The Gilded Cage: Technology, Development, and State Capitalism in China (Ya-Wen Lei, Harvard University)
Thurs, 11/09/2023, 4:30pm - 6:00pm

Join the Center for Global Work and Employment and the Center for Chinese Studies for a book talk by Professor Ya-Wen Lei of Harvard University. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023
4:30pm - 6:00pm
Pane Room, Alexander Library
College Avenue Campus

For more information, contact Professor Mingwei Liu at


This talk is based on Professor Lei's forthcoming book, The Gilded Cage: Technology, Development, and State Capitalism in China (Princeton 2023). Since the mid-2000s, the Chinese state has increasingly shifted away from labor-intensive, export-oriented manufacturing to a process of socioeconomic development centered on science and technology. Ya-Wen Lei traces the contours of this techno-developmental regime and its resulting form of techno-state capitalism, telling the stories of those whose lives have been transformed—for better and worse—by China’s rapid rise to economic and technological dominance.

Drawing on groundbreaking fieldwork and a wealth of in-depth interviews with managers, business owners, workers, software engineers, and local government officials, Lei describes the vastly unequal values assigned to economic sectors deemed “high-end” versus “low-end,” and the massive expansion of technical and legal instruments used to measure and control workers and capital. She shows how China’s rise has been uniquely shaped by its time-compressed development, the complex relationship between the nation’s authoritarian state and its increasingly powerful but unruly tech companies, and an ideology that fuses nationalism with high modernism, technological fetishism, and meritocracy.

Some have compared China’s extraordinary transformation to America’s Gilded Age. This provocative book reveals how it is more like a gilded cage, one in which the Chinese state and tech capital are producing rising inequality and new forms of social exclusion.

About the Speaker

Photo of Ya-Wen LeiYa-Wen Lei is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. She is also affiliated with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard. Trained in both law and sociology, she holds a LL.M. and a J.S.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Michigan. After graduating from Michigan in 2013, she was a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (2013–2016). In academic year 2018–2019, she was a visiting professor at Sciences Po in France.

She is the author of The Contentious Public Sphere: Law, Media, and Authoritarian Rule in China (Princeton University Press, 2018). Her second book, The Gilded Cage: Techno-State Capitalism in China, is forthcoming with Princeton University Press in Fall 2023. She has published in general sociological journals (American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and Socius), specialized social science journals (Law and Society Review, Work, Employment and Society, and Political Communication), and a China studies journal (The China Quarterly). Her publications have received various awards from the American Sociological Association, the Law and Society Association, and The China Quarterly—the leading interdisciplinary journal in China studies.