AsPr Tom Cliff


Research activity per year

Personal profile


Tom Cliff is an ethnographer of Chinese political economy at the Australian National University.


Education Activities

Tom is the Deputy Director (Education) of the School of Culture, History, and Language, and the founding convenor of the Bachelor of Philosophy (Humanities and Social Sciences), or PhB (HaSS) — the ANU's elite and demanding undergraduate research program in the HaSS disciplines. He teaches ASIA2099/6099 “Social Power in China” and a PhB-specific Research Methods course.


Research Activities

Tom is currently writing a book on social mobilisation and the structure-agency problem in the context of non-state welfare and industrial restructuring in rural China. Tom’s book project-in-waiting is a biographical and ethnographic study of categorisation and the realms of political consciousness through the Socialist and Post-Socialist eras in the PRC.


In 2018, Tom's first book Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang (Chicago University Press, 2016) won the Association for Asian Studies' prestigious E Gene Smith prize for Best Book on Inner Asia.


Please see Google Scholar for recent publications.


Research interests

China's Motor: Entrepreneurs and private enterprise. Family and lineage. 

Institutions: of production, market, and social order.

Charity: State structures and mobilisation. Non-state welfare and public goods. 

Experiences: of frontier settlement; of the Socialist State-Owned Enterprise.

Current student projects

Haiyue XU: Daughters of the Transition

Dingwen QIU: Connection to China among Chinese overseas international students



Past student projects

Alex Pan: Competing Media Perspectives on China's Economic Situation, 1945-1949 (PhB; Supervisor)

Alana Tolman: Social and Political Aspects of Bruneian Tertiary Education Policy (Hons; Supervisor)

Yuan Xiaoxi: The Influence of English on Modern Chinese through the 20th century (MAPS; Supervisor)

Lucy Zheng: Power of Language: Political Slogans, Cyber Censorship and Increasing Nationalism in 2010s China (MAPS; Supervisor)

Li Linshan: Lineage Groups and Modernity in Contemporary Southeast China (MAPS; Supervisor)

Ingrid Mao: Contemporary Banality in China (PhB; Supervisor)

Xu Yiwen: Collective Parental Anxiety about After-Class Education in China (MA Advanced; Supervisor)

Stefanie Kam: Securitisation, Desecuritisation and Counter-Securitisation (PhD; Panel member)



PhD. (Chinese Studies; Ethnographic Political Economy, ANU)

Researcher's projects

Family, Enterprise, and Civic Duty in Contemporary China

Business-Local State Relationships in China (ARC DP140101289, with Andrew Kipnis)

Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang

Expertise Areas

  • Government and Politics of Asia and the Pacific
  • Social Change
  • Studies of Asian Society
  • China
  • Political Economy
  • Ethnography


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