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Dr. S. (Shanshan) Lan

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas
Photographer: Ayda Abdan Kondori

Visiting address
  • Nieuwe Achtergracht 166
  • Room number: B5.06
Postal address
  • Postbus 15509
    1001 NA Amsterdam
Contact details
  • Profile

    Shanshan Lan is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Moving Matters research group. She received her Ph. D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She had worked as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University and Connecticut College in the United States. Before joining the University of Amsterdam, she was a Research Assistant Professor in the David Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University. Lan is the Principal Investigator of the ERC project “The reconfiguration of whiteness in China: Privileges, precariousness, and racialized performances” (CHINAWHITE, 2019-2024). Funded by the European Research Council, this project examines how the western notion of whiteness is dis-assembled and re-assembled in the new historical context of China’s rise as a global superpower.

  • Research Interests

    Her research interests include urban anthropology, migration and mobility regimes, comparative racial formations in Asia and Euro-America, transnational student mobility, global cities, African diaspora in China, Chinese diaspora in the United States, class and social transformations in Chinese society.

    This book is an ethnographic study of the multi-linear process of racial knowledge formation among a relatively invisible population in the Chinese American community in Chicago, namely the working class. Shanshan Lan defines "Chinese immigrant workers" as Chinese immigrants with limited English language skills who work primarily at low-skill, blue-collar service jobs at the extreme margins of U.S. economy. The book moves away from the enclave paradigm by situating the Chinese immigrant experience within the larger context of transnational labor migration and the multiracial transformation of urban U.S. landscape. Through thick ethnographic descriptions, Lan explores Chinese immigrant workers’ daily struggles to cope with the disjuncture between race as an American ideological construct and race as a lived experience. The book argues that Chinese immigrant workers’ racial learning is not always a matter of personal choice, but is conditioned by structural factors such as the limitation of the Black and white racial binary, the transnational circulation of U.S. racial ideology, the negative influence of prevalent U.S. rhetoric such as multiculturalism and colorblindness, and class differentiations within the Chinese American community.

    Based on multi-sited ethnographic research in China and Nigeria, this book explores a new wave of African migration to South China in the context of the expansion of Sino/African trade relations and the global circulation of racial knowledge. Indeed, grassroots perspectives of China/Africa trade relations are foregrounded through the examination of daily interactions between Africans and rural-to-urban Chinese migrants in various informal trade spaces in Guangzhou. These Afro-Chinese encounters have the potential to not only help reveal the negotiated process of mutual racial learning, but also to subvert hegemonic discourses such as Sino/African friendship and white supremacy in subtle ways. However, the transformative power of such cross-cultural interactions is severely limited by language barrier, cultural differences, and the Chinese state’s stringent immigration control policies.

  • Current projects

    The reconfiguration of whiteness in China: Privileges, precariousness, and racialized performances (CHINAWHITE, 2019-2024)

    This project is funded by the European Research Council (consolidator grant). It examines the multiple and contradictory constructions of whiteness in China as a result of the rapid diversification of white migrants in the country and the shifting power balances between China and the West. Existing literature on white westerners in Asia mainly focuses on transnational elites. The rising number of middle- and lower-stratum of white migrants in China deserves special attention due to substantial tensions and discrepancies in their experiences of racial privilege, economic insecurity, and legal vulnerability. Multi-sited and multi-scalar ethnographic research will be conducted on daily life encounters between various groups of white migrants and Chinese in five domains:

     (1) state policy regarding international migrants in China;

    (2) the ESL industry (teaching English as a second language);

    (3) the media, fashion, and entertainment industries;

    (4) transnational business and entrepreneurship;  

    (5) interracial romance.

    Three major research questions frame this project.

    1. What are the symbolic and material advantages and disadvantages of being white in China’s thriving market economy and consumer culture?

    2. How is whiteness racialized in relation to blackness and other immigrant minority identities in multiple social domains and at different geographical scales?

    3. How are multiple versions of whiteness produced, interpreted, negotiated, and performed through daily life interactions between white migrants and Chinese in various social and personal settings?

    Transnational student mobility and the politics of social reproduction in post-socialist China

    This research unpacks the relationship between transnational student migration and middle class Chinese families’ anxieties over social reproduction within the context of China’s rise as a global economic power and the privatization of the country’s higher educational system. It identifies a new trend of student migration from China, whose goal is not to obtain citizenship in the developed world, but to become more competitive in an increasingly globalized Chinese job market.  Existing literature on international student migration either focuses on one specific destination or lumps all destination countries together as the developed world. This research represents an innovative comparative study of Chinese student migration to three countries: the United States, South Korea and Italy in order to uncover the diversification of motivations, channels, and goals in middle class families’ transnational mobility choices. It diverges from conventional research design, which often examines students’ integration experience in the destination country by concentrating on the pre-migration decision making process and the reincorporation of young returnees into Chinese society. The PI contends that transnational student migration from China cannot be explained in economic terms alone. Instead it constitutes a politicized domain where tensions between state nationalist agenda and individual mobility aspirations are played out in complex ways.



  • Teaching and supervision

    Undergraduate courses

    Anthropolgoy of East Asia

    Anthropology of Modern Asia

    Social Transformations in China

    Migration and Transnationalism

    Migrant Motives and Migration Policies

    Orientation Module: Power and Identity

    Orientation Module: Anthropology and Development

    Graduate level courses

    Globalization: State and Mobility

    Mobility, Migration, and Security

    East and Central Asia

    Thesis Seminar

    Ethnographic Methods and Fieldwork Preparation


    Ph.D. Students

    Chia-Shuo Tang

    Raviv Litman

    Ke Ma

    Christina Kefala



  • Publications


    • Lan, S., Vidal, D., & Wang, S. (2023). Recherches sur les concepts de race, de migration et sur la circulation transnationale de la connaissance raciale : À propos des immigrés chinois à Chicago, des immigrés africains à Guangzhou et de la reconfiguration de la blanchité en Chine: Entretien avec Dominique Vidal et Simeng Wang. Appartenances & Altérités, 3.
    • Lan, S., Vidal, D., & Wang, S. (2023). Researching race, migration, and the transnational circulation of racial knowledge: On Chinese migrants in Chicago, on African migrants in Guangzhou, and on the reconfiguration of whiteness in China: Interview by Dominique Vidal and Simeng Wang. Appartenances & Altérités, 3. [details]








    • Bailey, A. J., Canagarajah, S., Lan, S., & Powers, D. G. (2016). Scalar politics, language ideologies, and the sociolinguistics of globalization among transnational Korean professionals in Hong Kong. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 20(3), 312-334. Advance online publication. [details]
    • Lan, S. (2016). Between mobility and immobility: undocumented African migrants living in the shadow of the Chinese state. In Donggen Wang, & Shenjing He (Eds.), Mobility, sociability and well-being of urban living (pp. 3-21). Springer. [details]
    • Lan, S. (2016). Race and the politics of space: doing walking ethnography in urban Chicago. In E. Brown, & T. Shortell (Eds.), Walking in cities: quotidian mobility as urban theory, method, and practice (pp. 43-59). (Urban life, landscape and policy). Temple University Press. [details]
    • Lan, S. (2016). The Shifting Meanings of Race in China: A Case Study of the African Diaspora Communities in Guangzhou. City & Society, 28(3), 298–318. [details]



    • Lan, S. (2014). The Catholic Church’s Role in the African Diaspora in Guangzhou, China. In Catholicism in China, 1900 to Present: The Development of The Chinese Church (pp. 219-236). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • Lan, S., & Xiao, H. (2014). Trans-border mobility and cross-cultural business networking among Chinese and Nigerian petty entrepreneurs. Politique Africaine, 134, 45-67.


    • Lan, S. (2012). Diaspora and Class Consciousness: Chinese Immigrant Workers in Multiracial Chicago. London and New York: Routledge.
    • Lan, S. (2012). Negotiating Multiple Boundaries: Diasporic Hong Kong Identities in the United States. Identities : Global Studies in Culture and Power, 19(6), 708-724.


    • Kang, H., Okazaki, S., Abelmann, N., & Lan, S. (2010). Redeeming Immigrant Parents: How Korean American Emerging Adults Reinterpret Their Childhood. Journal of Adolescent Research, 25(3), 441-464.


    • Abelmann, N., & Lan, S. (2008). Christian Universalism and U.S. Multiculturalism: An ‘Asian American’ Campus Church. Amerasia Journal, 34(1), 65-84.


    • Lan, S. (2007). Beyond Black and White: Race, Class and Chinese Americans in Multiracial Chicago. In Chinese America: History and Perspectives (pp. 83-89)
    • Lan, S. (2007). Race, Class and the Politics of Multicultural Learning: Chinese Immigrant Workers and the Brokered American Dream in Chicago. City & Society, 19(2), 254-286.


    • Lan, S. (2006). Chinese Americans in Multiracial Chicago: A Story of Overlapping Racializations. Asian American Law Journal, 13, 31-55.


    • Lan, S. (2013). [Review of: H. Ling (2012) Chinese Chicago: Race, Transnational Migration and Community Since 1870]. Journal of Illinois History, 15(4), 290-292.


    • Lan, S. (2008). Community Dynamics and Race Relations in Chinese Chicago. In Libraries, Community Technology Centers, and Chicago: Building and Serving Our Communities (pp. 43-46)



    • Lan, S. (2014). Chinese American Youth in Multiethnic Chicago. In Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History (pp. 234-237). Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press.
    • Lan, S. (2014). Chinese Immigrant Workers in Multiethnic Chicago. In Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History (pp. 275-278). Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press.

    Prize / grant

    • Lan, S. (2018). ERC consolidator grant, The Reconfiguration of Whiteness in China: Privileges, Precariousness, and Racialized Performances.

    Talk / presentation

    • Lan, S. (speaker) (7-5-2019). Reconstructing blackness in grassroots interactions between Chinese and Africans in Guangzhou, Bowdoin College, Brunswick.
    • Lan, S. (speaker) (18-12-2018). Opportunities and Challenges: Chinese Migrants in Lagos, Nigeria, MinZu University.
    • Lan, S. (speaker) (17-12-2018). Transnational business and family strategies among Chinese/Nigerian couples in Guangzhou and Lagos, Beijing Language and Culture University.
    • Lan, S. (invited speaker) (2-6-2017). State-mediated brokerage system in China’s private study abroad market, Asian Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
    • Lan, S. (invited speaker) (15-12-2015). Transnational Business and Family Strategies among Chinese/Nigerian Couples in Guangzhou and Lagos, Invited talk at the Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne, Cologne.



    • Hui, A., Lan, S., & Bailey, A. (2013). Transbordering: Integrating Diverse Hong Kong Mobilities. David Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University.
    This list of publications is extracted from the UvA-Current Research Information System. Questions? Ask the library or the Pure staff of your faculty / institute. Log in to Pure to edit your publications. Log in to Personal Page Publication Selection tool to manage the visibility of your publications on this list.
  • Ancillary activities
    No ancillary activities