Dr Haili Ma

Dr Haili Ma


I am Associate Professor/Reader in Performance and the Creative Economy. My research interest focuses on the artistic evolution of theatre and performance in the digital era and their contribution to sustainable socio-economic development. Before coming to the UK in 1997 I was a member of Shanghai Luwan All-female Yue Opera Troupe, specialising in xiaosheng (male role). I have continued to perform and produce whilst developing my academic career. My research methods bridge across theories and practice-led.

I am the Principal Investigator of a number of UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) award projects, examining connectivity of UK-China audiences and arts companies through mixed reality performance at heritage sites.

I am the author of Urban Politics and Cultural Capital, the case of Chinese opera (Routledge hardcopy 2015, paperback 2020) and Understanding Cultural and Creative Industries through Chinese Theatre (Palgrave Macmillan forthcoming).

Book reviews Urban Politics and Cultural Capital, the case of Chinese opera (Routledge hardcopy 2015, paperback 2020) 

"Anyone with experience in China's performing arts world over the past three decades will recognize the seriousness of the issues Ma Haili addresses in her book on Reform-Era Shanghai Yueju 越剧. An alternative title for the project might have been 'Struggle to Perform: The Vicissitudes of Chinese Opera under Marketization.'" - Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature 2016, Vol.35/1: 61–63. 
"The book is a unique and significant contribution to our understanding of Chinese opera during economic reform ... The significance of the book comes from its main theme, the relationship between art and politics in yueju, and the author's convincing argument about how the dynamics underlying that relationship operate. The approach of the author is to open the book with a summary of the founding ideology of the CCP and its revised version, and then argue in the chapters how the contradictions between, and the confusion caused by, the two versions are the ultimate cause of the problems for SYC, yueju, and by extension all Chinese regional operas." - Asian Theatre Journal 2016, Vol.33/2: 507–509.
"This case study of the process of marketization of Chinese opera as a cultural product combines deep theoretical thought with empirical data that are hard to obtain. Haili gives a detailed and easy to read account of 100 years of history of a Chinese cultural production. It is a book of high value for social scientists looking for the application of Bourdieu and Becker’s theory of art to new empirical domains. This book brings you a little closer to understanding the Chinese art market and its cultural policy." - Contemporary Sociology 2017, Vol.46/3: 312–312.

Selected awarded research grants

  • 2022–2023, Principle Investigator, Song of the Female Textile Workers, past, present and the future. UKRI AHRC International Collaboration Fund, Understanding the Future of UK-China Research and Innovation Collaboration in the Creative Industries. Grant value: £152,400 (£100k AHRC + £52,400 match funding from project partners).
  • 2020–2021, Principal Investigator. Song of the Female Textile Workers, UK-China digital connectivity. UKRI AHRC International Collaboration Fund, UK-China Creative Partnerships: responding to the longer-term impacts of COVID-19. Grant value: £205k (£75 AHRC+£130k match funding from project partners).
  • 2020–2023, Principal Investigator. Bridging the Gaps: mixed reality performance in rural and urban Shanghai heritage sites. UKRI AHRC International Collaboration Fund, UK-China Research-Industry Creative Partnership. Grant value: £1,632k (£500k AHRC+ £1,132k match funding from project partners).
  • 2019, Principal Investigator. Bridging the Gaps: mixed reality performance in Shanghai heritage sites. UKRI AHRC Development Fund, UK-China Creative Industries Partnership. Grant value: £59,700 (£24,800 AHRC+£34,900 match funding from project partners).
  • 2018–2021, Principal Investigator. Popular Performance for New Urban Audiences, reconnecting Shanghai M50 creative cluster with Shanghai All-female Yue Opera. AHRC Newton Fund, Creative Economy in China. Grant value: £1,157k (£246kAHRC+£237k matching funding from Shanghai Theatre Academy+£690k match funding from project partners).
  • 2018, Lead Applicant and Supervisor. Sino-Wales cultural policy evaluation since the 2005 UNESCO convention. ESRC Wales Doctoral Training Fund. Grant value: £70k. 
  • 2017–2018, Principal Investigator. Shenzhen Creative Class and Sustainable City Development. China National Natural Science Foundation Fund. Grant value: £18k.
  • 2016, Fellowship. Chinese Cultural Economy, the case of Chinese opera. AHRC IPS Fund. Grant value: £4,500.
  • 2015–2018, Co-investigator with Zhejiang University, China. Issues on Contemporary Aesthetics and Critical Theories. China National Social Science Major Research Fund. Grant value: £80k.
  • 2010, Principal Investigator. UK-China Cultural Dialogue. China Shanghai Jiaotong University Fund. Grant value: £6k.  

Selected invited keynotes and conference papers

  • 10 December 2021, Future Digital Performing Arts, Shanghai Theatre Academy, National Digital Media Lab. China
  • 5 Feburary 2021, Heritage and Sustainable Future, UNESCO, UK
  • 3 December 2020, Digital Future Conference, BEYOND UK
  • 20 November 2020, Digital Economy in Global Era, (Shanghai) Tong Ji University, China with UNESCO
  • 2–4 December 2019, UK-China Creative Partnership Development Forum, AHRC and UKRI, Shanghai, China
  • 4–5 March 2019, Engaging the Parliament through Research, AHRC, London, UK
  • 6–8 March 2018, Engaging with Government, Influence Cultural Policy through Research, AHRC and Institute of Government, London, UK
  • 25–26 October 2017, Development through the Creative Economy in China, AHRC, RCUK, UNESCO Creative City, Shanghai, China
  • 18 May 2017, The EU Global Challenge Forum – Ahead of the Curve, The Robert Bosch Academy and The German Commission for UNESCO, Berlin, Germany
  • 26 February 2016, Culture and the Creative Economy in Global Context, Artists and Creativity, Chester University with UNESCO, UK
  • 8 May, 2015, Cultural Diversity and Equality at Global Cultural Economy Roundtable, The University of Warwick, UK
  • 29–30 July, 2014, Re-inventing Tradition for the New Millennium, at the Cultural Economy Workshop hosted by Prato Monash University with UNESCO, Italy
  • 21–23 October, 2013, Chinese Opera: Folk Art and Mass Expression, at a workshop hosted by UNESCO: Cultural Economy, Sustainable Development and the Diversity of cultural Expressions, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China


  • Programme Director: MA Global Performance and Cultural Industries
  • University of Leeds AHRC Strategy Group

Research interests

  • Chinese theatre
  • intangible cultural heritage
  • cultural and creative industries
  • digital economy
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • 2007-2011, PhD at PCI, University of Leeds (full scholarship, Research Distinction)
  • 2004-2005, MA in Asia Pacific Studies&Chinese Business, University of Leeds (full scholarship)
  • 2001-2004, BA in English Literature, University of Salford (2:1)

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Member of the AHRC Peer Review College

Student education

I am the founder and director of MA Global Performance and Cultural Industries. The programme contextualises theories and practice of Theatre and Performance studies within the Cultural and Creative industries to critically examine what performance is and how it is produced and consumed in different socio-political economic settings. Global performance in this context refers to both live and digital forms that are produced for educational and/or commercial purposes with international audiences in mind.

The programme draws on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary theories, including theatre and performance studies, sociology, media studies, and practice-led research methods. It equips students with the knowledge and skills to progress onto a research degree and/or to pursue a career in the field of global performance and cultural industries.

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Cultural Policy

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>