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The Australian National University

Dr Thomas Cliff

PhD. (Chinese Studies, Ethnography)
Research Fellow
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific
T: + 61 2 6125 0152

Areas of expertise

  • Government And Politics Of Asia And The Pacific 160606
  • Studies Of Asian Society 169903
  • Social Change 160805
  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 160104
  • Visual Arts And Crafts Not Elsewhere Classified 190599

Research interests

Experience of settler populations on China's frontiers. Empire and colonialism. The danwei, now and then.

Entrepreneurs. Family and lineage. Informal institutions.

Unrest and stability maintenance. "Social governance" in the PRC. Welfare politics.




Tom Cliff is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow in the School of Culture, History, and Language at the Australian National University. Tom is currently investigating non-state welfare and public goods provision in rural China.

The research is centrally concerned with how the informal institutions of lineage, local identity, and enterprise association respond to (and indeed shape) China's changing policy and economic environment.

Tom has conducted long-term fieldwork in Xinjiang, covering over two decades. In 2018, Tom's first book Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang (Chicago University Press, 2016) won the Association for Asian Studies' prestigious E Gene Smith prize for Best Book on Inner Asia. 

Researcher's projects

Welfare Entrepreneurs and Paradoxes of Social Control in Rural China (ARC DECRA; DE180100622)

Family, Enterprise, and Civic Duty in Contemporary China

Business-Local State Relationships in China (ARC DP140101289, with Andrew Kipnis)

Oil and Water: Being Han in Xinjiang

Current student projects

Stefanie Kam: Securitisation, Desecuritisation and Counter-Securitisation (PhD; Panel member)

Li Linshan: Lineage Groups and Modernity in Contemporary Southeast China (MAPS; Supervisor)

Li Xiaoxuan: Imagining a Slower Life: Economic Slowdown and Successful Transnational Migrant Workers in China (MPhil; Panel member)


Past student projects

Alana Tolman: Social and Political Aspects of Bruneian Tertiary Education Policy (Hons)

Yuan Xiaoxi: The Influence of English on Modern Chinese through the 20th century (MAPS)

Lucy Zheng: Power of Language: Political Slogans, Cyber Censorship and Increasing Nationalism in 2010s China (MAPS)



Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  21 October 2018 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers