Shanshan Lan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Moving Matters research group. She received her Ph. D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She had worked as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University and Connecticut College in the United States. Before joining the University of Amsterdam, she was a Research Assistant Professor in the David Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University. Lan is the Principal Investigator of the ERC project “The reconfiguration of whiteness in China: Privileges, precariousness, and racialized performances” (CHINAWHITE, 2019-2024). Funded by the European Research Council, this project examines how the western notion of whiteness is dis-assembled and re-assembled in the new historical context of China’s rise as a global superpower.
Her research interests include urban anthropology, migration and mobility regimes, comparative racial formations in Asia and Euro-America, transnational student mobility, global cities, African diaspora in China, Chinese diaspora in the United States, class and social transformations in Chinese society.
This book is an ethnographic study of the multi-linear process of racial knowledge formation among a relatively invisible population in the Chinese American community in Chicago, namely the working class. Shanshan Lan defines "Chinese immigrant workers" as Chinese immigrants with limited English language skills who work primarily at low-skill, blue-collar service jobs at the extreme margins of U.S. economy. The book moves away from the enclave paradigm by situating the Chinese immigrant experience within the larger context of transnational labor migration and the multiracial transformation of urban U.S. landscape. Through thick ethnographic descriptions, Lan explores Chinese immigrant workers’ daily struggles to cope with the disjuncture between race as an American ideological construct and race as a lived experience. The book argues that Chinese immigrant workers’ racial learning is not always a matter of personal choice, but is conditioned by structural factors such as the limitation of the Black and white racial binary, the transnational circulation of U.S. racial ideology, the negative influence of prevalent U.S. rhetoric such as multiculturalism and colorblindness, and class differentiations within the Chinese American community.
Based on multi-sited ethnographic research in China and Nigeria, this book explores a new wave of African migration to South China in the context of the expansion of Sino/African trade relations and the global circulation of racial knowledge. Indeed, grassroots perspectives of China/Africa trade relations are foregrounded through the examination of daily interactions between Africans and rural-to-urban Chinese migrants in various informal trade spaces in Guangzhou. These Afro-Chinese encounters have the potential to not only help reveal the negotiated process of mutual racial learning, but also to subvert hegemonic discourses such as Sino/African friendship and white supremacy in subtle ways. However, the transformative power of such cross-cultural interactions is severely limited by language barrier, cultural differences, and the Chinese state’s stringent immigration control policies.
This project is funded by the European Research Council (consolidator grant). It examines the multiple and contradictory constructions of whiteness in China as a result of the rapid diversification of white migrants in the country and the shifting power balances between China and the West. Existing literature on white westerners in Asia mainly focuses on transnational elites. The rising number of middle- and lower-stratum of white migrants in China deserves special attention due to substantial tensions and discrepancies in their experiences of racial privilege, economic insecurity, and legal vulnerability. Multi-sited and multi-scalar ethnographic research will be conducted on daily life encounters between various groups of white migrants and Chinese in five domains:
(1) state policy regarding international migrants in China;
(2) the ESL industry (teaching English as a second language);
(3) the media, fashion, and entertainment industries;
(4) transnational business and entrepreneurship;
(5) interracial romance.
Three major research questions frame this project.
1. What are the symbolic and material advantages and disadvantages of being white in China’s thriving market economy and consumer culture?
2. How is whiteness racialized in relation to blackness and other immigrant minority identities in multiple social domains and at different geographical scales?
3. How are multiple versions of whiteness produced, interpreted, negotiated, and performed through daily life interactions between white migrants and Chinese in various social and personal settings?
This research unpacks the relationship between transnational student migration and middle class Chinese families’ anxieties over social reproduction within the context of China’s rise as a global economic power and the privatization of the country’s higher educational system. It identifies a new trend of student migration from China, whose goal is not to obtain citizenship in the developed world, but to become more competitive in an increasingly globalized Chinese job market. Existing literature on international student migration either focuses on one specific destination or lumps all destination countries together as the developed world. This research represents an innovative comparative study of Chinese student migration to three countries: the United States, South Korea and Italy in order to uncover the diversification of motivations, channels, and goals in middle class families’ transnational mobility choices. It diverges from conventional research design, which often examines students’ integration experience in the destination country by concentrating on the pre-migration decision making process and the reincorporation of young returnees into Chinese society. The PI contends that transnational student migration from China cannot be explained in economic terms alone. Instead it constitutes a politicized domain where tensions between state nationalist agenda and individual mobility aspirations are played out in complex ways.
Anthropolgoy of East Asia
Anthropology of Modern Asia
Social Transformations in China
Migration and Transnationalism
Migrant Motives and Migration Policies
Orientation Module: Power and Identity
Orientation Module: Anthropology and Development
Graduate level courses
Globalization: State and Mobility
Mobility, Migration, and Security
East and Central Asia
Ethnographic Methods and Fieldwork Preparation