Dr Xun Zhou

School of Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies
Dr Xun Zhou
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 872232

  • Location

    5B.125, Colchester Campus



I grew up in southwest China. In the past 30 years I have lived, studied and lectured in Jerusalem, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Chicago, London and Berlin. I am one of Europe’s most productive historians working at the boundaries of health, medicine, science, religion and everyday life in modern China. I have a track record in trans-cultural/global studies and in particular 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 in questions of race and ethnicity. My recent book The People’s Health: Health Intervention and Delivery in Mao’s China, 1949-1983 (2020) is the first systematic study of health care and medicine in Mao’s China. This research 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 shifted my historian's gaze away from official statistics towards the records of local institutions and the personal memories that reflect and give voice to lived experiences. Through the everyday interactions of policy makers, national and local administrations, 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 was attributed during the Covid-19 pandemic. By dissecting the terms of some of the most contentious and polarising debates that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic — trust in science versus anti-science/scepticism about science, and support for mask or vaccine mandates versus libertarian notions of freedom — our book urges the reader to resist comfortable and simplistic arguments. By focusing on how prejudices operate in society, the book asks the crucial question: whose lives and what kind of lives are perceived to matter and get 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 the thousands of archival documents and hundreds of interviews I have collected, my two books 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) have helped to reshape our understanding of modern Chinese history. In 2021-22, I was a Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (WiKo) Fellow. At WiKo I worked on a new monograph ‘Coping mechanism and everyday survival tactics', using the the Great Leap Forward famine as a case study to explore 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 been active in media activities. Some of my interviews with famine survivors appeared in the award-winning French documentary film Mao's Great Famine (2012). During 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 have been interviewed regularly by media outlets including the BBC, the Financial Times, The Guardian, the New York Times, and Aljazeera, among others, commenting on the outbreak in Wuhan and on the Chinese health system as well as speaking about historical global pandemics. In October 2020, I was a keynote speaker at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM)’s Pathology Council’s webinar conference ‘SARS CoV 2: Emergence to Impact’.


  • BA Sichuan

  • MA London

  • PhD London

  • FHEA


University of Essex

  • Lead for International Partnerships, Department of History, University of Essex (1/7/2018 - 31/7/2023)

  • Study Abroad Officer, Department of History, University of Essex (3/8/2020 - 31/7/2023)

  • Ethics (Research) Officer, Department of History, University of Essex (15/8/2022 - 31/7/2023)

  • Deputy Director of Research and Impact Officer, Department of History, University of Essex (15/8/2022 - present)

  • Postgraduate Research Director, Department of History, University of Essex (1/8/2023 - 17/12/2023)

  • Ethics (Research) Officer, School of Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Essex (1/8/2023 - 17/12/2023)

  • Ethics Sub Committee Memember, University of Essex (1/8/2022 - 22/12/2023)

Other academic

  • Reader in History, School of Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Essex (1/10/2016 - present)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

Race and Ethnicity in East Asia

Open to supervise

Social History of Drugs

Open to supervise

Visual History, Southeast and East Asia

Open to supervise

Social and Political 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

Global Environmental History

Open to supervise

History of Religion in Modern East Asia

Open to supervise

Global Public Health

Conferences and presentations

Changing perceptions of ‘healthy’ food in the UK in the late 20th and early 21st century

Invited presentation, Workshop "(Re)imagining food: representations of food to move towards more sustainable food cultures", European Public Health Conference (EPHC) 2023, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, 9/11/2023

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

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Rebellious Pasts: Challenging and Creating Histories (HR173)

  • Revolutions in History, 1776-1919: How to Change the World (HR176)

  • China: The Long Twentieth Century (HR226)

  • History Works: Career Portfolio (HR510)

  • From Liberation to the Tiananmen Massacre: China From Mao to Deng Xiaoping, 1949-1992 (HR645)

  • War and Medicine (HR965)

Previous supervision

Jiarong Lu
Jiarong Lu
Thesis title: Leisure and Modernity in Late 19th Century Shanghai
Degree subject: History
Degree type: Master of Philosophy
Awarded date: 15/2/2019


Journal articles (12)

Zhou, X., (2023). Antibiotic Culture: A History of Antibiotic Use in the Second Half of the 20th and Early 21st Century in the People’s Republic of China. Antibiotics. 12 (3), 510-510

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 (9)

Zhou, X., (2023). Triumph or tragedy: unintended consequences of political planning and social engineering in Maoist China. In: Health and Development. Editors: Borowy, I. and Harris, B., . De Gruyter. 229- 254. 9783111015583

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 (3)

Zhou, X., (2022).A History of Food and Health in China (Course Plan),Bloomsbury

Zhou, X., (2022).Has a War on Drugs Ever Been Won?. History Today(September 2022),History Today Ltd.

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


5B.125, Colchester Campus

More about me