My research applies my interest in historical dynamics, political economy, and conflict theories of society to issues in Chinese society at both the macro level of empire and region and at the micro level of marriage, gender, and domestic groups. I am concerned with research design, and the critical examination and testing of competing hypotheses, even those labeled as "interpretations."
For the last decade I have been researching the demographic history of Taiwan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This has led to a series of essays on changes in causes of death, and the analysis of sharp regional differences in mortality. Currently I am working on essays on footbinding, opium, influenza and smallpox. A long-term goal of this research relates to the parameters of marriage strategies in Chinese society. Anthropologists have been puzzled by the discovery of a surprising degree of regional variation in the forms of marriage in early twentieth-century Taiwan and have offered a variety of hypotheses to explain this variation. I am challenging these explanations with research that documents how sharply differentiated regional patterns of disease affected sex-differential mortality, the marriage market, and marriage strategies.
In conducting my dissertation fieldwork I became aware that the role of Taiwan's non-Han aboriginal groups was a neglected chapter in the history of Taiwanese society. This led to two streams of research, one on the ethnographic history of the Siraya, and the other, represented in my book, Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600-1800. This is a historical-anthropological analysis of how trade networks and commercial agriculture drew Chinese settlers to the Taiwan frontier, and how the late imperial Chinese state acted to mediate relations between settlers and aborigines, extract revenues, and further its strategic interests in the island.
My interest in Chinese frontier statecraft and the historical interaction of Han and non-Han cultures has led to work on the historical ethnography of the Siraya. Since the seventeenth century the Siraya have adapted to Taiwanese society through intermarriage and cultural transformation, but they have also retained a sense of a separate identity. I am writing a series of essays based on fieldwork and the ethnographic descriptions of the Siraya that survive from every century from the seventeenth to the twentieth.
Marriage, Mortality and Fertility; Chinese Family and Religion; Disease, Epidemics and Society; China: Empire and Nationalities; Marriage in Anthropological Perspective; Social Organization; Ethnographic Writing and Data Analysis.
Historical anthropology, political economy, social organization, marriage and domestic groups, demographic anthropology, Chinese culture and society, Taiwanese aboriginal culture and society.
2016a- “The Qing, the Manchus, and Footbinding: Sources and Assumptions Under Scrutiny.” Frontiers of History in China 11.2: 270-322.
2016b- “Taiwan Prefecture in the Eighteenth Century.” The Cambridge History of China, Volume 9 Part Two: The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800, ed. by Willard J. Peterson. Pp. 77-110. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2015a- “Ethnicity, Mortality, and the Shinchiku (Xinchu) Advantage in Colonial Taiwan.” In Japanese Taiwan, Colonial Rule and Its Contested Legacy, ed. by Andrew D. Morris. Pp. 93-111. SOAS Studies in Modern and Contemporary Japan, Bloomsbury Publishing plc. 2015.
2015b- "Hakka -Hoklo Interaction: Exploring the Evidence." In Zuqun, Shehui yu Lishi: Zhuang Yingzhang Jiaoshou Rongtui Xueshu Yantaohui Lunwenji 族群,社會與歷史, 莊英章教授 榮退學術研討會論文集 (Ethnicity, Society and History: A Festschrift in Honor of the Retirement of Professor Zhuang Yingzhang). Zhang Weian 張維安 and Lian Ruizhi 連瑞枝, eds. Pp. 61-96. Xinzhu: JiaoTong University Press. 2015.
2012- “Studying the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Macao.” In Aomen xue yin lun : Shou jie Aomen xue guo ji xue shu yan tao hui lun wen ji. 澳門學引論: 首屆澳門學國際學術研討會論文集 (Papers of the First International Conference on Macau Studies). Hao Yufan, Wu Zhiliang, Lin Guangzhi, eds. Vol. 1: Pp. 364-384. Beijing : She hui ke xue wen xian chu ban she, 2012.
2011 - Regional and ethnic variation in mortality in Japanese colonial period Taiwan In Death at the opposite ends of the Eurasian continent, Mortality trends in Taiwan and the Netherlands, 1850-1945, Theo Engelen, John R. Shepherd and Yang Wen-shan, eds. Pp. 99-151. Amsterdam: Aksant Academic Publishers.
2011 - Trends in Mortality and Causes of Death in Japanese Colonial Period Taiwan. In Death at the Opposite Ends of the Eurasian Continent, Mortality Trends in Taiwan and the Netherlands, 1850-1945. Theo Engelen, John R. Shepherd and Yang Wen-shan, eds. Pp. 45-79. Amsterdam: Aksant Academic Publishers.
2006 - Group Identity and Fertility: An Evaluation of the Role of Religion and Ethnicity in the Netherlands and Taiwan. In Positive or Preventive? Reproduction in Taiwan and the Netherlands, 1850-1940. Chuang Ying-chang, Theo Engelen and Arthur P. Wolf, eds. Pp. 121-161. Amsterdam: Aksant Academic Publishers.
2006 - Fertility and Infant and Early Childhood Mortality: Some Lessons on Stopping Behavior from Taiwanese and Dutch Cases. In Positive or Preventive? Reproduction in Taiwan and the Netherlands, 1850-1940. Chuang Ying-chang, Theo Engelen, and Arthur P. Wolf, eds., (With Jan Kok, & Hsieh Ying-hui). Amsterdam: Aksant Academic Publishers.
2004 - Some Demographic Characteristics of Chinese Immigrant Populations: Lessons for the Study of Taiwan's Population History. In Maritime China in Transition, 1750-1850. Wang Gungwu and Ng Chin-keong, eds. Pp. 115-137, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
2003 - Rethinking Sinicization: Processes of Acculturation and Assimilation. In State, Market and Ethnic Groups Contextualized. Bien Chiang and Ho Ts'ui-p'ing, eds. Pp. 133-150. Taipei: Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica.
2001 - Smallpox and the Patten of Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century Taiwan. In Asian Population History. Liu Ts'ui-jung, James Lee, et al., eds. Pp. 270-291. Oxford University Press.
1999 - The Island Frontier of the Ch'ing, 1684-1780. In Taiwan: A New History. Murray A. Rubinstein, ed. Pp. 107-132. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
1996 - From Barbarians to Sinners: Collective Conversion Among Plains Aborigines in Qing Taiwan, 1859-1895. In Christianity in China. D.H. Bays, ed. Pp. 120-137. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
1995 - Marriage and Mandatory Abortion among the Seventheenth-Century Siraya American Ethnological Society Monographs
1993 - Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600-1800. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
1988 - Rethinking Tenancy: Explaining Spatial and Temporal Variation in Late Imperial and Republican China. Comparative Studies in Society and History 30 (3):403-431.
1986 - Sinicized Siraya Worship of A-li-tsu. Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica 58 (1):1-81.