Matthew Kohrman’s research and writing bring anthropological methods to bear on the ways health, culture, and politics are interrelated. Focusing on the People's Republic of China, he engages various intellectual terrains such as governmentality, gender theory, political economy, critical science studies, narrativity, and embodiment. His first monograph, Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China, raises questions about how embodied aspects of human existence, such as our gender, such as our ability to propel ourselves through space as walkers, cyclists and workers, become founts for the building of new state apparatuses of social provision, in particular, disability-advocacy organizations. Over the last decade, Prof. Kohrman has been involved in research aimed at analyzing and intervening in the biopolitics of cigarette smoking among Chinese citizens. This work, as seen in his recently edited volume--Poisonous Pandas: Chinese Cigarette Manufacturing in Critical Historical Perspectives--expands upon heuristic themes of his earlier disability research and engages in novel ways techniques of public health, political philosophy, and spatial history. More recently, he has begun projects linking ongoing interests at the intersection of phenomenology and political economy with questions regarding environmental attunement and the arts.

Academic Appointments

Administrative Appointments

  • Faculty Fellow, Center for Innovation in Global Health, Stanford University School of Medicine (2015 - Present)

Program Affiliations

  • Center for East Asian Studies
  • Modern Thought and Literature

2023-24 Courses

All Publications

  • Filtered Life: Air Purification, Gender, and Cigarettes in the People's Republic of China PUBLIC CULTURE Kohrman, M. 2021; 33 (2): 161-191
  • Tobacco Reconsidered: Ongoing Omissions, Original Outlooks in the Slipstreams of Experience, Global Health and Critical Industry Studies ANNUAL REVIEW OF ANTHROPOLOGY Kohrman, M., Benson, P. 2020; 49
  • Curating Employee Ethics: Self-Glory Amidst Slow Violence at The China Tobacco Museum MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY Kohrman, M. 2017; 36 (1): 47-60


    Seen through the prism of public health, the cigarette industry is an apparatus of death. To those who run it, however, it is something more prosaic: a workplace comprised of people whose morale is to be shepherded. Provisioning employees of the cigarette industry with psychic scaffolding to carry out effective daily work is a prime purpose of the China Tobacco Museum. This multistoried exhibition space in Shanghai is a technology of self, offering a carefully curated history of cigarette production thematized around tropes such as employee exaltation. Designed to anchor and vitalize the ethical outlook of those working for the world's most prolific cigarette conglomerate, the museum is a striking illustration that industrial strongholds of 'slow violence' produce their own forms of self-care.

    View details for DOI 10.1080/01459740.2016.1174227

    View details for Web of Science ID 000390586900005

    View details for PubMedID 27050550

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5258112

  • Cloaks and Veils: Countervisualizing Cigarette Factories In and Outside of China ANTHROPOLOGICAL QUARTERLY Kohrman, M. 2015; 88 (4): 907-939
  • Smoking intensity among male factory workers in Kunming, China. Asia-Pacific journal of public health Cheng, K., Tsoh, J. Y., Cui, W., Li, X., Kohrman, M. 2015; 27 (2): NP606-15


    This study investigated the intensity of cigarette consumption and its correlates in China among urban male factory workers, a cohort especially vulnerable to tobacco exposure, one that appears to have benefitted little from recent public health efforts to reduce smoking rates.Data were collected from men working in factories of Kunming city, Yunnan, China, who are current daily smokers (N = 490). A multinomial logistic regression was conducted to examine the factors in association with smoking intensity in light, moderate, and heavy levels.Light smoking correlated with social smoking, smoking the first cigarette later in the day, self-reported health condition, and quit intention. Heavy smoking was associated with purchase of lower priced cigarettes, difficulty refraining from smoking, and prehypertensive blood pressure.Even in regions where smoking is highly prevalent, even among cohorts who smoke heavily, variation exists in how cigarettes are consumed. Analyses of this consumption, with special consideration given to smoking intensity and its correlates, can help guide tobacco-control strategists in developing more effective interventions.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/1010539513483826

    View details for PubMedID 23572373

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4167973

  • Tobacco ANNUAL REVIEW OF ANTHROPOLOGY, VOL 40 Kohrman, M., Benson, P. 2011; 40: 329-344
  • Anthropology in China's health promotion and tobacco LANCET Xiao, S., Kohrman, M. 2008; 372 (9650): 1617-1618
  • Smoking among doctors: Governmentality, embodiment, and the diversion of blame in contemporary China MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY Kohrman, M. 2008; 27 (1): 9-42


    How and to what effect have physicians in China become frequent cigarette smokers and blamed as engines of nationwide tobacco-induced suffering? Building on governmentality heuristics, I argue that multilevel interactions of biopolitics and male embodiment have been especially significant in shaping these phenomena. Of the effects gleaned in my fieldwork ongoing since 2003, the most important is a deflection of responsibility for tobacco-induced death away from incoherent leadership decisions--some aimed at protecting Chinese citizens from tobacco, others at facilitating trillions of cigarettes being sold annually in the PRC--made over recent years in and outside the country.

    View details for DOI 10.1080/01459740701831401

    View details for Web of Science ID 000253096800003

    View details for PubMedID 18266170

  • Depoliticizing tobacco's exceptionality: Male sociality, death and memory-making among Chinese cigarette smokers CHINA JOURNAL Kohrman, M. 2007; 58: 85-109
  • Why am I not disabled? Making state subjects, making statistics in post-mao China MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY QUARTERLY Kohrman, M. 2003; 17 (1): 5-24


    In this article I examine how and why disability was defined and statistically quantified by China's party-state in the late 1980s. I describe the unfolding of a particular epidemiological undertaking--China's 1987 National Sample Survey of Disabled Persons--as well as the ways the survey was an extension of what Ian Hacking has called modernity's "avalanche of numbers." I argue that, to a large degree, what fueled and shaped the 1987 survey's codification and quantification of disability was how Chinese officials were incited to shape their own identities as they negotiated an array of social, political, and ethical forces, which were at once national and transnational in orientation.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000181417400002

    View details for PubMedID 12703387

  • Authorizing a disability agency in post-Mao China: Deng Pufang's story as biomythography CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY Kohrman, M. 2003; 18 (1): 99-131
  • Grooming Que Zi: Marriage Exclusion and Identity Formation among Disabled Men in Contemporary China AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST Kohrman, M. 2000; 26: 890-909
  • Motorcycles for the disabled: Mobility, modernity and the transformation of experience in urban China CULTURE MEDICINE AND PSYCHIATRY Kohrman, M. 1999; 23 (1): 133-155


    This paper describes changes in people's attitudes toward and experiences of disability in contemporary China. In particular, it examines how, as a result of shifting gender structures and modernist modes of production, urban men who struggle to walk have adopted cycle technologies, and how this has caused Chinese society increasingly to associate these men with disability. The paper further details ways the young state-run advocacy organization, the China Disabled Persons' Federation, has contributed to these attitudinal and experiential shifts by providing more assistance to urban men who struggle to walk than to any other PRC citizens who might be considered disabled. In general, the transformations outlined in this paper exemplify how ongoing macro changes in contemporary China often provide benefits to a relatively small number of people and how, for those who receive them, the benefits are often double-edged.

    View details for DOI 10.1023/A:1005455815637

    View details for Web of Science ID 000080678500007

    View details for PubMedID 10388946