Susan Greenhalgh

John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Research Professor of Chinese Society in the Department of Anthropology


Susan Greenhalgh (葛苏珊) is Professor of Anthropology and John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Professor of Chinese Society at Harvard University. Before moving to Harvard, she was Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine and, before that, Senior Research Associate of the NYC-based Population Council.

In April 2016, Greenhalgh was named Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for twelve months starting July 2016. At Harvard, she was named Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for the year for the 2015 publication of her book, Fat-talk Nation.

Greenhalgh’s work seeks to understand the emergence of new forms of scientific governance in the context of rapid shifts in global and local political economies. Inspired by Foucault’s bold proposition on biopower – that the body is the central domain of politics and power in the modern era – her work illuminates hidden fields of “vital politics” and shows why an in-depth understanding of modern science is essential to unraveling power’s workings and often unjust effects. Her research has focused on three fields of bodily governance: the management of populations, clinical biomedicine, and global health.

Greenhalgh’s research also focuses on Chinese projects of social modernity – state efforts to transform China’s “backward masses” into the modern workers and citizens needed to make China a prosperous, globally prominent nation – and their effects on China’s society, culture, and politics. Her interest in the politics of population emerged in the mid-1980s, when, as a newly minted research associate of the Population Council, she became deeply engaged with the Cold War-esque (“evil empire”) critique of coercion in China’s population control policy.

Three books written between 2000 and 2010 ask different questions about the governance of China’s society. Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China (2008) uncovers the origins of the notorious one-child policy in early reform-era population science and politics. Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics (2005, with political scientist Edwin A. Winckler) traces the “governmentalization” of China’s population – how since around 1980 population has been brought under rationalized control – and the attending rise of a vast new field of vital politics involving power over the production and cultivation of life itself. Cultivating Global Citizens: Population in the Rise of China (2010) traces the connections between the state’s massive project to govern its population and foster its society, and the nation’s rise to global power.

Just One Child was awarded the 2010 Joseph Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and the 2010 Rachel Carson Prize of the Society for the Social Study of Science (4S). It received Honorable Mention in the 2010 Senior Book Prize of the American Ethnological Society (AES), and the 2009 Gregory Bateson Book Prize of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA). This body of work has been recognized by two career achievement awards, the 2002 Clifford C. Clogg award from the Population Association of America (PAA), and the 2011 Olivia Schlieffelin Nordberg Award, as well as major research grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Greenhalgh’s current work – on the U.S. and global “obesity epidemic” – was born in a classroom on the leafy campus of University of California, Irvine, located in the very epicenter of the national cult of the thin, fit body. In Fat-talk Nation: The Human Costs of America’s War on Fat (2015), she draws on the narratives of young Californians – her former students – to uncover the hidden effects of what began as a public health campaign but soon mushroomed into a society-wide war on fat. The book illuminates how the fight against fat seeks to create a new kind of thin, fit biocitizen, and how it conscripts other subjects – the good doctor, the good parent, the good teacher, the good coach – into the campaign. Fat-talk Nation shows how the war on fat has produced a generation of young people who are obsessed with their bodies and whose most fundamental sense of self comes from their size. It argues that attempts to rescue America from obesity-induced national decline are damaging the bodily and emotional health of young people and disrupting families and intimate relationships. The book’s core concepts (biocitizen, biomyth, biopedagogy, bioabuse, biocop) offer powerful tools for understanding how obesity has come to remake who we are as a nation, and how we might reverse course for the next generation. In April 2016 Greenhalgh was named Harvard University Walter Channing Cabot Fellow for the year in recognition of this work.

Obesity, of course, is not just an American problem; according to the WHO, it is now the greatest public health threat facing the world in the 21st century. Since 2013 Greenhalgh has turned her attention to global health, asking how the notion that China faces an urgent epidemic of obesity arose and why it matters. Inspired by a brilliant history of the corporate invention of chronic disease in the late 20th century U.S., in China she is tracing the historical making of a science and policy of obesity, asking what kinds of public-private partnerships have been operating and, more generally, what it means to say that the chronic diseases of modern life are first and foremost markets. This project has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (STS Program), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and Harvard’s Asia Center. She will be writing a book on this research during her tenure as a Guggenheim Fellow.

Research interests: Chinese projects of modernity/globality; social studies of science, technology, and medicine; politics of reproduction, population, and life itself; gender studies; anthropology of the state, governance, and public policy; socialism and post-socialism.

Selected Publications


  • Can Science and Technology Save China? Utopian Dreams, Dystopian Realities. S. Greenhalgh and Li Zhang, editors. Under review.
  • Fat-talk Nation: The Human Costs of America’s War on Fat. Cornell University Press, 2015, 324 pp. Paperback edition August 2017. Currently being translated for publication in China.
  • Cultivating Global Citizens: Population in the Rise of China. The Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures 2008. Harvard University Press, 2010, 156 pp.
  • Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China. University of California Press, 2008, 403 pp.
  • Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics. S. Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler. Stanford University Press, 2005, 394 pp.
  • Under the Medical Gaze: Facts and Fictions of Chronic Pain. University of California Press, 2001, 371 pp.
  • Chinese State Birth Planning in the 1990s and Beyond (S. Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, for Resource Information Center, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2001, 260-pp. single-spaced.
  • Situating Fertility: Anthropology and Demographic Inquiry, editor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 304 pp.
  • Contending Approaches to the Political Economy of Taiwan, Edwin A. Winckler and S. Greenhalgh, editors. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1988, 320 pp. Chinese translation published by Lujiang Press, Xiamen, 1992. Taiwan edition published by Jen-chien Publishing Co., Taipei, 1994. 
  • English-Chinese and Chinese-English Glossary of Demography, coedited with Ye Xiushu and Zhao Shili. Chengdu: Sichuan University Press, 1989, 906 pp.

Recent Articles and Chapters

  • Why Coke Wants You to Exercise, and Other Secrets of Late Industrial Product-Defense Science (Under review)
  • Inside ILSI: How Coca-Cola, Working Through its Scientific Nonprofit, Created a  Global Science of Exercise for Obesity and Got it Embedded in Chinese Policy (1995-2015), Journal of Health Politics, Policy,and Law (online publ. 21 September 2020). Print version 46(2), pp. 235-276, April 2021. 
  • Same Old Coercion Story (Review of 2019 documentary film “One Child Nation”), China File.
  • The Corporate Management of the Global Obesity Epidemic, or How Coke Distorted Obesity Science and Policy in China. Forthcoming in Handbook of Critical Obesity Study, Michael Gard (ed.), Routledge.
  •  Introduction. Governing Through Science: The Anthropology of Science and Technology in China, in Can Science and Technology Save China?, edited by S. Greenhalgh and Li Zhang. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020, pp. 1-24.
  • The Good Scientist and the Good Multinational: Managing the Ethics of Industry-Funded Health Science, in Can Science and Technology Save China?, edited by S. Greenhalgh and Li Zhang. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020, pp. 139-162.
  • China’s Feminist Fight: #MeToo in the Middle Kingdom, Review Essay, with Xiying Wang, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2019, pp. 170-176.
  • Making China Safe for Coke: How Coca-Cola Shaped Obesity Science and Policy in China, The BMJ 2019; 364: k5050. (published 9 January 2019).
  • Soda Industry Influence on Obesity Science and Policy in China, Journal of Public Health Policy 40(1), March  2019, pp. 5-16. 
  • Science and Serendipity: Finding Coca-Cola in China, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 62(1),  Winter 2019, pp. 131-152.
  • Making Demography Astonishing: Lessons in the Politics of Population Science,  Demography 55(2), April 2018, pp. 721-731.
  • Why Does the End of the One-Child Policy Matter? in The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power, edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018, pp. 123-128.
  • Cold War Population Science and Politics in Asia, East Asian Science, Technology, and Society: An International Journal 10(4), December 2016, pp. 469-474.
  • Neoliberal Science, Chinese-Style: Making and Managing the “Obesity Epidemic,” Social Studies of Science 46(4), August 2016, pp. 485-510.
  • Disordered Eating/Eating Disorder: Hidden Perils of the Nation’s Fight Against Fat, Medical Anthropology Quarterly 30(4), December 2016, pp. 545-562.
  • Bad Biocitizens? Latinos and the US “Obesity Epidemic,” with Megan A. Carney, Human Organization 73(3), Fall 2014, pp. 267-276.                      
  • “Bare Sticks” and Other Dangers to the Social Body: Assembling Fatherhood in China. In Globalized Fatherhood, Marcia C. Inhorn, Wendy Chavkin, and Jose-Alberto Navarro (eds.), Berghahn, 2014, pp. 359-381.
  •  Patriarchal Demographics? China’s Sex Ratio Reconsidered, Population and Development Review 38 Supplement, 2012, pp. 130-149.
  • Weighty Subjects: The Biopolitics of the U.S. War on Fat, American Ethnologist 39(3), August 2012, pp. 471-487.
  • On the Crafting of Population Thought,  Population and Development Review 38(1), March 2012, pp. 121-131.