Introducing Dr Rachel Silberstein

rachel-silbersteinI am a historian of early modern and modern China with a focus on the history of women and gender, and visual/material culture. Funding from the BICC enabled me to pursue DPhil studies at the University of Oxford from 2008-14, where I wrote a dissertation entitled ‘Embroidered Figures: Commercial Production and Popular Culture in the Early Modern Chinese Fashion System’, supervised by Shelagh Vainker, Curator of Chinese Art at the Ashmolean Museum, and Associate Professor of Chinese Art at University of Oxford. The dissertation explored how textile handicraft commercialization and urban popular culture transformed women’s engagement with fashionable dress, enabling women to contribute to local economies and cultures, and was further supported by the KS Scholarship for Chinese Art, and the Gervers Fellowship for Textiles and Dress at the Royal Ontario Museum. Since graduating, I have published articles in Late Imperial China (2015), Costume (2016), and Fashion Theory (2016), and taught as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Visual Culture at Rhode Island School of Design from 2015-16.

For 2016-17, I have been awarded an ACLS / Luce Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to develop my dissertation into a book manuscript. I will also visit China to begin a new project which moves into the twentieth century, and examines needlework as a medium of encounter between Chinese and Western women as handicraft workers, missionaries, shop-owners, students and teachers, at a time when long-held notions of gender were uprooted, handicraft industries were revolutionized by industrialization and globalization, and embroidery’s materiality was transformed by new needlework forms introduced by foreign missionaries and merchants. The BICC played a crucial role in providing the financial support, training and academic freedom to develop my research interests in fashion and dress as a mode of cultural and economic creation, and how processes of commercialization, modernization and industrialization in textile handicrafts impact upon women’s experiences in the home, community and society.

BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership at the John Rylands Library – David Woodbridge


For my BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership, I am working with the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The library is home to most of the special collections of the University of Manchester, which include an extensive Chinese collection.

This collection was recently found to contain an unexpected treasure, and there is much more that remains to be examined. I have begun by looking at the papers of Edward Harper Parker (1848-1926). Parker worked for over twenty years for the British consular service in China, and was also one of Britain’s foremost sinologists of the time. After retiring from the consular service, Parker devoted himself to researching and writing about China, and in 1901 became the first holder of a new chair in Chinese at the University of Manchester. I am working to produce a hand list of Parker’s papers, so that the scope of this collection can be better appreciated by researchers. Parker’s contributions to Chinese studies, which was then a young discipline in Britain, have been largely forgotten. But he wrote widely on a variety of topics, ranging from ancient history to contemporary affairs, and encompassing both the Chinese heartland and the peoples and nations on China’s borders. His papers are providing interesting insights into his working methods and interests, and to his role in advancing the understanding of China in Britain at the start of the twentieth century.

The John Rylands Library is also one of Manchester’s top visitor attractions. Many people come simply to view the beautiful historic reading room, but the library also runs a range of public exhibitions and events, showcasing items from its wide collections. During my three months at the library, I will also be working with the visitor engagement team to produce one such event. It will provide visitors with an exciting opportunity to view some items from the library’s Chinese collection, and will hopefully serve to spark a wider interest in the history and culture of China.


Britain and China, 1840-1970: new book from BICC researchers

Britain and China, 1840-1970 coverJust published by Routledge, and very much a BICC volume, Britain and China, 1840-1970: Empire, Finance and War, is co-edited by Robert Bickers and Jonathan J. Howlett. The volume presents some of the research first aired at BICC’s August 2011 conference ‘Britain and China, pasts, presents and futures’. Held at the University of Bristol this event brought together over 30 speakers from across the globe.

The collection presents 11 essays, outlining the results of research into new archives, or exploring new paradigms for understanding the course of Britain-China relations.

Contributors include BICC researcher Isabella Jackson, and essays by Paul Bailey, John Carroll, Chen Qianping, Koji Hirata, Sherman Xiaogang Lai, Benjamin Mountford, Stephen R. Platt and Hans van de Ven. The cover photograph shows the pipes of the Shanghai Scottish Company of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps in action on a Shanghai street in 1924: source, Hutchinson collection, Historical Photographs of China project (C) Barbara Merchant.

Introducing Dr Nicola Horsburgh

9780198706113_140The global management of nuclear weapons and the ascendancy of China in international affairs pose two of the greatest challenges for international security today. Yet we know relatively little about the nuclear dimension of China’s rise, and the extent to which China has shaped global nuclear politics.

This new book, published in February 2015 by Oxford University Press, offers insight into these issues by offering an empirically rich study of Chinese nuclear weapons behaviour and the impact of this behaviour on global nuclear politics since 1949. In particular, the book advances the argument that, in the 1960s and 1970s, Maoist China –at the time highly critical of superpower attempts to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons– had a greater hand than previously thought in indirectly creating global nuclear order. Since then, China has become a fully-fledged member of global nuclear order, playing a direct and pivotal role in regional and global nuclear politics.

The book also offers theoretical reflections upon nuclear weapons and global order. The concept of global nuclear order is relatively new, but it has become popular among academics and policymakers working in the nuclear field. It is certainly an innovative lens through which to consider China as a nuclear weapons state because it draws attention to the inner workings –institutional and normative—of nuclear politics. It is also timely: the challenges to global nuclear order today are numerous, from Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions to the growing threat of nuclear terrorism. This book considers these challenges from a Chinese perspective, exploring how far Beijing has gone to the aid of nuclear order in addressing these issues.

Dr Nicola Horsburgh

Dr Nicola Horsburgh received an ESRC BICC scholarship to fund an MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies and DPhil in International Relations at Oxford University from 2006 to 2011. She is currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford. Dr Horsburgh is also a Stipendiary Lecturer in International Relations at Trinity College, Oxford, a BA Fellow in the Asian Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College and a research associate of the Oxford China Centre

The BICC played an important role in funding the research that lies at the heart of this book. From 2006 to 2011, Nicola was a BICC student (MPhil and DPhil) at the University of Oxford. Through this funding, she was able to conduct extended fieldwork in China and the United States, serving as a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and as a pre-doctoral fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, USA.



Introducing Dr Andrew Wormald

Wormald_PhotoMy Ph.D. was completed at the University of Bristol with support from the British Inter-University China Centre’s language based area studies scheme. As such, I was very fortunate to receive a year of language training at Peking University, and further training in reading classical Chinese Buddhist texts with my supervisor, Dr. John Kieschnick, in Bristol. My thesis, entitled ‘Voices of Experience: Modernity and Buddhist Meditation in Republican-era China,’ examines Chinese Buddhism’s response to the intellectual and political reconstructions which took place at the beginning of twentieth century. It looks at the writings of a number of important Buddhist figures from the period, examines the discourse taking place in the then newly emerging Buddhist journals, and compares these findings with current scholarly consensus regarding Buddhism’s adaptation to the modern period. I am currently working on converting this thesis into a monograph, and am preparing a journal article on the prominent reformist monk Shi Yuanying’s presentation of The Awakening of Faith in Mahāyāna. My intention, moreover, is to continue the research developed during my Ph.D., and I am therefore working on a project to investigate the reception of classical Buddhist mediation manuals in Republican era Buddhist journals, and the manner in which Buddhist meditation was secularised and made part of the self-strengthening discourse at this time.