Xiang Biao University of Oxford

University of Oxford Logo

Xiang Biao University of Oxford

Xiang Biao University of Oxford

Biao Xiang

Professor of Social Anthropology

Fellow of St Hugh’s College

Migration, state, labour, social reproduction, ethnic relations, business, China, India

Having grown up in southeast China and educated in Beijing, I was most influenced by the tense debates in 1980s China. I became interested in ethnographic research because of its attention to complexities that cannot be foreseen beforehand and I have always sought to integrate ethnographic data into historical, institutional and especially political economy analysis.

Current editorial/advisory board membership

Anthropological Theory; International Migration Review; Pacific Affairs; TRaNS: Trans-National and -Regional Studies of Southeast Asia; Migration Studies; Open Times (Chinese); Asia Matters; Business, Culture and Theory; Advances in Applied Sociology; Anti-Trafficking Review; Archives of Anthropology; British Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies; Asian Journal of Agricultural Extension, Economics and Sociology; e-SocialSciences; Aceh International Journal of Social Sciences


2008 Anthony Leeds Prize for Global ‘Body Shopping’: An Indian International Labor System in the Information Technology Industry. Princeton University Press. 2006.

2012 William L. Holland Prize for Predatory Princes and Princely Peddlers: The State and International Labor Migration Brokers in ChinaPacific Affairs. 85 (1): 47-68. 2012.


Email: biao.xiang@anthro.ox.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1865 274687

Oxford China Centre
Oxford South Asian Studies Programme
Please visit my COMPAS page for more information.

I have worked on migration and social changes in China, and subsequently India and other parts of Asia, since 1992. My first project, a six-year study on a migrant community in Beijing, demonstrates how rigid official boundaries internal to the Chinese state, which are essential for the state’s control over society, have paradoxically facilitated the growth of new social spaces. I did this as an undergraduate and then postgraduate student at Peking University (1991-1998) partly because of my discomfort with the dominant discourse in China at that time that regarded the ‘low-quality’ populations, especially rural-urban migrants, as an obstacle to development. I was thus particularly keen to find out as detailed as possible about what the migrants were doing everyday. I was told later that what I was doing was ‘anthropology’.

Hoping to make myself less parochial, I chose a completely unfamiliar topic for my PhD in Oxford – migrant Indian Information Technology engineers in Australia. As an ethnographic critique of the mainstream narrative about the global high-tech industry in the early 2000s, the work explains how the flexibility and volatility of the industry, which was often presented as inevitable and even desirable, is socially and culturally constructed based on multiple existing inequalities on a transnational scale.

I started my third major project in 2004 on unskilled labour migration from China to Japan, South Korea and Singapore. I tried to work out why commercial recruitment intermediaries became so prominent – a condition that I call ‘intermediary trap’ – given that modern institutions and technologies are supposed to be dis-embedding and dis-intermediating.

Currently, I am developing an interest in transnational reproduction (what does it mean when an increasing number of nations have to rely on foreigners to reproduce themselves demographically and socially, and more people cross borders to nurture life, for instance as care-givers, patients and students?) and ethnic relations in China (how do internal and international migrations affect the two pillars of the Chinese ethnicity policy: clear demarcation of autonomous regions and categorical divide between domestic and foreign affairs).

List of publications.