John Osburg

John Osburg

  • Associate Professor
  • Chair of Anthropology

PhD, University of Chicago, 2008

Office Location
436 Lattimore Hall
(585) 273-3329
(585) 273-5331

Office Hours: Wednesdays, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

John Osburg CV 2021


Research Overview

Professor Osburg’s research is broadly concerned with the relationship between market economies, cultural values, and morality. From 2003 to 2006, he conducted ethnographic fieldwork with a group of wealthy entrepreneurs in southwest China, examining practices of network building and deal making between businesspeople and government officials. His book, Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality among China’s New Rich, examines the rise of elite networks in China and documents the changing values, lifestyles, and consumption habits of China’s new rich and new middle classes. Anxious Wealth also examines changing gender relations in Post-Mao China and the ways in which money and material wealth intersect with ideologies of love and feelings in people’s social, marital, and romantic relationships. In addition to his book, Prof. Osburg has published articles on masculinity, consumer culture, political corruption, state capitalism, and organized crime in contemporary China.


Anxious Wealth Cover

In 2018, Osburg was awarded a two-year Andrew Carnegie Fellowship which supported a project titled, “Spiritual Crisis and Moral Transformation in Post-Mao China.” This research examines the emergence of new forms of spirituality and religiosity in urban China, with a particular focus on the growing numbers of Han Chinese practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. The project considers the ways in which these new forms of religious belief engender broader transformations in Chinese society: How will this spiritual turn among affluent Chinese, which has emerged right as China is poised to become an economic and political superpower, affect their political attitudes, philanthropic practices, environmental consciousness, and social activism, and how will this transformation impact the world beyond China?


Prof. Osburg’s research has been supported by the ACLS, The Henry Luce Foundation, the Chiang-Ching Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the Social Science Research Council, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Prior to coming to Rochester, Professor Osburg was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Studies at Stanford University. While conducting his field research in China, he endured a brief stint as the co-host of a variety show on a provincial television station. In addition to his research and teaching, from 2016-2018 he was a Fellow of the Public Intellectuals Program at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.


Research Interests

  • China
  • Capitalism
  • Postsocialism
  • Gender
  • Political corruption and organized crime
  • Buddhist revival in China

Selected Publications



  • 2020 “Consuming Belief: Luxury, Authenticity, and Chinese Patronage of Tibetan Buddhism in Contemporary China.” Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 10(1): 69-84
  • 2018 “Making Business Personal: Corruption, Anti-Corruption, and Elite Networks in Post-Mao China. Current Anthropology 59:S18, S149-S159
  • 2018 “Goudui and YingchouThe Global Encyclopedia of Informality, Volume 2. Ed. by Alena Ledeneva. University College London Press, 400-403
  • 2017 “The Ups and Downs of ‘Studying Up’: Fieldnote on Researching Elites.” In Undertaking Research in Global Development: Fieldwork Issues, Experiences and Reflections. Ed. by Gordon Crawford et al. Sage Publishing
  • 2016 “Pleasure, Patronage, and Responsibility: Sexuality and Status Among New Rich Men in Contemporary China.” The Cultural Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Asia. Ed. by Tiantian Zheng. University of Hawaii Press
  • 2016 “Corruption, Masculinity, and Jianghu Ideology in the PRC” In Changing Chinese Masculinities: From Imperial Pillars of State to Global Real Men. Ed. by Kam Louie. University of Hong Kong Press
  • 2016 “El Lujo y Sus Malestares en la China Contemporánea [Luxury and Its Discontents in Contemporary China].” Etnografías Contemporáneas 2(2): 52-72
  • 2015. "Morality and Cynicism in a Grey World." In Irony, Cynicism, and the Chinese State. Edited by Hans Steinmüller and Susanne Brandtstäter. Routledge.
  • 2014. “Can’t Buy Me Love: China’s New Rich and Its Crisis of Values.” Foreign Affairs. September/October 2014: 144-149.
  • 2013. "Meeting the 'Godfather': Fieldwork and Ethnographic Seduction in a Chinese Nightclub." PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Vol. 36, No. 2
  • 2013. "Global Capitalisms in Asia: Beyond State and Market in China." The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 72, No. 4


2015-2016 Courses

  • ANT 246: Anthropological Approaches to Gender and Sexuality
  • ANT 257: Chinese Society After Mao
  • ANT 101: Intro to Anthropology
  • ANT 201: Theory and Method in Anthropology


  • Andrew Carnegie Fellow 2018
  • Fellow, Public Intellectuals Program, National Committee on United States-China Relations, 2016-2018
  • Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS China Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2014-2015