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College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

Faculty and Staff Profile

Yi Wu

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Office: 123 Brackett Hall

Phone: (864) 656-3823

Fax: (864) 656-1252

Educational Background

Ph.D. Cultural Anthropology
Columbia University 2010

M.A. Cultural Anthropology
State University of New York at Binghamton 1996

B.A. Philosophy
Renmin University of China 1989

Courses Taught

Anth 2010 Introduction to Anthropology (four-field approach)
Anth 3250 The Anthropology of Food
Anth 4280/6280 Law, Culture, and Society


Yi Wu is a cultural anthropologist whose research has revolved around several different areas: rural communities, ethnicity, environmental issues, and food studies.

The social and cultural transformation of village communities in China during the People’s Republic period (1949-present) has been a long-term research pursuit for Yi Wu. Two central questions guide her research on this topic: How do long-held cultural norms metamorphosize when they articulate with the wider political economy and are invoked by social actors in particular situations? How does such metamorphosis cause social change in local communities? In her previous and current book projects, Yi Wu explores these questions through the lens of property rights.

Yi Wu’s book Negotiating Rural Land Ownership in Southwest China: State, Village, Family (University of Hawaii Press, 2016) is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a hinterland county in southwest China. This book explores how the three major rural actors—local governments, village communities, and rural households—had contested and negotiated land rights in agricultural production and in the land market, resulting in a constantly changing hybrid land ownership system. An important contribution of the book is the development of the concept of “bounded collectivism,” which describes the landholding structure in southwest China that resulted from the negotiation between the socialist state, which aimed to establish collective land ownership, and villages seeking exclusive control over land resources within their traditional territories.

Yi Wu’s current project examines the continual transformation of rural land rights in a new social context—the rapid urbanization process currently unfolding in China. The goal is to understand the social and cultural mechanisms through which village communities and rural individuals exert control over their collectively-owned land--either successfully or not--in the context of urban development.

In addition to the above projects, Yi Wu is also exploring new research areas, such as ethnicity and environmental issues in southwest China, food and cultures, and sustainable development.

Yi Wu’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation's Cultural Anthropology Program, the National Science Foundation's Law and Science Program, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and Clemson University SEED Grant

Research Interests

Property rights, rural community and development, environmental issues, ethnicity, food studies, China, East Asian societies.

Research Publications

2023. Yi Wu and Xiaofeng Cheng
"The Village Bank of a Lisu Community: Indigenous Belief, Economic Practices, and Environmental Conservation in Southwest China." The Critique of Anthropology, 43(3), pp. 252-268, DOI:

2021. Yi Wu
"Subcounty Administration in Rural Southwest China (1950-2000): Changing State Spatiality, Persistent Village Territoriality, and Implications for the Current Urban Transformation." Culture, Theory and Critique, 62:1-2, pp. 40-55, DOI:

2016. Yi Wu
Negotiating Rural Land Ownership in Southwest China: State, Village, Family (A Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University). University of Hawaii Press.

2016. Yi Wu
"Land Rights, Political Differentiation, and China's Changing Land Market: Bounded Collectivism and Contemporary Village Administration." The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 14, Issue 1, No. 4, January 1, 2016

2014. Yi Wu
"Bounded Collectivism: Approaching Rural Land Rights and Labor Through 'Natural Villages' in Southwest China." The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 31, No. 3, August 4, 2014.


Yi Wu's book Negotiating Rural Land Ownership in Southwest China: State, Village, Family

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