Xiaowan Cang


cang xiaowan pic








Xiaowan Cang

DPhil candidate, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies

I am a doctoral student in Area Studies (China) at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. My doctoral project is about anthropological demography, population control policy, women’s fertility perceptions, intergenerational dynamics, gender relations and child-rearing practices under the Three-Child Policy in China. I investigate how one-child generation middle-class women perceive the shift from anti-natalism to pro-natalism and make reproductive decisions with manifold ambivalence and expectations of childbearing and mothering. I am also generally interested in family relations, motherhood discourse, stratified reproduction, social mobility and biopolitics. 

From 2019 to 2022, I conducted long-term ethnography and over 110 interviews in different tiered cities with reproductive-aged participants, previous family planning officials and local grid workers in sub-districts across Shandong, China. 

Before coming to Oxford, I received my BSc from the University of Manchester with First Class and my MSc in China and Globalisation with Distinction from King’s College London where I was awarded the Best Dissertation, the Best Master’s Student Result and the Michael Taylor Prize for the most outstanding student at King’s Global Institutes. My Master’s dissertation focuses on young urban educated women’s fertility perceptions under the Universal Two-Child Policy. I explored their ideas about the policy and its propaganda, their child-bearing desires and pressures, the emotional legacy of the One-Child Policy and mechanisms for their internalisation of the one-child identity.

My DPhil project is funded by the Universities’ China Committee in London (UCCL), Pembroke College and Oxford School of Global and Area Studies.

DPhil topic

My DPhil topic explores one-child generation middle-class women’s fertility perceptions and population dynamics in urban China under the Universal Three-Child Policy which was implemented in 2021, marking a departure from the previous One-Child Policy (OCP) and the Universal Two-Child Policy that had been in force since 1979 and 2016, respectively.  

I investigate a) how these women perceive the shift from anti-natalism to pro-natalism in China’s population control policy, b) how they balance, navigate and reconcile manifold meanings and pressures of child-bearing, c) how transformed family structures, intergenerational relations and the patriarchal hierarchal system influence women’s reproductive choices and understanding of motherhood and d) how these women's middle-class consciousness facilitates their views on urban population agenda, their child-bearing intentions and the subjectivity-forming process as the one-child generation.

I use qualitative research methods to collect data and analyse these research questions. I conduct long-term ethnography and in-depth interviews in Shandong, the province with the highest fertility rate after the Universal Two-Child Policy. I also use participant observation to supplement the interviews by observing conversations and interactions between different family members, reflecting how norms are reproduced in daily life. 

Overall, I hope to achieve an interdisciplinary analysis of women’s fertility perceptions under manifold transformations, contradictions, and compromises in urban Chinese society and families. It contributes to the theoretical development with attention to culture, politics, economic, social and institutional change and its workings at micro and multi-scalar level of women’s subjective discourse of fertility, population control policy and family dynamics.