Grew up in the southwest of China, in the past 30 years, I have lived, studied and lectured in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Chicago, London and Berlin.
I am now one of Europe’s most productive historians working at the boundaries of health, medicine, science, religion and everyday life in modern China. I also has a track record in trans-cultural/global studies and have built up a profile in the history of global health. My research interests range from medicine, health intervention and delivery in modern China to nutrition, food and narcotics, and more broadly the political history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as questions of race and ethnicity. My 2020 book The People’s Health: Health Intervention and Delivery in Mao’s China, 1949-1983 (2020) is the first systematic study on health care and medicine in Mao’s China. This study was funded by the European Commission Research Executive Agency. Drawing on hundreds of files from rarely seen party archives and oral testimonies from experts, local cadres, and villagers across China, I shifts my historian's gaze away from official statistics towards the records of local institutions and personal memories that reflect and give voice to lived experiences. Through the everyday interactions of policy makers, national and local administration, and communities, this book illustrates the dynamic relationship between politics and health, and between individual lives and the political system. My co-authored new book 'I Know Who Caused COVID-19': Pandemics and Xenophobia (2021) explores how blame is attributed during the Covid-19 pandemic. By dissecting the terms of some of the most contentious and polarising debates that have emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic—trust in science versus anti-science and scepticism of science or support for mask or vaccine mandates versus libertarian notions of freedoms, our book urges the reader to resist comfortable and simplistic arguments. By focusing on how prejudices foster and operate in society, the book asks the crucial question whose, and what kind of lives, are perceived to matter and are framed as worth saving in a pandemic?
I am also among a growing number of historians who are pioneering the history of the People's Republic of China through the use of new oral and archival evidence. Based on thousands of archival documents and hundreds of interviews I have collected, my recent works The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962: A Documentary History (2012) and Forgotten Voices of Mao's Great Famine, 1958-1961: An Oral History (2014) are powerful accounts which have helped to reshape our understanding of modern Chinese history.
For 2021 and 22, I was the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (WiKo) Fellow. At WiKo I worked on a new monograph ‘Coping mechanism and everyday survival tactics: The Great Leap Forward famine, a case study’, which explores how rural villagers in China understood the famine and state propaganda, and the wide range of mechanisms they employed to cope with hunger, illness and loss on such massive scale and in the context of older traditions and belief systems.
In addition to my academic work, I have also a long track record in media activities. Some of my interviews with famine survivors have appeared in the award winning French Documentary film Mao's Great Famine (2012). In 2012 and 2013, I wrote a regular Op-Ed column on contemporary issues in China for the South China Morning Post, the most important English newspaper in Hong Kong. From the onset of the Covid-19 crisis in January 2020, I been regularly interviewed by major media outlets from the BBC to the Financial Times, the Guardian, the New York Times, and Aljazeera, to name a few, to comment on the outbreak in Wuhan and the Chinese health system as well as to speak on historical correlates of the global pandemic. In October 2020, I also keynoted at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM)’s Pathology Council’s ‘SARS CoV 2: Emergence to impact’ webinar conference.
University of Essex
History Department Lead for International Partnerships,
University of Essex (1/7/2018 - present)
History Department Study Abroad Officer,
University of Essex (3/8/2020 - present)
History Department Ethics Officer and University Ethics Sub-Committee member,
University of Essex (15/8/2022 - present)
History Department's Deputy Director of Research and Impact Officer,
University of Essex (15/8/2022 - present)