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From Traditional Sinology to Contemporary China Studies

My dissertation dealt with the history and debate on human rights in China during the period 1898-1949. I have since gradually left the field of history of ideas and today mainly work on different issues in contemporary Chinese society. My turn to contemporary China also means a shift in approaches and methods. I thus no longer confine myself to textual studies but also engage in participatory observation, ethnographic work and do interviews, and have in recent years become more interested in visual or image based research. My approach to all topics draw on and combine insights from different disciplines and aim to be interdisciplinary in character. My main fields of research are the following:

  • Human rights debates and struggles
  • Legal developments and struggles
  • Cultural heritage debates and issues
  • Investigative journalism, journalism cultures, and China’s media ecology
  • Documentary film and visual cultures
  • China’s digital society


Current major research projects

Digital China

This is an exciting interdisciplinary project where I am the project leader and work together with six colleagues in Lund and one colleague in Stockholm. The project received generous funding from the Swedish Research Council  and runs during the period 2013-2017. It aims to unpack the many dimensions and paradoxes of networked authoritarianism and the impact of ICTs on Chinese society (see research page here). My own sub-project here focuses on the extent to which ICTs enable new possibilities for voice and empowerment among different groups of people. I will in particular address social media and new types of visual technologies and platforms, including video sharing sites. The project has a blog where we share information about recent developments, present our research, and inform about our activities and workshops.


Cultural heritage

Since 2003 I have been doing research on the cultural heritage policy and practice in China. I have received several smaller grants for fieldwork, attended many conferences, and also published a number of articles on this topic (see pdf below). In 2012 I received a major grant from the Swedish Research Council that will enable me to devote more time to this research during the period 2012-2016. The research builds on insights from works in museology, cultural heritage studies and cultural and anthropological studies. I pay particular attention to contestations surrounding cultural heritage and the issue of citizen activism and community participation in historic preservation. My research involves fieldwork in villages that I have visited on a regular basis during the past ten years and an historic neighbourhood in Beijing where I have lived.


Documentary film

In recent years I have become interested in documentary films from and about Asia both as a research topic and as a pedagogical tool. I have thus organised several documentary film festivals and also often screen films in my classes on Chinese society, human rights and media/cultural studies. I have organized film festivals on Youth in Asia, Urban Developments in Asia, and Memories and Trauma in Asia. I have written on Chinese independent documentary film and served as a moderator at seminars at the Gothenburg Film Festival and the Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival, and also acted as a discussant at other film screenings. I am trying to build up an archive of Chinese independent documentary films at the Centre. My research addresses topics such as the role of documentary film for activism, representation of marginalised groups and legal issues in documentary films, community videos and empowerment, and cultural and identity politics through documentary films.


Completed major research projects


The emergence of investigative journalism in China

The project studied the possibilities for and scope of investigative journalism in China . The project received funding from the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation and ran 2008-2011. I was the project leader and the other researcher in the project was Johan Lagerkvist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. During the project period I organised a Focus Asia event on media in 2009 and a conference on investigative journalism with Chinese colleagues and other international participants in 2010. My research findings were presented at several conferences and in different academic journals. It is also found in the volume Chinese Investigative Journalists’ Dreams: Agency, Autonomy, Voice (Lexington Books 2013) that I co-edited with Elin Sæther and Zhi’an Zhang.


Legal empowerment of the poor

This project was supported by Sida (the Swedish International Development Agency) and ran 2010-2013. The project tried to analyse whether, to what extent, and how the current media and legal structure empower Chinese citizens, and what kind of political, institutional and socio-economic obstacles exist. It focused on official law dissemination campaigns and the legal work of labour NGOs, and the legal and media strategies of migrant workers in China. The study was inspired by insights from the legal empowerment of the poor (LEP) debates and works discussing the role of media and ICT for empowerment.


Implementation of law in China

The project aimed to identify and analyse how different state and non-state actors affect the process and outcome of law implementation in various policy areas in China. I was project leader of this research group that included six scholars from different universities, including Håkan Hydén, Jonas Grimheden and Johan Lagerkvist at Lund University, Oscar Almén at Gothenburg University, and Mattias Burell at Uppsala University. The project also included a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre, Floria Sapio, and Hatla Thelle at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. The project received funding from the Swedish Research Council and Sida and ran 2004-2008. During this period several workshops, a Focus Asia event in 2005, and a final conference in Beijing in 2006 were organised. The project resulted in several articles and an edited volume that apart from project members’ articles also included contributions by well-known international scholars in the field, Making Law Work: Chinese Laws in Context (Cornell University Press 2011).


Human rights debates and practices

In 1996, I defended my dissertation that traced the Chinese human rights debate during the period 1898-1949. I then continued to study developments in the post-1949 period and this research resulted in a book, Debating Human Rights in China: A Conceptual and Political History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). Together with Stephen C. Angle, Wesleyan University, I also published The Chinese Human Rights Reader: Documents and Commentary, 1900-2000 (M.E. Sharpe, 2001). I still continue to follow debates and developments within the human rights field. My most recent works are Gender Equality, Citizenship and Human Rights: Controversies and Challenges in China and the Nordic Countries (Routledge 2010), that I co-edited with Pauline Stoltz, Sun Zhongxin, and Qi Wang, and my own article “Human rights in China as an Interdisciplinary Field: History, Current Debates and New Approaches,” in Handbook of Human Rights, ed. Thomas Cushman (Routledge 2011).