Repository logo

Reproductive Uncertainty: A sociological study of egg freezing governance in China



Change log


Chen, Tiantian 


Since Jinglei Xu posted her egg freezing stories on Sina Weibo in 2015, egg freezing regulation in China has attracted continuous public attention. The thesis contextualizes the policy-making of egg freezing in China within the Chinese modernization process. The main focus of this thesis is to explain policymakers’ and clinicians’ rationale for limiting the use of egg freezing even if they celebrate it as a success of Chinese modernization strategies. The four research questions are how policymakers and clinicians view outcomes of egg freezing, how they understand consequences of the technology, how they interpret marriage and singledom, and how they respond to the egg freezing debate on social media. To answer these questions, I employed a multi-sited qualitative investigation, such as interviewing policymakers from China’s Ministry of Health, clinicians, and women who have frozen eggs or had consultations about doing so; visiting clinics, egg freezing agencies, and feminist societies; and collecting textual material concerning egg freezing. I found that egg freezing was limited in China because it embodied various forms of uncertainty: egg freezing revealed the uncontrollability of human destiny; its consequences were unpredictable and often intangible; it introduced ambiguities into genetic and legal paternity; and it undermined clinical and bureaucratic authority.

In examining these forms of uncertainty, I established the analytic framework of the uncertainty matrix. The uncertainty matrix studied the nature, contexts, management, and function of uncertainty. I found that the uncertainty of egg freezing in this thesis which was derived from the inherent unreliability of human agency and institutions was neo-constructed by traditional Chinese resources to provide governance. The uncertainty of egg freezing reflects limits of Chinese modernization policies: the celebration of modern technology was conflicted with supernatural force of destiny; the omnipotence of science is challenged by vacuum of knowledge, power struggles, and ideologies; the dreams of liberation through modernity were challenged by unforeseen but serious consequences; the increasing social conflicts questioned the prosperity promised by modernization. The uncertainty also informs that the government has partially reversed its modernization strategies by repackaging tradition and tightening control.

By examining the policy-making of egg freezing, this thesis uses egg freezing as a lens on broader social changes in China. On the one hand, the development of egg freezing in China represents a microcosm of the country’s successful modernization path over the past few decades. On the other hand, the uncertainty of egg freezing has motivated authorities to partially return to antithesis of modernization. China is undergoing industrialization, economic growth, and urbanization while still emphasizing contrasting characteristics in many aspects of individual, social, and political life.

This thesis contributes to a significantly less explored realm in social research. Empirically, it fills in the research gap by providing solid research evidence to analyze the legislation of egg freezing in China since very few existing studies consider social, cultural, and psychological conditions that affect egg freezing policy-making processes and relevant practices. Theoretically, by offering a more overarching sociological analysis of how the response to egg freezing illustrates general features of contemporary Chinese society, this thesis provides a new explanation to the Chinese modernization path. The introduction of the European form of modernization in China by force of arms in the nineteenth century saw titanic battles between tradition and modernity, eastern and western ideology, and socialism and capitalism in Chinese society. To evolve into a modern society, and in so doing catch up with advanced western countries, the Chinese government revamped their policies on technology, economy, population, and ideology. As it entered the twenty-first century, however, China has subtly reversed many of these policies. Although many modernization programs are still in effect, tightened ideological control, a revival of Confucian ideas, and the promotion of a pro-natal social policy all figure instances of this reversal. In examining the uncertainty of egg freezing under the specific socio-cultural conditions of contemporary China, it conceptualizes the development of Chinese society in the recent decades. The development of Chinese society challenges the linear and progressive paradigm of modernization, and it breaks down dichotomy between modernity and tradition





Franklin, Sarah


egg freezing, governance, China


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge