Introducing Dr Nicola Horsburgh

NH profileI was extremely fortunate to receive a BICC studentship for my MPhil and DPhil studies at the University of Oxford – this support enabled me to be in the position I am today, as a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, working on China and nuclear weapons issues. I’m proud to be part of the BICC network – many of the researchers have become close friends, and I have immense respect for the senior academics that have helmed the BICC. As part of this network, in 2011, I was able to participate in the China’s Futures seminar organised by Professor William Callahan, as well as the China: Innovation and Invention workshop, which I co-organised with Astrid Nordin. Both these collaborations resulted in publications: a China Information article on Chinese nuclear strategy, and together with Astrid Nordin and Professor Shaun Breslin, a co-edited volume titled Chinese Politics and International Relations: Innovation and Invention, coming out with Routledge this year.

I started my studentship with no prior background on China or the language, so the BICC proved crucial in laying the intellectual groundwork and in introducing me to the scholarly community, allowing me to find my feet in the China field. Of course, the financial support mattered a great deal too. As a result of BICC funding, I was able to conduct extensive fieldwork abroad during my doctoral studies, notably as a visiting scholar at the Arms Control Program at Tsinghua University in Beijing for the 2010-11 academic year, and at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the US in spring 2009 and winter 2011. This fieldwork was essential since the nature of my doctoral research was somewhat sensitive: nuclear weapons. My DPhil, supervised by Professor Rosemary Foot, was defended with no revisions in March 2012. The thesis explored China’s role in global nuclear politics since 1949. One of my major findings was that Maoist China shaped global nuclear politics to a far greater degree than was previously understood. The thesis has since been turned into a manuscript and is currently under review for publication.

As a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based at Oxford, I continue my interest in China and nuclear issues. My three year research project examines what it means to be a responsible nuclear armed state, with a particular emphasis on China. Overall, the project is more conceptual and contemporary than my doctoral research. I also have a number of side projects on the go. I contribute to the 21st Century Concerts of Power project led by Professor Andrew Hurrell at Oxford, focusing on global governance related to nuclear weapons, as well as Chinese conceptions of great power cooperation. I am also co-writing, together with Kate Sullivan at Oxford, an article on Chinese and Indian approaches to nuclear restraint. In another project, with Amy King of Australia National University, I survey the use of new Chinese sources in the study of China in the International Relations field.

My research also has an impact outside academia. In 2011, I designed and taught a graduate course on Chinese nuclear weapons policy at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies for students seeking government careers and visiting diplomats working in nuclear-related policy areas. More recently, in January and March 2013, I took part in the FCO sponsored UK-China nuclear dialogue organised by King’s College London and Renmin University. Finally, this summer, I have been invited to attend the EU Consortium on Nonproliferation in Brussels as well as the ‘Towards global nuclear order: deterrence, assurance and reductions’ conference at Wilton Park in the UK.

I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the above without the sustained support I received from the BICC for five years. Support that has been not just financial, but also academic and social, rooting me in the China and International Relations academic fields as well as policy communities in the UK, EU, US and China.

Introducing Dr Isabella Jackson

Isabella Jacson portraitIt is no exaggeration to say that I owe my career to the BICC. My BICC studentship enabled me to study Chinese from scratch to the point where I can use it for my research and in building networks with scholars in related fields in China. This commenced with a two-year MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies at Oxford, which included six months’ study in Beijing and intensive language and area studies research training. I completed my MPhil dissertation under the supervision of Professor Rana Mitter on the evolving Chinese perspective on and representation of the Shanghai Municipal Council and the broader International Settlement from the Republican era to the present. This had a direct bearing on my doctoral research, for which I returned to Bristol (where I had completed my BA and MA) to work with Professor Robert Bickers, the leading expert on treaty-port Shanghai.

My PhD was entitled ‘Managing Shanghai: The International Settlement administration and the development of the city, 1900-1943’. It examined the nature and functions of the council which ran the International Settlement, the heart of Shanghai, in the decades of dramatic change in the first half of the twentieth century. I argued that the council functioned as a semi-colonial and transnational authority – concepts which I tested within the unique political environment of Republican China’s treaty ports. This provides a new, precise formulation of the nature of western colonialism in China that has broad ramifications for the fields of Chinese history and colonial history.

The BICC supported my research comprehensively, including the provision of tailored advanced Chinese reading classes in Bristol and attendance at Republican Chinese text reading classes in Oxford. It also paid for me to spend a year conducting research in the newly opened Shanghai Municipal Archives, where I found the bulk of my materials, and to continue my language study with private tuition while there. In addition, I was able to secure funds from the Worldwide Universities Network to attend a masterclass in Sydney and conduct research in the State Library of New South Wales, and I spent three months researching as a fellow of the Kluge Center in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. My dissertation was awarded the University of Bristol’s annual Faculty Prize for the Best Dissertation in the Arts and I am currently adapting it for publication as a monograph.

During my PhD I revised my MA dissertation for publication, using my new Chinese language skills to include a broader range of sources. The resulting article, ‘The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai’, appeared in Modern Asian Studies last year.

When in the final stages of writing up my dissertation, I began a one-year post as Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies at Oxford’s Institute for Chinese Studies. It was an excellent, though demanding, first academic position, furnishing me with a broad range of teaching experience on modern China and experience of administration, including directing the MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies. I moved from Oxford to my current post as the Helen Bruce Lecturer in Modern East Asian History. Mine is one of a number of newly-created posts in Chinese and East Asian Studies as departments have responded to student demand to study modern China, and the BICC has been instrumental in ensuring the next generation of China scholars are available to meet this demand.

I direct the BICC Chinese Urban Studies Network, based in Aberdeen with partners at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Urban History, Lyon’s Institut d’Asie Orientale, and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. We held our first workshop in December 2012 and will be following up with a visit to Shanghai in August 2013 and a major conference in January 2014, bringing together scholars from different disciplines concerned with the study of Chinese cities. The BICC thus continues to be a major force in my life as a researcher, as I consider the role played by the Shanghai Municipal Council, and similar institutions in other treaty ports, in shaping urban China.

Introducing Dr Chris Courtney

In 2007 I was awarded a BICC studentship to study at the University of Manchester. The language based area studies scheme provided me with the opportunity to develop a number of key research skills. In addition to the extensive academic training I received in the UK, I also spent a year studying Chinese at Wuhan and Peking Universities. Whilst researching my PhD, I spent one and a half years conducting fieldwork in Central China. During this period I also benefitted from a postgraduate exchange with the National University of Singapore. My research to date has depended entirely upon the skills and contacts that I developed whilst on my BICC studentship.

Dr Chris Courtney, Leicester Workshop, 2012

Dr Chris Courtney, Leicester Workshop, 2012

My PhD thesis examines the social and environmental history of the 1931 Central China Flood. This disaster inundated an area the size of Britain, and caused over one million fatalities, making it probably the most catastrophic flood in world history. I draw upon a range of theoretical perspectives from anthropology, disasters studies and social and environmental history, in order to write the first comprehensive study of this event. I explore the experiences of ordinary Chinese people, describing how they died and survived during the disaster. I also examine the diverse narratives used by differing sections of the community to explain the genesis and outcome of the flood.

Having completed my BICC studentship, I was awarded a four year Junior Research Fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. Whilst in this post I hope to develop my PhD research further, studying the impact of natural disasters upon Central China during the Republican and early Communist Periods. My broader research interests include the long-term interaction between human communities and the environment in the Middle Yangzi region, and the social history of the treaty port city of Hankou. I am currently conducting an oral history project into the 1954 Central China Flood.

Introducing Dr. Jonathan Howlett

Jonathan Howlett PortraitI received my BICC scholarship in 2006 and I was awarded my PhD from the University of Bristol in 2012. I now work as Lecturer in Modern Asian History at the University of York, a job which I came to in the autumn of 2012 after completing a one-year teaching fellowship at Newcastle University. In hindsight, being awarded a BICC scholarship was a crucial step in my development as an historian of modern China and in enhancing my career prospects because it allowed for two years of study at the University of Oxford before I commenced my PhD research in which I developed essential language skills.

My current research focuses on understanding the processes through
which the Chinese Communist Party attempted to transform Chinese
society following their seizure of power in 1949. In particular, my
forthcoming book focuses on the Communists’ policies towards British
businesses remaining in Shanghai after the revolution.  Rather than
treating the case of British business in isolation, I focus on
exploring the links between the Communists’ state-building efforts,
their political ideology, urban policy and their foreign policy in the
broader Cold War context.

My broader research and teaching interests include: the history of
Shanghai; China’s relationships with other powers; the history of
different forms of comparative socialisms and everyday life in
socialist societies; the role of ordinary (or unheralded) individuals
in history; urban transformations and decolonisation.

I am the co-ordinator for the British Inter-University China Centre
(Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded ‘Chinese 1950s‘ network.
The network was established to facilitate scholarly exchanges on this
subject and will be hosting an international workshop in July 2013.

Introducing Dr. Astrid Nordin

Astrid Nordin

As a BICC student fellow I conducted my doctoral research at the University of Manchester, with difficult language training at Peking University. The thesis, titled ‘Time, Space and Multiplicity in China’s Harmonious World’, passed without corrections in November 2012 and has been nominated to the BISA Michael Nicholson thesis prize for best thesis in International Studies. It traces the foreign policy concept ‘harmonious world’ (hexie shijie) in Chinese policy and academic discourse, at the 2010 Shanghai Expo and in humorous online resistance, arguing that the concept has come to embody an irresolvable contradiction between sameness and difference. The access to expertise, the network and the training provided through BICC have been invaluable in making this project happen.

Beyond this thesis, my research interests fall in the intersection of contemporary Chinese politics and international relations, broadly conceived, and critical theories of global politics. I am particularly interested in the contemporary deployment of concepts drawn from Chinese history, such as harmony (hexie), civilisation (wenming), hegemony (baquan), or All-under-heaven (Tianxia), and their relation to contemporary continental philosophy, particularly the thought of Jean Baudrillard and Jacques Derrida. Within this scope I have written on alternative conceptions of time, space and world order; the politics of mega events (particularly Expo 2010 Shanghai China); Chinese censorship and resistance throughout history; Chinese discourses of online resistance and wordplay (egao); the ‘Chinese school’ of IR; the policy concepts of ‘harmonious world’ (hexie shijie) and ‘harmonious society’ (hexie shehui); soft power; East Asian regionalism and regionalisation; and spatial and temporal aspects of difference in the work of Derrida and Baudrillard.

Since September 2012 I work as Lecturer in China in the Modern World at Lancaster University.