Faculty - Mayfair Yang , Ph.D.

Home > Faculty

Ph.D. in Anthropology-
University of California, Berkeley


Areas of Academic Interest:

  • Critical Theory
  • Gender & Feminism
  • Media Studies
  • Sovereignty & State Power
  • Cultural Approaches to Political Economy
  • Religions in China

Prof. Yang received her Ph.D. in Anthropology at U.C. Berkeley, and has taught at U.C. Santa Barbara since 1987. She has also assumed teaching, research, and visiting scholar positions at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Beijing University, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the Center for the Study of World Religion at Harvard University.

Yang is interested in issues of religion, secularization, and the state in modernity, especially in the tensions and traumas accompanying the break with traditional orders under colonial and post-colonial conditions. Her areas of research and teaching are: critical theory; gender and feminism; media studies; sovereignty and state power; and cultural approaches to political economy.

Yang's cultural and geographical region of specialization is China and China's offshoot cultures and diaspora in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the West. Although her research is based on fieldwork in contemporary China and Taiwan, her approach is always informed by a vision of the longue duree in Chinese history, and she has published on ancient China.


With a five-year National Science Foundation research grant, she has conducted fieldwork in rural Wenzhou, China since 1991 on the revival of popular religion and lineages and their negotiations with state secularization. The title of her book in-progress is: Re-Enchanting Modernity: Sovereignty, Ritual Economy, and Indigenous Civil Order in Coastal China.


Recent Publications:

  • Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China. Cornell University Press, (1994). (American Ethnological Society First Book Prize, 1997).

  • Spaces of Their Own: Women’s Public Sphere in Transnational China. Mayfair Yang, editor. University of Minnesota Press, (1999).

  • “Spatial Struggles: State Disenchantment and Popular Re-appropriation of Space in Rural Southeast China” in Journal of Asian Studies, (August, 2004).
    available at: http://repositories.cdlib.org/gis/30

  • “Goddess across the Taiwan Straits: Matrifocal Ritual Space, Nation-State, and Satellite Television Footprints” in Public Culture (May, 2004).
    available at: http://repositories.cdlib.org/gis/31

  • “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. (1991).

  • "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).

  • “Putting Global Capitalism in its Place: Economic Hybridity, Bataille, and Ritual Expenditure” in Current Anthropology, vol. 41, no. 4, (2000).

  • "The Gift Economy and State Power in China", Comparative Studies in Society & History, vol. 31, no. 1, January (1989).

  • "The Modernity of Power in the Chinese Socialist Order", Cultural Anthropology, v. 3, no. 4, November (1988).


  • “Through Chinese Women’s Eyes” (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: info@wmm.com and screened at the Creteil Women's International Film Festival in Paris, France).

    (video clip 1 in Quicktime link)

    (video clip 2 in Quicktime link)

    To order this film, click here: http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c414.shtml

  • “Public and Private Realms in Rural Wenzhou, China” (1994)
    50-minute documentary about changes in a local community in rural southeast China: scenes of market economy, plowing of rice paddy, household factory, festival at deity temple, lineage ancestor hall, Old People’s Association, Christian 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: yangm@religion.ucsb.edu. Only DVD's available at $100.00. No rentals.

Courses Taught:

  • “Critical Theory” (Relig Stud 200D)

  • “Ethnographic Approaches to the Study of Religious Life” (Relig Stud 292EG)

  • “Chinese Religions: Past and Present” (Relig Stud 125)

  • “Problems in the Study of Religion” (Relig Stud 104)

  • "Contemporary Issues in Cultural Anthropology" (Anthro 229C)

  • "Anthropology of Gender" (Anthro 125)

  • "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)

Courses Proposed:

  • “Sovereignty and Governmentality” (Relig. Stud grad seminar)

  • "Religion anfbd Media” (Relig. Stud grad seminar)

  • “Religions of China” (Relig. Stud grad seminar)