School of Social and Political Science

Jingyu Mao

Job Title

PhD title: Using intimacy as a lens on the work and migration experiences of ethnic performers in Southwest China

A portrait of Jingyu Mao

City (Address)


Country (Address)


Research interests

Research interests

Migration and Work; Ethnicity and Gender; Intimacy; Emotion; Contemporary China; Ethnography



Thesis Abstract

My PhD thesis explores how the lens of intimacy can be used to understand migration and inequalities and demonstrates the value of such a theoretical lens. It does so by focusing on the experience of a group of rural to urban, ethnic minority migrant performers in Southwest China, who perform ethnic songs and dances as part of their work at different venues such as restaurants and tourist sites.

Ethnic performance is a site of encounter where minority, rural, feminised service providers interact with Han, urban, masculinised customers, and such physical proximity may render their social distance even more significant. It is also an important site where performers encounter various bordering processes relating to the rural-urban divide, ethnicity and gender. Six months’ participant observation and 60 in-depth interviews were used to understand various types of “intimacy negotiations” performers undertake regarding their emotions, sense of self, and relationships with significant others. While intimacy as a concept in sociology usually refers to the quality of closeness in relationships, this research uses this concept in more than one way, and explores how it can be used as a theoretical and methodological tool to explore broader social structures.

By adopting an intimacy lens to explore how migrant performers encounter the various bordering processes, this research points out how inequalities profoundly impact on people’s emotions, sense of self and relationships. This approach also leads us to consider ethnicity as something we do, rather than something we are. I therefore propose the concept of "ethnic scripts” to refer to the culturally normative assumptions about ethnicity in China, which deeply shape the ways that migrant performers do ethnicity. Further, the lens of intimacy reveals the ways that work closely intersects with informants’ personal lives, as well as the importance of taking emotions seriously in understanding social inequalities.


Professor Mary Holmes

Dr Sophia Woodman


2015–2020 (Completed)

PhD in Sociology, School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh, UK

2013—2014 (With Merit)

Master of Arts in Sociology, Faculty of Social Science, Warwick University, UK


Bachelor of Law in Sociology, Xiamen University

Dual Degree—Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Xiamen University


  • 2019 Chinese Students Award, Great Britain-China Educational Trust
  • 2018 PhD Support Fund, the University of Edinburgh
  • 2018 The Fran Trust, Foudation Scotland
  • 2016-2017 PhD Conference/ Fieldwork Fund, the University of Edinburgh
  • 2012 3rd Prize in Yunnan Province Newspaper Group News Award


Mao, J. (2021). Bordering Work and Personal Life: Using "the Multiplication of Labour" to Understand Ethnic Performers' Work in Southwest China, China Perspectives,  no. 1, pp. 9-17.

Mao, J. (2018). Book Review: Masculine Compromise: Migration, Family, and Gender in China. Sociological Research Online, 23(3), 705–706.

Mao, J. (2016). Book Review: Development Interventions, Gender and Social Change in Rural China—A Case Study of Three Villages in Shaanxi, Women and Gender in Chinese Studies Review, vol.11.

Mao, J. (2012). An Exploration of Mass Media in Lahu Mountainous Area—Given Lancing County in Yunnan Province as An Example (In Chinese). Journal of Pu’er College, 28(2).

Conference Presentations

April, 2021: "Researching sensitive topics with working class youth in urban China" (with Chong Liu), and "Doing ethnicity--the multi-layered ethnic scripts in contemporary China" at British Sociological Association Annual Conference (Online). 

September, 2019: “Ethnic scripts as feeling rules?—towards an emotion approach in understanding ethnicity in China”, and “Explore emotional citizenship—rural-urban migrants’ emotional experiences of hukou in a small city in Southwest China” at Joint East Asian Studies Conference, The University of Edinburgh, UK.

September, 2018: “Friendships at workplace and beyond—exploring the intersection of work and personal lives among ethnic minority migrants in Southwest China” at WES Annual Conference 2018, Belfast.

June, 2018: “Practising ethnicity” at British Postgraduate Network for Chinese Studies 2018 Conference, The University of Oxford, UK.

April, 2018: “Performing ethnicity: the intersection of work and personal lives of ethnic minority migrants in China” at the BSA Annual Conference 2018, Northumbria University, UK.

February, 2018: “Performing ethnicity at the frontier of service work—the intersection of work and personal life of minority migrants in Southwest China.” at the 21st Harvard East Asia Society Conference, Harvard University, USA.

March, 2016: “Researching intimate relationships of ethnic minority migrants in southwest China—a case study of ethnic minority performers in Yunnan province” at New Directions in Sociological Research—Methods, Ethics, Theory, the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Teaching Experience

Guest Lecture

"Using ethnography in social research", 22 March, 2021 (Researching Global Social Change) (Online)

"Migration and emotions", 16 March, 2021 (Sociology of Emotions) (Online)

“Sustainability and environmental politics in China”, 29th October, 2019 (SD1A: Introduction to Sustainable Development)

“Sustainability and China as ‘world factory’”, 31st October, 2019 (SD1A: Introduction to Sustainable Development)

“Global production and China as world factory”, 4th October, 2019 (Globalisation)

“Encountering the rural-urban divide at the frontier of ethnic performance work in Southwest China”, 21st, March, 2019 (China’s Contemporary Transformation)

“Migrating emotions: globalisation and emotions”, 15th November, 2018 (Sociology of Emotions)

“Rural-urban encounters at the frontier of service work”, 23 March, 2018 (China’s Contemporary Transformations)


Sociology 2B: Researching Social Life (Semester 2, 2020-2021) (Online)

Key Concepts in Global Social Change (Semester 1, 2020-2021) (Online)

Sociology 2A (Semester 1, 2018-2019)

Sociology of Emotions (Semester 1, 2018-2019)

Works within