Jing XU 许 晶

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Jing Xu, PhD   

I am an anthropologist at the University of Washington, Seattle. I hold a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis (2014, supervisor: Pascal Boyer), and M.A. and B.A. from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.  I conducted postdoctoral research in Developmental Psychology (Early Childhood Cognition Lab) at the University of Washington (2014-2016). 

My scholarship seeks to answer this central question: How do we become moral persons? Interested in culture-mind interaction, I adopt an interdisciplinary approach to examine this question, by putting anthropological and psychological theories in conversation, by combining ethnography and quantitative methods, and by drawing from the broad field of Chinese studies. Specifically, my research pursues three inter-related themes: 1) moral development in familial and educational settings in contemporary China; 2) Continuity and change in morality, childhood, family and education in culturally Chinese communities across time and space; and 3) cross-cultural comparison of socio-moral cognition and development. 

My first monograph, The Good Child (Stanford University Press, 2017), tells a story of moral development in an urban middle-class preschool in the early 2010s Shanghai, China. The book cover features my son, the youngest research participant in the preschool (read cover story here). The Chinese edition was published in 2021.

My second monograph, entitled "Unruly" Children (Cambridge University Press, 2024), traces how rural Han Taiwanese children learn morality at the height of Taiwan's Martial-Law era. It is an unconventional ethnography, a re-analysis of a unique set of historical fieldnotes combining qualitative and computational approaches. Writing through and about fieldnotes, I connect the two themes of this book, learning morality and making ethnography, in light of human social cognition and invite all of us to take children seriously.

The Good Child

Chinese academic traditions take zuo ren—self-fulfillment in terms of moral cultivation—as the ultimate goal of education. To many in contemporary China, however, the nation seems gripped by moral decay, the result of rapid and profound social change over the course of the twentieth century. Placing Chinese children, alternately seen as China's greatest hope and derided as self-centered "little emperors," at the center of her analysis, Jing Xu investigates the effects of these transformations on the moral development of the nation's youngest generation. 

The Good Child examines preschool-aged children in Shanghai, tracing how Chinese socialization beliefs and methods influence their construction of a moral world. Delving into the growing pains of an increasingly competitive and changing educational environment, Xu documents the confusion, struggles, and anxieties of today's parents, educators, and grandparents, as well as the striking creativity of their children in shaping their own moral practices. Her innovative blend of anthropology and psychology reveals the interplay of their dialogues and debates, illuminating how young children's nascent moral dispositions are selected, expressed or repressed, and modulated in daily experiences. 

You can get the book here: Amazon, Google Books, SUP