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The Australian National University
Luigi Tomba

Professor Luigi Tomba


PhD (Politics), San Marino University
MA, BA (Chinese Studies), University of Venice Ca’ Foscari

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Luigi Tomba is a political scientist with a particular interest in China’s political and social change. Born and educated in Italy, Luigi first visited China in 1988. He joined the ANU in 2001 after spending several years in Beijing where he worked for the Italian diplomatic mission. Since 2010 he has been the Associate Director of the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU. He took up the directorship of the University of Sydney's China Studies Centre in January 2017. His early research focused on the ideological debates and policy implications of China’s labour reform, between 1975 and 1995. Luigi’s best-known work is on urbanization, the social engineering of a Chinese urban middle class, housing and land reform. His current research interests are informed by China’ urban question the ideological implications of China’s project to urbanize the country and its social, political and territorial consequences. His latest book,The Government Next Door. Neighborhood Politics in Urban China, is a study of China’s urban grassroots governing practices and their implication for regime legitimacy (Cornell University Press, 2014). It was awarded the prestigious Association of Asian Studies Joseph Levenson Prize for the best book on Post-1900 China in 2016. Since 2005 he is the co-editor of The China Journal, a high impact English language journal on Chinese affairs. In CIW, Luigi is responsible with Carolyn Cartier for the Chinese Urban stream of research and directs CIW post-graduate education programs.

Other Languages

  • Chinese
  • German
  • Italian
  • French

Research Interests

  • Urbanization and the urban ideology
  • Class formation, housing and middle class activism
  • Grassroots and neighbourhood politics
  • Land conflicts and management of collective land
  • Labour rights and the ideology of China’s labour reform
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Current Projects

  • Community and new forms of social stratification in a Chinese city ARC (Australian Research Council) Discovery Project
  • Governability, borders and urban citizenship: investigating practices and impacts of spatial differentiation on the governance of mega-urban development in the Pearl River Delta. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation).
  • The making of urban citizens: social inclusion and division in China's new urban areas, ARC Discovery Project with Andrew Kipnis.
  • Converting Farmland for Development. Politics Community and Conflict in China, ARC Discovery Project with Jonathan Unger and Sally Sargeson
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PhD Students

  • Jane Liang, Lobbying of Chinese Research Universities
  • Rowena Ebsworth, Student Activism in Taiwan
  • Linliang Qian, E-trader communities in Yiwu
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Selected Publications

Contributions to The China Story

‘A new land reform?’, in Geremie R. Barmé with Jeremy Goldkorn eds, China Story Yearbook 2013: Civilising China,Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World, 2013, online at:

‘Symbolic cities and the ‘cake debate’, with Carolyn Cartier, in Geremie R. Barmé with Jeremy Goldkorn, Carolyn Cartier and Gloria Davies eds, China Story Yearbook 2012: Red Rising Red Eclipse, Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World, 2012, online at:

‘Local China stories: the many in the one’, The China Story Journal, 20 August 2012, online at:

‘Catching up. Australia’s Asian white paper: filling in some blanks’, 2012  


‘The Government Next Door. Neighborhood Politics in Urban China’, Ithaca NY, Cornell University Press, 2014

‘The Housing Effect. The Making of China’s Social Distinctions’ in Cheng Li, ed. China’s Emerging Middle Class. Beyond Economic Transformation, Washington DC: Brookings Institution, pp.193-216, 2010

‘Of Quality Harmony and Community. Civilization and the Middle Class in Urban China’ in positions: east asia cultures critiques, Vol 17:3, pp. 591-616, 2009a

Ed. with Andrew Kipnis and Jonathan Unger, Contemporary Chinese Society and Politics, (4 Volumes) London: Routledge, 2009

Paradoxes of Labour Reform: Chinese Labour Theory and Practice from Socialism to the Market, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2002

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Updated:  9 February 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, China in the World /Page Contact:  China in the World