Dr Xun Zhou

Department of History
Dr Xun Zhou
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 872232

  • Location

    5NW.8.6, Colchester Campus



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 and London. 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 most recent book The People’s Health: Health Intervention and Delivery in Mao’s China, 1949-1983 (McGill-Queen University Press, 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. Capitalising on previously unseen archival sources from across China AND extensive oral interviews with the participants at the expert and grassroots level, it sets out to develop a nuanced understanding of the Chinese approach to health. It explores the processes through which the PRC's health system was conceived and the political context in which they were, and could be evaluated. This book contributes to global health policy debates concerning the importance of political commitment to health, sustained investment, access to health, the pursuit of community engagement, and action on the wider determinants of health. In 2015, I also co-edited Disease, Religion and Healing in Asia: Convergence and Collisions (2015), a pioneering study that explores the diverse models of healing and their interplay with culture and religion in Asia. I am 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. 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.


  • BA Sichuan

  • MA London

  • PhD London

  • FHEA


University of Essex

  • History Department Lead for International Partnerships, History Department, University of Essex (1/7/2018 - present)

  • History Department Study Abroad Officer, History, University of Essex (3/8/2020 - 30/7/2021)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

History of Jewish People in Asia

Open to supervise

Social History of Drugs

Open to supervise

Material Culture. Visual Culture, and Everyday life in Modern China (1870-1950)

Open to supervise

Social History of Modern China

Open to supervise

History of Public Health and Medicine in 20th century China

Open to supervise

Food and Foodways

Open to supervise

History of Diseases, Environmental History

Open to supervise

Medicine and Religion in East Asia, 20th Century

Open to supervise

Conferences and presentations

Rethinking Disease in Asia after COVID-19

Invited presentation, Association of Asian Studies 2021 Virtual Conference, 22/3/2021

Covid 19: International profiling and historical correlates

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, Royal Society of Medicine (RSM)’s Pathology Council's SARS CoV 2: Emergence to impact’ webinar conference, London, 19/10/2020

Intentions of China in Changing the Discourse in the South China Sea and Covid-19: A Success?

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Philippines’ webinar, 26/9/2020


Journal articles (11)

Zhou, X. and Gilman, S., (2021). Placing the Blame: What If “They” REALLY Are Responsible?. Journal of Medical Humanities. 42 (1), 17-49

Zhou, X., (2016). Reconsidering the Barefoot Doctor Programme. Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences. 9 (1), 41-63

Zhou, X., (2016). Introduction to Re-thinking Health and Health Care Delivery: Historical Perspectives and Global Challenges. Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences. 9 (1), 1-3

Zhou, X., (2016). ‘Cosmopolitan from above’: a Jewish experience in Hong Kong. European Review of Economic History. 23 (5-6), 897-911

Zhou, X., (2016). Re-examining the History of the Great Famine in China through Documentary Evidence. East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. 3 (2), 133-151

Zhou, X., (2014). Peter Zarrow: After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885–1924. xiv, 395 pp. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978 0 8047 7868 8.. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 77 (1), 256-257

Zhou, X., (2012). 'Kitchen Knowledge', Desperate Foods, and Ritual Healing in Everyday Survival Strategies during the Great Famine in China, 1958-62. Asian Medicine. 7 (2), 384-404

Xun, Z., (2011). Mikvahin Beijing. European Review of History: Revue europeenne d'histoire. 18 (1), 123-130

Xun, Z., (2002). The discourse of disability in modern China. Patterns of Prejudice. 36 (1), 104-112

Xun, Z., (2002). A History of Narcotic Consumption in Modern China. Twentieth-Century China. 28 (1), 21-36

Dikotter, F., (2002). Narcotic Culture. A Social History of Drug Consumption in China. British Journal of Criminology. 42 (2), 317-336

Books (10)

Zhou, X. and Gilman, SL., (2021). ‘I Know Who Caused COVID-19’ Pandemics and Xenophobia. Reaktion Books. 1789145074. 9781789145076

Zhou, X., (2020). The People's Health: Health Intervention and Delivery in Mao's China, 1949-1983. McGill-Queen's University Press. 9780228001942

Dikötter, F., Zhou, X. and Laamann, LP., (2016). Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China. C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd. 1850657254. 9781849044721

Vargas-O'Bryan, IM. and Zhou, X., (2014). Disease, Religion and Healing in Asia: Collaborations and Collisions. Routledge. 131768995X. 9781317689959

Zhou, X., (2013). Forgotten Voices of Mao's Great Famine, 1958-1962 An Oral History. Yale University Press. 0300199244. 9780300184044

Zhou, X., (2012). The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962 A Documentary History. Yale University Press. 9780300175189

Zhou, X. and Tarocco, F., (2006). Karaoke The Global Phenomenon. Reaktion Books. 1780232403. 9781861893000

Gilman, SL. and Zhou, X., (2004). Smoke A Global History of Smoking. Reaktion Books and University of Chicago Press. 1861892004. 9781861892003

(2001). The Wisdom of the Confucians. Oneworld Publications Limited. 1851682597. 9781851682591

Zhou, X., (2001). Chinese Perceptions of the Jews' and Judaism: A History of the Youtai. Routledge. 1136835091. 9781136835094

Book chapters (8)

Zhou, X., (2020). Violence in Revolutionary China: 1949-1963. In: The Cambridge World History of Violence Volume 4 AD 1800-AD 2000. Editors: Edwards, L., Penn, N. and Winter, J., . Cambridge University Press. 408- 426. 9781316606148

Zhou, X., (2018). Beauty and Health: Images of Health and Illness from 20th-Century China. In: Imagining Chinese Medicine. Editors: Lo, V. and Barrett, P., . Brill. 487- 496. 978-90-04-36618-3

Zhou, X., (2017). From China's "Barefoot Doctor" to Alma Ata: The Primary Health Care Movement in the Long 1970s. In: China, Hong Kong, and the Long 1970s: Global Perspectives. Editors: Roberts, P. and Westad, OA., . Palgrave Macmillan. 135- 157. 978-3-319-51249-5

Zhou, X., (2016). Perceiving Jews in Modern China. In: The Image of Jews in Contemporary China. Editors: Ross, J. and Song, L., . Academic Studies Press. 5- 23. 9781618114204

Zhou, X., (2014). Mikevah in Beijing. In: Jewish Culture in the Age of Globalisation. Editors: Gelbin, C. and Gilman, S., . Routledge. 9781138801646

Zhou, X., (2014). Collaborating and Conflicted: Being Jewish in Secular and Multicultural Hong Kong. In: Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Collaboration and Conflict in the Age of Diaspora. Editors: Gilman, SL., . Hong Kong University Press. 99- 114. 978-9888208272

Zhou, X., (2012). Fitness and Modernity in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century China. In: Perfect Bodies: Sports, Medicine and Immortality Ancient and Modern. Editors: Lo, V., . British Museum Research Publications. 143- 156. 9780861591886

Zhou, X., (2008). The 'Jews' in the May Fourth Period. In: Youtai - Presence and Perception of Jews and Judaism in China. Editors: Kupfer, P., . Peter Lang. 201- 216. 9783631575338

Other (1)

Gilman, S. and Zhou, X., (2014).But We Never Talked about it,History Workshop Online, Special Feature: Timeliness and (Holocaust) Memory

Grants and funding


Fellowship with Wissenschaftskolleg

Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin


Between State and Community - Public Health Campaigns and Local Healing Practice in socialist Asia

European Commission (FP7)

+44 (0) 1206 872232


5NW.8.6, Colchester Campus

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