Riding the Leviathan: Gender, Fertility, and the Selfhood in Autocratic China


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Professor Yun Zhou, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan
Event Date: 
March 29, 2024
Event Time: 
12:00pm to 1:30pm
2239 Lane Hall & Zoom
Event Accessibility : 
Lane Hall: Ramp and elevator access at the E. Washington Street entrance (by the loading dock). There are accessible restrooms on the south end of Lane Hall, on each floor of the building. A gender neutral restroom is available on the first floor.

Abstract: What does it mean to be independent and "lead a life of one's own," when the state holds considerable power over individuals? Drawing on the deep theoretical tradition that connects large-scale demographic changes and the "pursuit of individualism," I approach this question by examining individuals' fertility ideations and behavior in contemporary China. Marshaling a mixed-methods design that combines 115 in-depth interviews and six waves of national surveys, I ask: How do urban Chinese women and men formulate fertility aspirations and make decisions about parenthood, as they construct visions of selfhood? Findings demonstrate that among men, transition into parenthood is frequently viewed as integral to the making of an independent self, marking the beginning of becoming legible as an individual person with a family of his own. Women, on the other hand, largely view parenthood as the harbinger of the breaking of an independent self and the end of individual autonomy. I further elucidate how such sharp contrast is rooted in the gender and family systems of contemporary China that entangle the sometimes-contradictory scripts of authoritarian pronatalism, on the one hand, and market centric neoliberal development, on the other.

Bio: Yun Zhou is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. Zhou' research examines social inequality and state-market-family relations through the lens of gender, marriage, and reproduction. Intersecting the studies of population and politics, Zhou's current project investigates the demographic, political, and gendered consequences of China's evolving reproductive governance. In addition to her academic publications, Zhou's research and commentary have been featured in BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, NPR, Reuters, the Washington Post, among others. Zhou received her PhD in Sociology from Harvard University, and completed her postdoctoral training at the Population Studies and Training Center, Brown University.

This event is part of the Global South Gender and Sexuality (GS2) Collective 2023/2024 speaker series. GS2 Collective was launched in 2023 with the goal of fostering interdisciplinary scholarship and conversation around the issues of gender, sexuality, and racialization in the Global South.

Register here. In person attendees will receive lunch from Jerusalem Garden.