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Dr. Peter Cunich
Assistant Professor Priscilla Song


BA Yale; AM, PhD Harvard


Phone No. Email Address

Office: 9.08



Research Projects | Publications | Teaching

Priscilla Song is Assistant Professor in the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine and the Department of History. She works at the nexus of global health, science and technology studies, and China studies. Her research focuses on the social and ethical aspects of transnational biomedical technologies in urban China, where a changing political, economic and moral landscape is transforming health outcomes and reorganizing social relations on local and global scales.


Dr. Song's research trajectory has taken her from conducting laboratory-based ethnography on stem cell research, to mapping transnational quests for fetal cell therapies from patient websites to Chinese neurosurgery clinics, to analyzing fraught debates about end-of-life medical care in the context of China's rapidly aging population. These research projects encompass a wide range of methodological approaches and innovations, including multi-sited ethnography in novel field sites such as laboratories and online forums, oral history and semi-structured interviewing, longitudinal cohort studies of patients and clinicians, science policy research, and digital archive and social media analysis.


Dr. Song received her PhD and AM in Anthropology from Harvard University and her BA in Anthropology and Philosophy from Yale University. Before joining the University of Hong Kong, Dr. Song taught at Washington University in St. Louis, Yale University, and the New School for Social Research in New York City. Her book, Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China (Princeton University Press), received the 2018 Francis Hsu Book Prize from the Society for East Asian Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association.




Current Research Projects


Research Interests:

  • Culture, ethics, and political economy of biomedical technologies
  • Experimental medicine and global health
  • Internet-mediated social movements and ethnography of online communities
  • Illness, healing, and health care in modern China
  • Social change, popular culture, and everyday life in urban China



Technologies of End-of-Life Care in Urban China


Dr. Song's current book project examines the culture, ethics, and political economy of critical care in urban China. This project develops her work on the ethical conundrums and social dilemmas posed by biomedical technologies in the context of a society undergoing rapid demographic transition and major transformations in the health care system. While her previous research focused on the efforts of terminally ill patients and their families to pursue experimental stem cell therapies in China, this current research goes beyond the pursuit of curative medicine to examine what happens when biomedical technologies are no longer able to restore health. This research agenda intensifies her engagement with analyzing biomedical technologies while bringing her scholarship in medical anthropology and STS into conversation with mainstream gerontology. Dr. Song's work provides a much-needed cross-cultural perspective on the institutionalization of care and the medicalization of aging in non-Western contexts. She examines how advances in biomedical technology are transforming familial, professional, and societal responsibilities in the context of China's rapidly aging population and an increasingly privatized healthcare system.


This project is based on ethnographic fieldwork that Dr. Song has been conducting in emergency rooms and critical care settings in Beijing, Shanghai, and Henan province since 2014. She analyzes fraught debates among clinicians, patients, and family members over the use and termination of costly life-sustaining technologies. The book maps the institutional contours and affective dimensions of caring for those suffering from end-stage conditions in the context of a society undergoing rapid demographic, cultural, and politico-economic transformation. While some scholars have written movingly about caregiving as a foundational moral practice with the potential to challenge the dehumanizing and technocratic logic of biomedical treatment (Kleinman 2009), others have mapped the institutional contours of a darker politics of care (Mol 2008, Livingston 2012, Kaufman 2015) in contexts of scarcity and failure. By shifting the focus from cure to care, Dr. Song's second book illuminates the ways in which Chinese health professionals and family members negotiate the practical and moral challenges of care at the limits of medicine. Dr. Song is also developing several articles related to this research, including an analysis of assaults on Chinese medical care workers, the culture of emergency medicine in urban China, and the medicalization of death in Chinese hospitals.



Eldercare and Old Age Support in Shanghai


Dr. Song collaborates with a multidisciplinary team at Fudan University in Shanghai on a joint research project on "Eldercare and Old Age Support in Shanghai." While her current book project focuses on end-of-life care in Chinese hospitals, this collaborative work extends beyond hospital walls to investigate how caregiving intersects with processes of aging and dying in urban community settings. China has the world's largest elderly population and is also one of the most rapidly aging societies in the world, posing a critical problem for China's elderly care system. Although the family traditionally has been responsible for taking care of aging elders, institutional forms of elder care are beginning to emerge. Both the public and private sector are experimenting with services such as nursing homes, community health centers, aging-in-place models, hospice facilities, and geriatric medical programs, among others. Dr. Song and her colleagues at Fudan have assembled a team of faculty researchers and graduate students in anthropology, sociology, social work, and public health to map eldercare practices and policies in five Shanghai neighborhoods. Their research has been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the China National Social Science Foundation (国家社会科学基金项目), and the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health at Washington University. Based on interdisciplinary research, they have published several co-authored articles in English and Chinese on a variety of topics including the professional identity of community-based caregivers for older adults, an analysis of eldercare policy implementation in Shanghai, and the challenges of developing an eldercare workforce in urban China.






Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China

Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China

Biomedical Odysseys examines how the conjunction of Internet communication technologies and market-driven health care reforms has enabled thousands of people from more than eighty countries to undergo fetal cell transplantation in China. In a world in which technologies and risks are moving faster than our ethics and laws can keep pace, people grappling with neurodegenerative disorders have ignored the warnings of doctors and scientists back home to entrust their lives to Chinese neurosurgeons operating at the cutting edge of regenerative medicine. Biomedical Odysseys is an ethnographic account of the challenges of regulating experimental medical treatment in a globalized era, the ways in which digital communication technologies are transforming patient activism in both China and the U.S., and the unintended consequences of Chinese healthcare reforms. Based on long-term ethnographic research funded by the National Science Foundation in transnational hospital wards, laboratories, and online patient discussion forums, Biomedical Odysseys illuminates how poignant journeys for fetal cell cures become entangled in complex circuits of digital mediation, entrepreneurial frameworks of post-socialist medicine, and fraught debates about the ethics and epistemology of clinical experimentation. Read the introduction here.


Chen, Yanyan, Honglin Chen, and Priscilla Song. 2018. "Promises and Pitfalls of Integrating Home-Based Health Services into Shanghai's Eldercare System." Journal of Ageing and Society.


Shi, Di, Joseph Walline, Liu Jihai, Yu Xuezhong, Xu Jun, Priscilla Song, Zhu Huadong, John O'Donnell. 2018. "An Exploratory Study of Sectra Table Visualization Improves the Effectiveness of Emergency Bedside Echocardiography Training." Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine.


Shi, Di, Joseph Walline, Xuezhong Yu, Jun Xu, Priscilla Song, Huadong Zhu. 2018. "Evaluating and Assessing the Prevalence of Bedside Ultrasound in Emergency Departments in China." Journal of Thoracic Disease 10(5): 2685-2690.


陈虹霖 [Honglin Chen], 王璐 [Wang Lu], 宋柏萱 [Priscilla Song]. 2017. "欣慰与无奈的交织:社区老年照护者的照护体验及社会工作介入初探 [Gratification and Frustration: Ambivalent Experiences of Community-Based Eldercare Providers and the Role of Social Work Intervention]." 华东理工大学学报(社会科学版) [Journal of East China University of Science and Technology] 142(3): 47-55.


Honglin Chen, Hui Yang, Priscilla Song, Lu Wang. 2017. "An Ambiguous Sense of Professional Identity: Community-based Caregivers for Older Adults in China." Ageing International 42(2): 236-250.


Song, Priscilla. 2011. "The Proliferation of Stem Cell Therapies in Post-Mao China: Problematizing Ethical Regulation." New Genetics and Society 30(2): 141-153.


Song, Priscilla. 2010. "Biotech Pilgrims and the Transnational Quest for Stem Cell Cures." Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health & Illness 29(4): 384-402.






  • HIST2140 Health, Medicine and Society in Late Imperial and Modern China

Latest Publication
Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China Book
Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China

Princeton University Press

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