Centre for Death & Society

Chao Fang

Title: An explanation of the process of bereavement and its verification--via a sociological perspective of “motivation”

Supervisors: Dr Christine Valentine, Dr John Troyer,  Dr Paula Smith


Chao is finishing his PhD degree in sociology in the Centre for Death and Society (CDAS), the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. Before starting his study in the UK, Chao obtained his Masters Degree in Philosophy and Cultural Studies with a particular focus on bereavement and identity transformation in Graduate School of Letters, Hokkaido University, Japan.

Chao’s PhD thesis is developing a new approach to bereavement research by introducing a sociological concept of ‘motivation’ to explore individual bereavement experience, based on qualitative interviews collected from three distinctive countries: Britain, Japan and China. Meanwhile, the comparative method enables Chao’s work to become one of the very first studies on bereavement across the three countries, as well as, to be a pioneer study on bereavement in mainland China. Furthermore, with a particular focus on a special group of bereaved parents following death of their only child in China, Chao’s research is expected to shed light on everyday lives of these parents and various issues faced by them. By closely working with scholars and policy makers in China, Chao’s research outputs will further help shape support systems for these bereaved parents.

Apart from his academic engagements, Chao has also actively been involving a range of developments of international collaborations. In 2016, Chao helped the Centre for Death and Society open up a ground-breaking dialogue with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) on death, dying and bereavement research between West and East . Currently, Chao is also involved in developing a transnational research platform on death related studies by integrating researchers from the UK (University of Bath), China (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) and Australia (La Trobe University, Melbourne). In addition, he is also in touch with directors from a nationwide hospice foundation and researchers from Sun Yat-Sen university in China to develop future collaborations on palliative care and end of life care in the country.

Lastly, Chao is also an active member in the doctoral student community in the University of Bath. He launched the first-ever peer mentoring scheme applicable to all the doctoral students in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Chao has been leading a number of recruitment, training and social events for the scheme and has largely contributed to the huge success of the peer support system.


Doctoral Research:

Chao’s doctoral study focuses on motivation of bereaved people from a cross-cultural perspective by interpreting qualitative data from Britain, Japan and China. Bereavement is a common human experience across cultures; however, how people face and deal with their loss is also shaped by the socio-cultural background. Furthermore, bereaved people are often involved with various thoughts and actions in order to recover their ongoing lives as orderly and meaningful from loss of a loved one. Therefore, this thesis argues that motivation can be seen as a social tool that enables bereaved people to engage and negotiate with available norms and values in society to recover their meaning in their ongoing lives. In order to explore how bereavement and motivation shape and are shaped by individual bereavement experiences, this thesis analyses a set of qualitative narratives from four different socio-cultural contexts, including 14 interviews from Britain, 16 interviews from Japan, 16 interviews and written narratives from China and 15 interviews from a so-called Shidu group of bereaved parents in China. By looking at how these bereaved people’s reported experiences before, at and after death of a loved one, I found that they were motivated by their sense of meaning in their ongoing lives. This sense of meaning included, the sense of autonomy and independence in Britain, the primary sense of interdependence mixed with individual values in Japan, the strong sense of reciprocity in being part of family in China, and the interdependent parenthood in the Shidu groups. Further, by developing a comparative framework, this thesis explores the socio-cultural differences of these bereaved people’s sense of meaning, bereavement experiences and everyday lives in relation to their motivation.


Academic Presentations:

25-28 May 2016, ‘As a parent, I died the day my child died – An introduction to Lost-Only-Child (Shidu) Families in China’. ISA RC06 CASS Joint Conference: Social Change and Family Developments, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China.

1–3 September 2016, ‘Bereavement in China – From a perspective of Lost-Only-Child (Shidu) Families’. Death and Cultural Conference, University of York, York, UK.

6 September 2016, ‘Social care and social work for Lost-Only-Child (Shidu) Families in China’. Death, Dying and Social Work, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.
1 February 2017, ‘Researching bereavement in traditional mainland China’. The Second Southwest Qualitative Research Symposium, University of Bath, Bath, UK.

24–26 April 2017, ‘Family centred care patterns and Challenges for bereaved parents following the death of an only child in mainland China’. 2017 ISA Committee on Family Research Annual Conference: Families and Patterns of Care, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa.

09–10 June 2017, ‘Aging on the edge of society: Elderly care for parents following the death of their only child in mainland China’.  Centre for Death and Society (CDAS) Conference 2017: Death at the Margins of the Sate, University of Bath, Bath, UK.

26-28 September 2017, ‘Elderly care for bereaved parents – following death of an only child in mainland China’. Emerging Researchers Conference “Demography, Ageing and Health”, Oxford Institute of Aging Population, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

3-4 November 2017, ‘Aging life of Chinese parents bereaved from death of an only child’. Aging & Society Seventh Interdisciplinary Conference: Social Inequalities, Exclusion, and Age-Discrimination, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA.

11-12 June 2018, ‘Making Sense of Dying in Britain, Japan and China’. Witnessing at the End of Life Postgraduate Workshop, End of Life Studies Group, University of Glasgow, Dumfries Campus, UK.

6-7 September 2018 (forthcoming), ‘Bereavement and Motivation in Three Contrasting Cultures: Britain, Japan and China’. Death and Culture II, University of York, York, UK.

18-19 September 2018 (forthcoming), ‘Involuntarily Childless Elderly in China and Britain: A Preliminary Study’. Aging & Society Eighth Interdisciplinary Conference: Aging, Health, Well-being and Care in a Time of Extreme Demographic Change, Toyo University, Tokyo, Japan.