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Anthropology Department Faculty

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Chun-Yi Sum

  • Visiting Assistant Professor

PhD in Cultural Anthropology, Boston University, 2015

434 Lattimore Hall

Office Hours: Mondays 2:30 - 4:30 PM

Research Overview

Professor Sum specializes in youth, education, and morality in contemporary China. Her work examines changing understandings about moral personhood and responsible citizenship using perspectives from psychological anthropology and political anthropology. Professor Sum works with both elite and ethnic minority youths in China to investigate how different experiences of the political state and globalization nurture new moral worldviews in China’s transitioning economy. Her book manuscript, tentatively titled Our Platform, Our Stage: Extracurricular Organizations and the Remaking of University Students in China, analyzes how involvement in extracurricular organizations and volunteer activities has paradoxically led Chinese college students to disengage from formal politics. Using both qualitative and quantitative data, this work illuminates how forms of social participation and political contention adapt as state-society relationship evolves in postreform China.

Professor Sum’s second project studies aspirations and social mobility among Mosuo (Na) people in southwestern China. This work examines how eroding trust in China’s education system deepens the marginalization of ethnic minority youth. Not only has education failed its promise of social mobility, Mosuo youth and their teachers also found the competitive culture promoted by high-stakes examinations incompatible with their cultural values. This ongoing investigation traces how Mosuo people pursue empowerment and respect, because and in spite of emerging opportunities and challenges in an integrated socio-economy. It unpacks the purported tension between tradition and modernity vis-à-vis individual aspirations and desires.

Prior to joining the University of Rochester, Professor Sum was a postdoctoral research fellow in anthropology at the University of New Mexico. She is part of a comparative project examining matrilineal kinship and social inequality in rural China and Bangladesh. She is also Book Review Editor of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies.

Selected Publications


  • 2018. "From Water to Tears: Extracurricular Activities and the Search for Substance in China's Universities." Children's Geographies 16(1):15-26
  • 2018. "A Great Leap of Faith: Limits to China's University Cities." Urban Studies 55(7):1460-76
  • 2017. "Suffering and Tears: Authenticity and Student Volunteerism in Post-Reform China." Ethos 45(3): 409-29


  • ANT 104: Contemporary Issues and Anthropology: Social Inequality (Spring 2019)
  • ANT 246: Anthropological Approaches to Gender and Sexuality (Spring 2019)


  • Engaged Anthropology Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 2017
  • Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 2011-2012
  • Theodore C. Bestor Prize for Outstanding Graduate Paper, Society for East Asian Anthropology, 2010
  • Presidential Fellowship, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Boston University, 2008-2014