Zhiying Ma wearing a purple shirt and suit jacket in front of library shelves

Zhiying Ma, PhD

Assistant Professor

969 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Office Location: BE1

Areas of Expertise
Disability Rights and Justice
Global Health
Mental Health
UChicago Affiliations
Center for East Asian Studies
Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality
Global Studies
University of Chicago Center in Beijing

Professor Ma's book project, tentatively titled  Intimate Institutions: Governance and Care Under the Mental Health Legal Reform in Contemporary China, examines families' involvement in the care and management of persons diagnosed with serious mental illnesses in China. It draws on 32 months of fieldwork (2008-2014) in various institutional and community settings, interviews with policymakers, and archival and medial analyses.  The manuscript maps the workings of "biopolitical paternalism," a mode of governance that legitimizes the post-socialist state's population management as paternalistic intervention, and that displaces the paternalistic responsibilities onto the patients' families.

As a follow-up to this research, Professor Ma has been conducting a new project on the (re-)emergence of community mental health in China. Here she focuses on ideologies of "community" in the country's ongoing social transformation and welfare reconstruction, dynamics between social services and population management, and processes of global knowledge translation. To center the voices and experiences of people with psychiatric disabilities in service design and delivery, she has been working with stakeholders in China to develop a mental health peer support program using a community-based participatory research approach.

A third area of Professor Ma's research examines the lives and rights of people with disabilities in China, especially since the government's ratification of United Nation's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. As a member of the Chinese disability community, she takes an action-oriented approach and works with local activists on a few smaller-scale projects in this area. They are studying the life histories of generations of blind individuals, the experiences with sport and physical activities among young women with physical disabilities, and the needs of rural children with disabilities and their families, among others.

Along with her scholarly research, Professor Ma has also been involved in a range of advocacy endeavors. She has worked with doctors to assess medical ethics and anti-stigma curricula. She has consulted for various development projects that seek to promote livelihood support, gender equality, social inclusion, and civil society participation for persons with disabilities. She has written popular articles advocating for disability-friendly policies and introducing disability studies in/to China. She has also facilitated the networking of disability-related NGOs, and has participated in many disability rights dialogues in and beyond the country.

Ethnographic Inquiry for Social Work and Social Policy

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International Disability Rights and Justice

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Global Mental Health

Global mental health has emerged as a priority for multilateral institutions like the World Health Organization and World Bank, for international non-governmental...

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Research Papers  

Ma Z (2021). “Affect, Sociality, and the Construction of Paternalistic Citizenship among Family Caregivers in China.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 11(3): 958-71.

Peng M, Ma Z, Luo W, Hu S-H, Yang X, Liu B, Zhang T, Chan C L-W, Ran M-S (2021). “Longitudinal Impact of Caregiver Transition and Family Caregiving on Psychiatric Symptoms and Psychosocial Functioning among Persons with Schizophrenia in Rural China.” Family Process. 00:1-18.

Ma Z, & Ni Z (2020). “Hero with Zeros?: Tensions of Using an Anti-Discrimination Framework and an Impact Case Approach for Disability Rights Advocacy in China.” Disability Studies Quarterly. 40(4).

Ma Z (2020). “Promises and Perils of Guan: Mental Health Care and the Rise of Biopolitical Paternalism in Post-Socialist China.” Medicine Anthropology Theory. 70(2): 150-74.

Ma Z (2020). “Biopolitical Paternalism and Its Maternal Supplements: Kinship Correlates of Community Mental Health Governance in China.” Cultural Anthropology. 35(2): 290-316.

Ma Z (2020). “Numbers and the Assembling of a Community Mental Health Infrastructure in Post-socialist China.” In Greenhalgh S and Zhang L (eds.), Can Science and Technology Save China? Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. pp. 25-49.

Sherer R, Dong H, Cong Y, Wan J, Chen H, Wang Y, Ma Z, Cooper B, Jiang I, Roth H, & Siegler M. (2017). "Medical Ethics Education in China: Lessons from Three Schools." Education for Health. 30(1):35-43.

Li J, Li J, Gabbidon J, Clement S, Ma Z, Guo Y, & Thornicroft G (2014). "Reliability and Validity of the Chinese Version of Mental Illness: the Clinicians' Attitudes Scale among Community Mental Health Staff." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 4:227-9. [Chinese]

Ma Z (2014). "An 'Iron Cage' of Civilization? Missionary Psychiatry andthe Making of a 'Chinese Family' at the Turn of the Century." In Chiang H (ed.), Psychiatry and Chinese History. London: Pickering and Chatto. pp. 91-110.

Ma Z (2014). "Intimate Politics of Life: the Family Subject and Mental Health Legislation." Thinking. 40(3):42-49. [Chinese]

Ma Z (2014). "In the Name of Love and Medicine? Understanding the Experience of Female Psychiatric Inmates from the Perspective of Rights." In Zhang W (ed.), Research on Disability Rights. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press. pp. 224-249. [Chinese]

Ma Z (2012). "When Love Meets Drugs: Pharmaceuticalizing Ambivalence in Post-Socialist China." Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. 36:51–77.

Ma Z (2012). "Psychiatric Subjectivity and Cultural Resistance: Experience and Explanations of Schizophrenia in Contemporary China." In Kipnis A (ed.), Chinese Modernity and the Individual Psyche. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 203-228.

Blog Entries

Ma Z (2019). “Family.” In Friedner M and Zoanni T (eds.), Disability in the Global South. Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology.


2015 (with Tao S & Li J) Translated and proofread the Chinese version of Social Work with Disabled People, fourth edition, by Oliver M, Sapey B & Thomas P, London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012. Chinese version published by Beijing: Huaxia Publishing House.

Zhiying Ma is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, as well as a faculty affiliate of the University's Center for East Asian Studies and Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist and a scholar of disability studies. Her work in general examines how cultural, politico-economic, and technological factors shape the design and implementation of social policies, and how national policies and global development initiatives in turn impact health in/equity, vulnerability, and rights, with a focus on contemporary China.

Professor Ma holds a joint Ph.D. in Comparative Human Development and Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She received her bachelor degrees in psychology and philosophy from Peking University, China. In 2016-2018, she was an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.