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.

Workshop: China and India in the 20th and 21st century, Where do international relations and history meet?

An international workshop supported by the British Inter-university China Centre (BICC), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Speakers include: Manoranjan Mohanty (Institute for Chinese Studies, New Delhi); Alka Acharya (Institute for Chinese Studies, New Delhi); Meng Qinglong (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing); Chris Goto-Jones (University College, Leiden)

Tuesday 26 March 2013, 4 -6 pm, Wednesday 27 March, 9.30 am to 5 pm

Institute for Chinese Studies, Walton Street, Oxford

All welcome; for further details of programme please email

BICC community successes

Congratulations to two BICC participants on their recent successes. Dr Tehyun Ma, currently working with the ‘Historical Photographs of China‘ project at Bristol on BICC-supported engagement activities, has been appointed to a new, permanent Lectreship in Post-1500 Chinese History at the University of Exeter. Chris Courtney, a BICC-suppored student at the Unievrsity of Manchester, and active participant in the BICC Chinese Urban Studies Network, has been elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge University. Chris will be working on a history of flood disasters in Central China during the Republican period.

A partial snapshot of the destinations of former BICC-trained students and Career Development fellows shows Centre alumni now in post at the University of Lancaster (Dr Astrid Nordin), University of York (Dr Jon Howlett), University of Aberdeen (Dr Isabella Jackson), University of Oxford (Dr Nicola Horsburgh; Sam Geall), Hong Kong Baptist University (Dr Catherine Ladds), Hong Kong Institute of Education (Dr Kelvin Cheung), Stanford University (Dr Regina Llamas), Rhode Island School of Design (Rachel Silberstein).

Environmental Culture Network visits to China

In September 2012, Anna Lora-Wainwright and Peter Wynn Kirby visited Shantou University Medical College to establish a new research collaboration on e-waste with Prof. Li Liping.

In November 2012, Anna Lora-Wainwright visited the Forum for Health, Environment and Development at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. During the visit she met regularly with other members of  ‘the Fenghuang team’, an interdisciplinary social science team working on mining in Fenghuang county, Hunan. The Fenghuang prepared a joint presentation to representatives of Fenghuang county government and Centre for Disease Control on rural mining, environment and health: the case of Fenghuang (农村采矿业、环境与健康:以湖南省凤凰县为例). A revised version of the presentation was also included in the 4th FORHEAD Annual Conference, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 6 and 8 November 2012 (in Chinese). At the 4th FORHEAD Annual Conference, Anna also presented a paper titled “Citizens’ responses
to pollution: a social and political analysis of two Chinese villages” (村民对污染的回应:对中国两个村庄的社会政治模式分析境与健康:以湖南省凤凰县为例) (in Chinese), see alw forhead slides .

Revisiting C.E. Darwent’s Shanghai

As part of the Digital China network, BICC staff Robert Bickers, Jamie Carstairs and Tehyun Ma, have been involve in preparing a pop-up exhibiton at the Bristol City Museum (9 February) and M-Shed (10 February). For fuller details see the ‘Visualising China’ blog.

Connections: roundtable on historical research on the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, 23 Feb 2013

This roundtable aims to facilitate the exchange of information about current projects internationally which explore the history and the archives of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service. Project leaders from China, Taiwan and the UK will discuss the current state of the field, future plans, and the potential for interaction and networking between the initiatives, and between professionals, academics, archivists and librarians.

Panel articipants: Li Yan (Vice President, China Customs Institute); Professor Wu Songdi (Fudan University, Shanghai); Dr Henk Vynckier (Tung-Hai University, Taiwan); Professor Robert Bickers (University of Bristol).

Location: Royal Holloway University of London, 2 Gower Street, London WC1E 6DP

For further details see the roundtable programme, or contact the organiser, Dr Weipin Tsai, Royal Holloway University of London.

Call for Papers: New Perspectives on the Chinese 1950s, York, 19-21 July 2013

The call for papers for this Chinese 1950s Network conference has now been issued. The conference will be held at the University of York, 19-21 July 2013. Paper abstracts should be no longer than 300 words and panel proposals are most welcome. Contributors are requested to direct all correspondence to The deadline for submission of proposals is Friday 22nd March 2013.

Chinese Urban Studies network launch workshop

New Directions in Chinese Urban Studies, Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester, Monday 17 December 2012

Workshop participants, 17 December 2012, Leicester

This was the first in a series of workshops that will explore the state of Chinese urban history, identify recent developments in the field and explore new approaches and directions. In her opening remarks, Isabella Jackson raised some possible points for wider discussion, including the wealth of research on Shanghai compared with other cities in China, the possibility of linking urban history with the rapidly growing literature on Chinese urban studies, and whether the field is merely engaging with debates that have occupied scholars of the West for years or has a new perspective to offer.

Two general papers that reviewed the state of the field then followed. Christian Henriot discussed the continuing emphasis on Shanghai, and the problems of inserting this into a broader framework of Chinese urban history. He highlighted the problems of language and archival access and that makes it likely that Shanghai will continue to be a focus of study for some time to come. He then turned to the role of digital technologies, such as databases, and online archives, and the need to create platforms for sharing knowledge and data. He described ongoing projects, which included the collection of advertisements from Shanghai newspapers, which will be made available to scholars, and a new collaborative venture that will investigate how war made Shanghai. Turning to urban studies, Hyun Shin discussed its Eurocentric focus, which is largely derived from the global cities literature. Within China, this means that there is a concentration on large coastal cities, most notably Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Moreover, the role of the party-state remains under-explored, while ideas surrounding the right to the city, and the role of marginalized groups such as migrants also need more research.

Chris Courtney presenting, Leicester December 2012

The workshop then moved on to consider case studies from the first half of the twentieth century. Wang Min introduced her current research on the treaty port of Shanghai. Through an analysis of the Feetham report, she highlighted the diplomatic interplay between the British state, the Shanghai Municipal Council and the Chinese government at a crucial time of upheaval and crisis that threatened the International settlement during the 1920s. The response of the Chinese and British governments and community illustrate how the history of Shanghai concerns the city itself, but also incorporates wider narratives of Chinese nationalism and the relationship of China to Western Imperialism. Moving one hundred miles inland, Toby Lincoln turned to the city of Wuxi, and the interaction of local elites with the emerging modernizing state. He argued that attempts to construct municipal autonomy in the early 1920s illustrate how the state was perceived as an important source of power. However, the fact that during the Jiangsu-Zhejiang war it was social organizations that were responsible for urban management points to the weakness of the state in this period. State-society interactions were also important to Chris Courtney’s paper on the 1931 Wuhan flood. He argued that the construction of competing narratives surrounding the relationship between the destruction of the Dragon King Temple and the causes of the flood illustrate that while local opinion may have sought spiritual reasons for the disaster, this was utilized by local elites to disrupt further state plans for urban development.

The final panel moved the discussion into the early PRC period, and Jon Howlett showed how the development of Communism in the city was often gradual and contingent. Through an analysis of changing street names in Shanghai, he illustrated that some areas of the city were almost forgotten by the party, and that requests from residents in the late 50s and 60s forced the change, rather than central or even municipal directives. The difficulties of building the revolution in the city were similarly the focus of Karl Gerth’s paper on consumption in Shanghai. Advertising was common throughout the early 1950s, and this points to the continuation of an urban culture that is more often associated with the pre-war period. Moreover, the notion of socialist shopping illustrates some of the ideological compromises that had to be made by the CCP.

The final roundtable returned to some of the key themes of Chinese urban history. Shanghai and its position within the field dominated the discussion, which also touched on whether the study of the city in China is emerging as a sub-discipline within its own right. Participants also commented on the fact that many common themes exist in urban history and urban studies, and that as the Maoist period and the Cultural Revolution become history, perhaps it is time to join the two fields together in a more coherent way.

By Emily Whewell, PhD Candidate, University of Leicester