Introducing Dr Tehyun Ma

IMG_4892As a BICC postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bristol’s history department this past year, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of fascinating projects that have expanded my research horizons and encouraged me to rethink the way I approach source material in my own work. The first of these has been the Historical Photographs of China – also known as the Visualising China – project. It introduced me to a rich visual record of the Chinese past, full of serendipitous interconnected personal histories and forgotten vistas.

The second, which is tied to the ACRE (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstruction over the Earth) endeavor at the MET Office, gave me a glimpse of how the travel writings and records of nineteenth-century adventurers and merchants could be put to use to measure historical patterns of climate change. Both projects have given me a sense of how history could be put to use both directly and indirectly: from heritage and educational work to thinking about perhaps the biggest challenge of our time.

My own research explores China and Taiwan. Over the past few years, with the help of a postdoctoral fellowship on the Leverhulme-funded China’s War with Japan project  that ran from 2009-2011, I’ve been looking at plans for rehabilitation and reconstruction in China during the war years. The first part of this research, which interrogates the transnational influence of reconstruction planning, recently appeared in the European Journal of East Asian Studies. This article analyses the influence of the Beveridge Report and the American Social Security Act on Chinese social policy planners, exploring what their interest in these designs can tell us about the contours of the Nationalist (Guomindang) state in an era of total war.

My interest in postwar planning developed from my Ph.D., which I undertook at Bristol under the supervision of Professor Robert Bickers. The thesis focused on the first decade of Guomindang rule on Taiwan from 1945-1955, considering how the problem of mobilising a disaffected (and terrorised) island population help shaped the way party leaders reformed what a decrepit party-state. Their state-building techniques, I argue, provide an insight into how party leaders and the rank-and-file conceived of how authority was earned and used. This work adds to the growing literature on the political culture of the early Cold War in East Asia. I will be giving a talk on this project next week, August 13, as part of Hoover Institute’s workshop series ‘Revisiting Modern China’.

The BICC postdoc this year afforded me some valuable time to advance my research and teaching as well as introduce me to realms of history and public engagement that I had not experienced before. It has proven a vital stepping stone in the development of career . As of September 2013, I will be taking up a permanent lectureship in Chinese History at Exeter University, but I am keen to keep up with the projects I’ve been involved with over the past few months.

BICC Cultures of Consumption network conference, 26-8 September

Learning from Big Brothers: What Soviet and Central European Histories of Everyday Life May Teach Historians of the Mao Era

The British Inter-university China Centre (BICC) ‘Cultures of Consumption‘ network, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), will host the conference “Learning from Big Brothers” on 26-28 September 2013 in Oxford.  Advance registration is mandatory and places limited.

The conference brings together Central European and Soviet historians of everyday life with Chinese historians who are starting to work on similar issues for the Mao era (1949-76).  The conference will form the foundation for a network of scholars in China, the EU, and the US who are interested in consumerism and everyday life in non- and quasi-market economies since c.1945.  Creating a dialog between scholars of European and Chinese history will ensure that Chinese historians take into account the range and depth of important work that has been done in the past decade on the experience of socialism in Central Europe and the USSR.

The first two panels will outline the conference agenda.   The conference will open with a roundtable discussion led by East German historian Paul Betts, author of a recent article comparing consumerism across communist societies, and Steve Smith, the Oxford Handbook on the History of Communism, on the strengths and weaknesses of such social histories across national contexts.  Their opening remarks will be followed by comments by two China scholars working on similarly comparative projects.   And the second panel will discuss the new types of sources available and the types of histories now being written while attempting to answer the question: What are the methodological challenges of studying everyday life under socialism?

The subsequent five panels will provide explicit case studies, ranging from recently completed comparative studies by European historians to recently initiated projects by Chinese historians.  Both sides will suggest how their findings might help shape the research agendas of the other geographical side.  Frank Trentmann will discuss the challenges of comparing socialist and capitalist societies in his new book, The Consuming Passion: How Things Came to Seduce, Enrich, and Define our Lives.  And Patrick Patterson will describe his comparative project on Eastern European consumerism with a talk entitled, “The Machinery of the Market in Communist Europe: What May Apply to Communist China?”  The following three panels will consist of Chinese historians at the early stages of researching everyday life under Mao from home furnishing to shopping to diary-keeping, with brief presentations followed by comments by European historians who have already worked on similar topics.

The final panel will introduce large-scale projects underway.  Eastern European historian Josie McLellan will speak on “How to Investigate Dropping Out of Chinese Socialism: Notes from the Central European Experience” and Sun Peidong will address “What Oral Histories Can Teach Us about the Everyday Life under Mao.”

For more information please contact the conference organiser: Dr Karl Gerth (Oxford University and UCSD)



Jennifer Altehenger (King’s College London)

Felix Boecking (University of Edinburgh)

Feng Xiaocai (East China Normal University)

Karl Gerth, (University of California, San Diego)

Henrietta Harrison (Oxford University)

Jonathan Howlett (University of York)

Matthew Johnson (Grinnell College)

Toby Lincoln (University of Leicester)

Rana Mitter (Oxford University)

Aaron William Moore (Manchester University)

Paul Pickowicz (University of California, San Diego)

Sun Peidong (Fudan University)

Patricia Thornton (Oxford University)



Paul Betts (Oxford University)

Natalya Chernyshova (University of Winchester)

Sebastian Gehrig

Josie McLellan (University of Bristol)

Pal NYIRI (University of Amsterdam)

Patrick Patterson (University of California, San Diego)

Steve Smith (Oxford University)

Frank Trentmann (University of London)

Introducing Dr Kathleen Buckingham

Bamboo farmersBICC graduate Kathleen Buckingham (shown left talking with bamboo farmers in China) has now taken up a post as a Research Associate for Forest and Landscape Restoration in the People and Ecosystems Program at the World Resources Institute in Washington DC. Her research focuses on developing diagnostic tools to assist stakeholders to plan and implement successful forest and landscape restoration.

Kathleen holds a DPhil in Geography and the Environment from the University of Oxford, MSc Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh and certificate in Advanced Chinese from Beijing Language and Culture University.  Kathleen’s DPhil thesis- ‘The marginalization of an orphan species: Examining bamboo’s fit within international forestry institutions’ was inspired by working in China with the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR). She found that the potential of bamboo was being constrained by outdated policy frames for natural resource management, with implications for social, economic and environmental development.  The project was funded by the BICC studentship which enabled research in both China and India.

Kathleen’s DPhil provided a stepping stone towards a career in policy focused research. Currently Kathleen’s WRI research focuses on forest and landscape restoration in Brazil, but will inevitably feature China in future.

Chinese Language Courses for Researchers, September 2013

Places are available for the upcoming teaching sessions in the BICC Chinese Language Course for Researchers (CLCR). The programme is open for postgraduate research students and early career academics.

Elementary or Intermediate Level: 28 September to 2 October 2014 [*please note revised date]

The BICC offers Chinese language courses at elementary and intermediate levels for researchers. These courses consist of week-long sessions of intensive teaching. Each teaching session will be followed by a term of online learning with feedback from the BICC language teachers.

The course runs from 10 a.m. Saturday 28 September, through to and including Wednesday 2 October. Classes will run on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th. The detailed teaching timetable will be advertised on It is most likely that the elementary classes will take place in the mornings and the intermediate classes will take place in the afternoons. The daily contacting time for each student will be 3.5 hours. The Language Laboratory is available every day for students to do their assignments and exercises over that period.

Applying for places

A limited number of partial bursaries are available for participants, to defray travel, accommodation and subsistence costs.

Applicants for the programme should contact the programme convenor, Mr Shio-yun Kan, by 4 pm on 5 September 2013, via the BICC administrator, Ms Grania Pickard, at Please provide details of your doctoral topic and affiliation, name of your PhD supervisor, or your current position, as well as a brief description of your Chinese language learning experience, including how many Chinese characters (or words) that you have learnt, and how much time that you have spent in China.

We are likely to ask shortlisted candidates to secure a statement of support from their supervisiors.

‘Historical Photographs of China’ on new AHRC image gallery

The ‘Historical Photographs of China’ project, which has been supported over the past year by the BICC, has been chosen to provide materials for the second display on the new online Image Gallery on the website of the Arts & Humanities Research Council. A selection of images was made from a recently-digitised collection of photographs mainly taken by a young printing manager, Jack Ephgrave, who worked for the British American Tobacco Company in Shanghai from 1929 onwards. These have just gone live under the title Picturing China with commentary from Robert Bickers, with the assistance of BICC research associate Dr Tehyun Ma and Jamie Carstairs, Project Digitzation Officer.