216)
  • “Religion, Modernity, and Politics” (Anthro 250MY)
  • “Elements of Traditional Chinese Culture,” (Anthro 138A)
  • “Contemporary Chinese Society.” (Anthro 138B)
  • “China Through Film (Anthro 177)