Q&A with Yufei Zhou

Focusing on the changing human-dog ethics around Tibetan Mastiff breeding in China

Yufei is a PhD candidate with the Department of Anthropology

Anthropological critique intervenes in the world by offering alternatives of "how things could be", before we approach a more sensible solution to "how things should be".

Yufei Zhou

Yufei Zhou
Yufei Zhou

What are you currently researching?

I am doing an interspecies ethnography of the changing human-dog ethics since the rise of a Tibetan Mastiff breeding craze in China approximately two decades ago. 

Traditionally functioning as guards for Tibetan households and tent holds, the so-called Tibetan Mastiff gained high prices and new meanings during the craze. My PhD project aims to disentangle the ambivalent values (economic, aesthetic, moral etc.) fueling the Tibetan Mastiff market, and to examine how they jointly shape the ethical relationship between humans and dogs.

Potentially, my research contributes to theoretical discussions of value, ethics, ethnicity, human-animal relations and nature/culture within anthropology.

What attracted you to this area of research?

Socio-cultural anthropology emerged out of the urge to understand others, in order to reflect on ourselves, and eventually to portray humanity holistically.

Growing up in southwestern China as an ethnic Han, I have always been intrigued by local Tibetan communities and their cultures, and this is where I drew passion for my research initially.

My "significant anthropological other” includes not only people, but also non-human ones. The recent Animal Turn in anthropology impels us to reexamine humanity within its emergent relations with other species. For example, what do we see in ourselves when interacting with dogs, one of our oldest and most intimate companions? 

The Tibetan Mastiff craze is a channel through which my two interests converge. Moreover, its socio-historical dimensions invites me to better grasp the transformations of contemporary China which I am part of. 

How will your research improve or have a wider impact on society?

Taking an empiricist and comparative stance towards ethics, I hope my ethnography will enrich the public understanding of humans’ diverse ethical experiences with nonhuman animals in various socio-cultural contexts.

Anthropological critique intervenes in the world by offering alternatives of “how things could be”, before we approach a more sensible solution to “how things should be”. Therefore, I hope my case study could bring new perspectives to animal welfare/rights activism and conservation movements.

What do you hope to do career-wise, long term?

After finishing my PhD studies, I hope to continue my exploration of Tibet, human-animal relations and relevant areas, as a professional anthropologist. 

What are your top tips to prospective students on the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?

I always quote Prof. Biao Xiang, of Oxford University, when giving advice to aspiring researchers, especially PhD applicants. “Tell me why you think your topic is worth one to five (or even more) best years in your life. Curiosity is not enough; you need to have some concerns and, even better, a bit of anger. It is more important to have your own voice than to have clever ideas, and to know what's going on than to know what latest literature says."

What resources are available at LSE to help young researchers?

Among the many facilitations at LSE, those in my Department are especially helpful for my research. For example, first-year PhD students are generously funded to take language training of all forms as preparation for fieldwork.

I am also grateful for our Academic Support Librarians, especially Heather Dawson of Anthropology, who helps researchers get access to existing and new collections of literature. 

What do you enjoy most about studying at LSE?

We don’t have grandiose halls, cathedrals or lawns at LSE but I love the idea that central London with its diversity, vigor and tolerance is our campus.