Jing Xu (she/her/hers)

Affiliate Assistant Professor
Chinese edition of The Good Child


Ph.D., Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, 2014
M.A., Tsinghua University, 2008
B.A., Tsinghua University, 2005
Curriculum Vitae (246.8 KB)

My scholarship seeks to answer this key question: How do we become moral persons? I adopt an interdisciplinary approach to examine this question, by putting anthropological and psychological theories in conversation, combining ethnographic, experimental and computational methods, and drawing from the broad field of Chinese studies. My work spans multiple geographic regions and historical periods, i.e., contemporary China, Martial-Law era Taiwan, and cross-cultural comparative contexts. Together my research pursues three inter-related themes: 1) moral development in familial and educational settings in contemporary China; 2) Continuity and change in thoughts of morality and education in Chinese communities across time and space; and 3) cross-cultural comparison of socio-moral cognition.

My first monograph, The Good Child: Moral Development in a Chinese Preschool (Stanford University Press, 2017), based on fieldwork in Shanghai, it integrates ethnography and experiments to examine preschool children’s moral development under China’s one-child policy and a widely perceived societal “moral crisis.” It was translated into Chinese as part of a popular ethnography series "Mint Experiment" (East China Normal University Press, 2021).

My second monograph, entitled "Unruly" Children (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), traces how rural Han Taiwanese children learn morality at the height of Taiwan's Martial-Law era. It is an unconventional ethnography, a re-analysis of a unique set of historical fieldnotes collected by renowned anthropologists Arthur & Margery Wolf. Combining ethnographic and computational approaches such as NLP and social network analysis, I highlight children's active learning, including learning from and with peers, rather than parenting. Writing through and about fieldnotes, I connect the two themes of this book, learning morality and making ethnography, in light of human social cognition, and invite all of us to take children seriously.

I am a co-investigator of two new, interdisciplinary projects on learning and cultural transmission. One project, funded by Templeton World Charity Foundation, examines children's and youth's truth-seeking and truth-communication behavior in a polarized world, i.e., Northern Ireland. I am leading the Text Analysis strand. Another project, funded by Economic and Social Research Council (UK), examines imitation and knowledge transmission from early childhood to adolescence in Congo, America and Scotland. I am leading field-research on Chinese American children and families in Seattle.

With an anthropology PhD and postdoctoral training in psychology, I have published in journals spanning multiple disciplines, in both English and Chinese. Beyond specific topical expertise, I have become interested in making anthropological knowledge more relevant, not only to other disciplines but also to the people we study, through talking to media and writing for the public.


Selected Research

Courses Taught

Winter 2024

Additional Courses

2023  Winter Quarter  Co-Instructor (with Ben Marwick), Special Topics in Social Science and Statistics: "Text as Data."