Zhao Ma

​Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History and Culture
Head of the Chinese Section
PhD, Johns Hopkins University
MA, Johns Hopkins University
MA, People's University of China
research interests:
  • Chinese modern history
  • Urban culture
  • Women's studies
  • Film
  • Politics
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • MSC 1111-107-115
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    ​Zhao Ma teaches courses on 20th-century Chinese history, city and women, crime and punishment, material culture, historical landscape, socialist culture, and the history of US-China relations. His current book project examines rumor-mongering in Beijing during the Korean War period.

    Professor Ma received his Ph.D. in History from Johns Hopkins University in 2007, and joined the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Washington University in 2011. His first book, Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes, and Survival Strategies in Wartime Beijing, 1937-1949, uses criminal case files to explore lower-class women’s role in remaking wartime Beijing’s social and moral order. He is currently writing a new book, Seditious Voices in Revolutionary China, 1950-1953. It examines the relationship between rumor-mongering and political propaganda during China’s Korean War campaign, and offers a lens through which to study the transformation of urban informational space against the backdrop of war fever and emerging revolutionary politics in Mao’s China. At Washington University, Ma teaches courses on 20th-century Chinese history, historical landscape, socialist culture, and US-China relations.

    In addition to his research and teaching, Professor Ma has been a Public Intellectual Program (PIP) Fellow at the National Committee on US-China Relations since 2014. As a PIP fellow, he has opportunities to participate in meetings with government officials of the United States and China and has joined the U.S. congressional delegation to visit China. He also works closely with public media on topics of Chinese politics, society, and US-China relations.

    Courses Taught

    • L04 270 Sophomore Seminar: US-China Relations: Perceptions and Realities

    • L03 3163 Historical Landscape and National Identity in Modern China

    • L03 3263 Topics in East Asian Studies: US-China Relations from 1949 to the Present

    • L03 4242 Culture and Politics in the People’s Republic of China: New Approaches

    • L03 4510 Urban Culture in Modern China

    Selected Publications


    Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes, and Survival Tactics in Wartime Beijing, 1937–1949

    Runaway Wives, Urban Crimes, and Survival Tactics in Wartime Beijing, 1937–1949

    From 1937 to 1949, Beijing was in a state of crisis. The combined forces of Japanese occupation, civil war, runaway inflation, and reformist campaigns and revolutionary efforts wreaked havoc on the city’s economy, upset the political order, and threatened the social and moral fabric as well. Women, especially lower-class women living in Beijing’s tenement neighborhoods, were among those most affected by these upheavals. Delving into testimonies from criminal case files, Zhao Ma explores intimate accounts of lower-class women’s struggles with poverty, deprivation, and marital strife. By uncovering the set of everyday tactics that women devised and utilized in their personal efforts to cope with predatory policies and crushing poverty, this book reveals an urban underworld that was built on an informal economy and conducted primarily through neighborhood networks. Where necessary, women relied on customary practices, hierarchical patterns of household authority, illegitimate relationships, and criminal entrepreneurship to get by. Women’s survival tactics, embedded in and reproduced by their everyday experience, opened possibilities for them to modify the male-dominated city and, more importantly, allowed women to subtly deflect, subvert, and “escape without leaving” powerful forces such as the surveillance state, reformist discourse, and revolutionary politics during and beyond wartime Beijing.