Her teaching and research interests are political and historical anthropology, urban and global culture change. Her inter-regional and inter-disciplinary research activities include setting up the Inter-Asia Initiative at the MacMillan Center, Yale University, and the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at The University of Hong Kong.
In the 1970s, she conducted fieldwork in South China, exploring the ways the socialist state penetrated rural society through transforming local leadership.
In the post-Mao 1980s, she followed migrants to the market towns. She tracked the development of these towns and their enterprises. She analyzed the refashioning of local identities through rituals, festivals and commerce, and the lingering power of the state.
Since the 1990s, she has explored the rural-urban divide in China, the expansion of cities and the development of urban village enclaves in the Pearl River delta. Increasingly, she examines cross-border dynamics, urban protests and the repositioning of Hong Kong’s middle class.
Since 2001, she traces China’s new global engagements, including those in the Middle East and Africa. She pays close attention to historical and contemporary Asian connections, and “the art of hubbing” in Asia’s world cities.