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Dr. Peter Cunich
Associate 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.


Her first book, Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China (Princeton University Press 2017), received the 2018 Francis Hsu Book Prize for the best book on the anthropology of East Asia. She recently received a million HK dollar grant from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council for her next book project on Technologies of Care: Confronting Mortality in Urban China. The project will produce the first research monograph on the culture and ethics of critical care in China, linking transformations in family-based caregiving with the growing medicalization of dying.


Dr. Song received her PhD and AM in Anthropology from Harvard University and her BA in Anthropology and Philosophy from Yale University. Before coming to Hong Kong, she taught at Yale University, New School for Social Research, and Washington University in St. Louis, where she was awarded a teaching excellence award for "Most Engaging Professor." She collaborates with colleagues from diverse fields to help improve clinical practice, healthcare policies and the wellbeing of patients in China and beyond.




Current Research Projects


Research Interests:

  • medical humanities and social medicine, with a focus on the anthropology of science, technology, medicine, and health
  • culture, ethics, and political economy of biomedical technologies
  • ageing, gerontechnologies, and eldercare in Asian societies
  • end-of-life and palliative care
  • digital communication technologies
  • illness, healing, and healthcare in urban China
  • contemporary Chinese culture and society
  • globalization and transnationalism
  • ethnography, oral history, and qualitative research methods



Technologies of Care: Confronting Mortality in Urban China


Dr. Song's current book project, Technologies of Care: Confronting Mortality in Urban China, is supported by a million HK dollar grant from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council's General Research Fund. Following over three decades of market reforms and stringent birth planning policies, the People's Republic of China is undergoing a dramatic demographic and cultural transformation that has significant ramifications for the care of older people and the critically ill. By focusing on fraught debates over the use and termination of costly medical technologies in Chinese hospitals, this research project will provide fresh data on emerging caregiving practices and health-seeking strategies. The project will produce the first research monograph on the culture and ethics of critical care in urban China, linking transformations in family-based caregiving with the growing medicalization of death in Chinese hospitals. The interdisciplinary impact of this project is far-reaching, with important insights for understanding the role of medical technology in the context of a rapidly ageing society and an unevenly privatized health care system. Drawing on approaches from sociocultural anthropology and the medical humanities, the principal investigator will utilize mixed methods (including ethnographic observation, interviewing, surveys, and archival work) to collect comparative data on end-of-life treatment in tertiary care hospitals located in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Zhengzhou. With over half of all deaths in urban China now occurring in medical facilities, these sites for critical care offer a crucial window on how the medicalization of dying is transforming the ways in which Chinese patients, families, and medical professionals confront mortality. The project will integrate qualitative and quantitative data to provide a rigorous analysis of the challenges involved in caring for the critically ill in urban China. This research project builds upon the principal investigator's previous work on the culture and ethics of transnational biomedical technologies. While her first book (Biomedical Odysseys, Princeton 2017) focuses on the efforts of terminally ill patients and their families around the world to pursue experimental stem cell therapies in urban China, this new research study goes beyond the pursuit of curative medicine to examine what happens when technological interventions are no longer able to restore health. By shifting the focus from cure to care, this project will illuminate the ways in which Chinese patients, family members, and health care providers negotiate the practical and moral challenges of care at the limits of medicine.



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. The book was awarded the 2018 Francis L. K. Hsu Book Prize by the Society for East Asian Anthropology, for the English-language book published in the previous calendar year judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field. Read the introduction online here.


Song, Priscilla. "Negotiating Evidence and Efficacy in Experimental Medicine." In Can Science and Technology Save China? Edited by Susan Greenhalgh and Li Zhang. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, forthcoming (Spring 2020).


Zhang, Chaoxiong and Priscilla Song. "Translating Guān'ài in the People's War on Drugs: Enacting Relations of Care in China's State-Run Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program." East Asian Science, Technology and Society, forthcoming (Spring 2020). Published by Duke University Press.


Song, Xiao, Di Shi, Qinghong Cui, Shanshan Yu, Jing Yang, Priscilla Song, Joseph Walline, Jun Xu, Huadong Zhu, Xuezhong Yu. 2019. "Intensive insulin therapy versus plasmapheresis in the management of hypertriglyceridemia-induced acute pancreatitis (Bi-TPAI trial): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial." Trials 20: 365 (2019).


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
  • HIST2172 Revolutionizing Health in Modern China
  • HIST4034 Oral History and Ethnographic Research Methods (Capstone Experience)

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

Princeton University Press

Publication Date: