Dr Haili Ma

Dr Haili Ma


I am Associate Professor in Performance and 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 (cross dressing male role). I have continued performing and producing whilst developing my academic career.

I am currently the Principle Investigator of three research projects, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): Creative Economy in China Newton Grant: Ghost in M50 Host (2018–2021), UK-China Creative Industries Partnership Development Grant: Bridging the Gaps (2019, 2020–2023) and Song of the Female Textile Workers, UK-China Digital Connectivity (2020–2021). Each project takes Shanghai All-Female Yueju, a rural sing-song form turned popular Shanghai music theatre through the patronage of Shanghai female textile workers, as a case study/practice-led research to examine commonalities of UK-China post-industrial socio-economic conditions, whilst testing UK-China joint digital theatre productions and audience engagement.

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 opera (Palgrave Macmillan forthcoming).

Book reviews 

"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 new 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 research grants awarded 

  • 2020–2021, AHRC The UK-China Creative Partnerships: Responding to the Longer-term Impacts of COVID-19. Principal Investigator. Research topic: Song of the Female Textile Workers. Grant value: £205k (£75 AHRC+130k match funding from project partners)
  • 2020–2023, AHRC The UK-China Creative Partnership Development Large Grant. Principal Investigator. Research topic: Bridging the Gaps: mixed reality performance of Chinese opera in rural and urban Shanghai. Grant value: £1,632k (£500k AHRC+ £1,132k match funding from project partners).
  • 2019, AHRC UK-China Creative Industries Partnership Development Seed Fund. Principal Investigator. Research topic: 2019 Bridging the Gaps: mixed reality performance of Chinese Opera in Shanghai’s rural and urban heritage sites. Grant value: £59,700 (£24,800 AHRC+£34,900 match funding from project partners).
  • 2018–2021, AHRC Creative Economy in China Newton Fund. Principal Investigator, in collaboration with Exeter University and Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA). Research topic: Popular performance for new urban audiences: reconnecting M50 creative cluster with Shanghai All-Female Yue Opera/Ghost in M50 Host. Grant value: £1,157k (246kAHRC+237k matching funding from STA+£690k match funding from project partners) 
  • 2018, ESRC Wales Doctoral Training. Lead Applicant/Supervisor, in partnership with Arts Council of Wales. Research topic: Sino-Wales cultural policy evaluation since the 2005 UNESCO convention. Grant recieved: £70k. 
  • 2017–2018, National Natural Science Foundation of China. Principal Investigator. Research topic: Shenzhen Creative Class and Sustainable City Development. Grant received: £18k.
  • 2016, AHRC IPS Fellowship. Principal Investigator. Research topic: Chinese Cultural Economy, modern tradition, the case of Chinese opera. Grant received: £4,500.
  • 2015–2018, China National Social Science Major Research Funding. Co-investigator with Zhejiang University, China. Research topic: Basic Problems on Contemporary Aesthetics and Critical Theories. Grant received: £80k.
  • 2010, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China. Principal Investigator. Research topic: UK-China Cultural Dialogue. Grant received: £6k.  

Selected invited keynotes, lectures and conference papers:

  • 3 December 2020, BEYOND Digital Future Conference, UK.
  • 20 November 2020, Digital Economy in Global Era, UNESCO with Tong Ji University, Shanghai, China.
  • 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

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, PCI, University of Leeds (full scholarship, Research Distinction)
  • 2004 – 2005, MA in Asia Pacific Studies and Chinese Business, University of Leeds (full scholarship)
  • 2001 – 2004, BA in English Literature with English Language, 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 (CCIs) to critically examine what performance is and how it is produced and consumed within a variety of global-local and socio-political economic structures. 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 will draw on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary theories and research methodologies, such as theatre and performance studies, sociology and media studies. The programme equips the students with knowledge to either progress onto a research degree and/or pursue a career globally.

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>