I research and teach the history of modern and contemporary China in its global contexts. Prior to joining the History Faculty, I was Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History at King's College London and an An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. I am editor of the 'The Mao Era in Objects', a website for anyone interested in the history of modern China as told through interactive biographies of famous and more obscure objects of China's Mao period (1949-1976). This was funded by an AHRC leadership fellowship and built by King's College Digital Lab. I am also series co-editor of the Cambridge Studies in the History of the People's Republic of China (Cambridge University Press) and Transformations of Modern China (De Gruyter), and serve on the editorial boards of the journals Cultural and Social History and Twentieth Century China.
- Industry, material culture, and design
- Cultural production and propaganda
- Socialist law and civic education
I am currently working on the history of design and industry in China after World War II. China today is one of the world's major furniture producers and a global manufacturer of materials used to make everyday objects. The material environments of people living in the UK, Europe, and other regions of the world are entangled with the lives of those working in Chinese design and industry. Yet we know little about the contemporary history that led to China's prominent position in this segment of global manufacturing. With support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust, I am completing a new book -- Design for the People: Furnishing Socialist China -- that traces Chinese furniture design, industry, and trade from the 1940s into the 1990s. It tells the stories of people who helped materialise modern China in urban coastal as well as interior cities: as designers and producers in research institutes, state offices, factories, handicraft communes, and individual homes; as traders across the capitalist and socialist world; and as users who altered objects, furnished interiors, and found creative solutions in times of material shortage. As part of this research, I have written on the history of design magazines, trade exhibitions, engineered wood manufacturing, bamboo objects, and the standardization of design. Together with Dr. Denise Ho (Yale University), I edited Material Contradictions in Mao's China (University of Washington Press, 2022) and I am completing another edited volume, How Maoism Was Made, with Prof. Aaron Moore (University of Edinburgh) for the Proceedings of the British Academy/Oxford University Press.
I also continue to maintain an interest in the history of law and civic education in state socialism. My book Legal Lessons: Popularizing Laws in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1989 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2018) examined China's history of state-led mass legal education, from the early years of the People's Republic into the first decade of 'reform and opening' after Mao Zedong's death in 1976. Asking not whether laws were successfully implemented but how they were communicated and to what effect, the book demonstrated that educating the general population in laws has been a crucial, if controversial, component of Chinese Communist Party governance. Laws, in other words, are central to understanding Chinese socialist statecraft during a period often thought of as 'lawless'.