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Mengqi Wang

Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Duke Kunshan University
DKU Faculty


I am a cultural anthropologist based at Duke Kunshan University. My primary research interests include economic anthropology, urban anthropology, political economy, the social studies of the market, science and technology studies, housing, urban studies, and China. From 2012 to 2019, I conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork tracing the development of a low-end housing market at the urban fringe of east Nanjing, southeast China (long-term stay from 2013 to 2015, short field trips conducted in 2012 and 2019). In the field, I followed government officials, developers, realtors, and homebuyers and sellers to study how diverse actors built the local housing market from the bottom up. I am particularly interested in how certain economic concepts help to bring actors together and allow for capital accumulation in the urban process. 

The project produced several articles published on peer-reviewed journals such as Positions: Asia Critique, the Journal of Cultural Economy, and Urban Studies. In these articles, I explored the valuation of rural estate in land assembly and resettlement projects, the temporal orchestration of home presales, and the dominant narratives that brought diverse actors together to bring the market into existence at Nanjing's urban periphery. 

My book in progress, entitled Anxious Homes: Inflexible Demand and China's Housing Market, analyses China's real estate economy through the lens of 刚需/gangxu, a vernacular concept that the government, developers, realtors, and lower-middle class homebuyers in China draw on to refer to—and construct—an inflexible demand for homeownership as an indispensable criterion for fulfilling dreams of urban citizenship. Through an ethnography of a low-end housing market in east Nanjing’s urban fringe, Anxious Homes shows how such claims of homeownership as an inflexible demand have helped to bring the current market for housing, and China’s ongoing real estate crisis, into existence. It explains how China’s real estate market, constructed under state ownership of land and dominated by the growth coalition between the urban government and the developer, leverages enormous resources from the population in unsustainable ways. The book also explores how resultant ideologies of homeownership allow various actors to make sense of urban growth under conditions of market socialism. It argues that, in urban China, diverse actors’ assertions of the value of the home have given rise to new forms of capitalist exploitation, citizenship entitlements, class aspirations, and gendered politics that have culminated in the formation of China’s debt-financed, infrastructure-driven growth model, whose ascendancy and collapse are felt throughout the world.

In September 2021, China’s top developer, Evergrande, made headlines worldwide for facing over $300 billion worth of financial liability. News of Evergrande’s debt problems marked the beginning of the country’s ongoing real estate crisis. As more defaults continued to emerge since then, China’s national economy slowed down, fueling discontent towards the Communist Party, and sending ripple effect throughout the world financial system. My most recent ethnographic research looks into developers' defaults. I am particularly interested in how developers' defaults halted constructions of homes that had already been sold to lower-middle class buyers, and how ruination serves as a means of accumulation in times of debt crisis. Preliminary findings from this research is scheduled to be presented at the 2023 Annual Conference of American Anthropologists in Toronto.  

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Duke Kunshan University · 2018 - Present DKU Faculty
Assistant Professor of the Practice of DKU Studies at Duke University · 2023 - Present DKU Studies

Education, Training & Certifications

Brandeis University · 2018 Ph.D.