Dr. Orna Naftali

Senior Lecturer, China Section
Director, The Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies
Office Hours (2021-22): First semester: Wed., 12:15-13:15; Second semester: Wed., 11:00-12:00. Room 6338 Humanities

Research interests: Anthropology of modern and contemporary China, with a focus on children, youth, and education; women, gender, and the family; science and subjectivity; national identity, militarism, and the nation-state; rights and legal consciousness of children and youth in China. 

I completed a BA in East Asian Studies with a China emphasis (The Hebrew University); an MA in Culture Research (Tel Aviv University); and an MA and a PhD in Anthropology (University of California, Santa Barbara). Straddling the disciplines of China Studies, Cultural Studies, and Anthropology, my work covers a range of topics relating to children, youth and education in China, including: the globalization of Chinese education; the interplay between changes in notions and practices of childrearing and education and the emergence of new conceptualizations of play, privacy and subjectivity in China; the rise of child psychology in contemporary urban China; and the development of a new Chinese discourse on children's rights and children's citizenship, a topic which was the focus of my first book, Children, Rights, and Modernity in China: Raising Self-Governing Citizens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 

My second book, Children in China (2016, China Today series, Polity Press), provides an overview of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the lives of rural and urban Chinese children since the launch of economic reforms in 1978. Covering schooling, consumption, identity formation processes, family and peer relations among other aspects of children’s lives, the book explores the rise of new ideas of child-care, child-vulnerability and child-agency; the impact of the One-Child Policy; and the emergence of children as independent consumers in the new market economy.  It also demonstrates how economic restructuring and the recent waves of rural–urban migration have produced starkly unequal conditions for children’s education and welfare both in the countryside and in the cities.

I am currently working on a new book project on education, nationalism, and youth Militarization in the PRC. Drawing on government, media, and educational sources and on data from two ethnographic field projects conducted in China in 2012-2019, the book explores the promotion of military values and techniques in Chinese education of the 2010s, highlights the intersection between this trend and the construction of national collectivity, masculinities and femininities in contemporary China, and discusses Chinese youth current notions of war and the military.


Selected publications:

Naftali, Orna. 2021. "Celebrating Violence? Children, Youth, and War Education in Maoist China (1949-76)". Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 14 (2): 254-273

Naftali, Orna. 2021."'Being Chinese Means Becoming Cheap Labour': Education, National Belonging, and Social Positionality among Youth in Contemporary China". The China Quarterly 245: 51–71

Naftali, Orna. 2020. "Youth Military Training in China: Learning to 'Love the Army'". Journal of Youth Studies. Published Online first, pp. 1-19. 10.1080/13676261.2020.1828847

Naftali, Orna. 2020. "'Life is Wonderful because of the Military': PLA Recruitment Campaigns in Contemporary China". In Brendan Maartens and Tom Bivins (eds.). Propaganda and Public Relations in Military Recruitment: Promoting Military Service in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. Pp. 178-191. London: Routledge

Naftali, Orna. 2019. "Rights of Children and Youth in China: Protection, Provision, and Participation". In Sarah Biddulph and Joshua Rosenzweig (eds.). Handbook on Human Rights in China. Pp. 273-99. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar 

Naftali, Orna. 2018. "'These War Dramas are like Cartoons': Education, Media Consumption, and Chinese Youth Attitudes towards Japan". Journal of Contemporary China 27 (113): 703-718

Naftali, Orna. 2016. Children in China (China Today Series). Cambridge, UK: Polity Press

Naftali, Orna. 2014. Children, Rights, and Modernity in China: Raising Self-Governing Citizens (Studies in Childhood and Youth). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

Naftali, Orna. 2014. "Chinese Childhood in Conflict: Children, Gender, and Violence in China of the 'Cultural Revolution' Period (1966-76)." Oriens Extremus 53: 85-110

Naftali, Orna. 2014. "Marketing War and the Military to Children and Youth in China: Little Red Soldiers in the Digital Age." China Information: A Journal on Contemporary China Studies 28 (1): 3-25

Teaching & Mentoring:

  • Teaching: At the Department of Asian Studies, I teach BA and MA courses on a range of issues related to Chinese culture and society, including: "Gender and Sexuality in the PRC"; "The State and the Family in Modern China"; "Class and Consumption in China; "The Anthropology of Contemporary Chinese Society"; “Internet and the Media in Contemporary China”; "Resistance and Protest in Contemporary China"; and "Research Methods of Modern Chinese Society and Politics".


  • Mentoring: I welcome inquiries from prospective MA and doctoral students interested in the following topics:

    • Children, childhood, and youth in the PRC (1949 to present)
    • Schooling and education in the PRC (1949 to present)
    • Anthropology of gender and the family in the PRC (1949 to present)
    • Popular nationalism in contemporary China
    • Militarization of childhood and youth in the PRC (1949 to present)
    • The rights of children and youth; youth legal consciousness in contemporary China