Over the last century there have been profound changes in the Chinese family as a result of industrialisation, urbanisation, the influence of the West and political interventions carried out by the Communist Party since 1949. Existing scholarship has shown how the structure and function of Chinese families have adapted to changing political and economic circumstances but little is known about the changes in intimate spheres of Chinese families. This project will approach the subject of modern Chinese family life from an unconventional angle by analysing it as a process of practices and experiences.

By setting a new agenda that moves from structures of family relationships to the quality of relationships and through examining ‘doing intimacy’, this project takes a closer, fresher, critical look at the Chinese family dynamics as they are lived. Informed by the emerging literature on gender, intimacy and modernity, it will examine intergenerational relations as well as gender and sexual relations in the family.

Is there an intimate revolution taking place? To what extent can doing intimacy be a site of empowerment/domination for women? What will the study of Chinese families tell us about agency and local/global change? Through a multi-sited ethnography (mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), this study will also compare practices of intimacy in various sites and examine whether/how they are by-products of particular socio-cultural configurations.


Research sites

The research will be rooted in case studies of Chinese communities in urban and rural China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. These sites have been selected to bring to the fore how particular socio-economic- political and cultural configurations feature in intimate family practices.

Mainland China (urban and rural sites)

While cities are developing and becoming more modernized, many rural areas are still experiencing poverty. A household registration system, Hukou, also shapes urban and rural residents’ rights: rural residents are deprived of all kinds of benefits including state pension and various welfare provisions that urban residents have been entitled to. The economic circumstance, policy background, and exposure to alternative cultures in urban and rural China will make an impact on shaping the practices of intimacy in Chinese families.


First colonized by Japan in the late nineteen century, then found itself under the control of Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist army. Starting from 1950, Taiwan has experienced a stable economic growth and a fast demographic transition. Some scholars argue that the heavy-handed regulations on traditional family practices in Maoist period in mainland China have made Taiwan the only place to observe traditional Chinese family features.

Hong Kong:

With a long-term colonial history under British rule, Hong Kong culture is often cited as a unique blend of ‘East meets West’. The rapid economic growth in the decades after the second world war has led to highly compressed social and economic development, making Hong Kong an interesting site to study intimacy and processes of social change.