My scholarship seeks to answer this central question: How do we become moral beings in specific socio-cultural contexts? I adopt an interdisciplinary approach to examine this question, by putting anthropological and cognitive science theories in conversation, by combining ethnography and quantitative methods, and by drawing from the broad field of Chinese studies. Specifically, 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 between Chinese and Western populations.
I have published a 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.” Recently, my book is translated into Chinese (East China Normal University Press, 2020). My research has been published in venues spanning multiple disciplines, such as American Anthropologist, Developmental Psychology, Ethos, PLoS One, Cross-Currents: East Asia History and Culture Review, and Sociological Review of China.
Currently, as a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, I am working on a project that examines how moral development from early to middle childhood intersects with gender in children’s everyday life, in a community with an entrenched son-preference. In this project I use new theories and methods to analyze a rare and unpublished fieldnotes archive collected by the late anthropologists Arthur P. Wolf and Margery Wolf in mid-twentieth century Taiwan. Designed as an improved replication of the Six Cultures Study, a landmark project in anthropology, the Wolfs’ research was the first systematic field research on Han Chinese children.
I received my BA and MA degrees from Tsinghua University, China, and my Ph.D. in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. I then completed postdoctoral research in developmental psychology at the University of Washington.