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.

‘Governing Marriage Migrations: Perspectives from Mainland China and Taiwan’ is published

The June 2015 special issue of online journal Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review on ‘Governing Marriage Migrations: Perspectives from Mainland China and Taiwan’ is published featuring an introduction by co-editors  Elena Barbanatseva (University of Manchester) , Biao Xiang (University of Oxford), and Antonia Chao (Tunghai University) and five original articles by Hongfang Hao (Kyoto University), Caroline Grillot (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology), Elena Barabantseva Manchester), Mei-Hua Chen (National Sun Yat-sen University), and Hsun-Hui Tseng (Chinese University of Hong Kong).

This special issue results from  the workshop which took place as part of BICC Phase II research network ‘Borders of Migration’ at Tunghai University in January 2014. More information about the workshop is available from the workshop’s website.

New BICC Chinese Language Courses for Researchers

Chinese Language Courses for Researchers (CLCR) at upper-intermediate and intermediate Levels

The BICC offers Chinese language courses through intensive teaching and online learning at upper-intermediate and intermediate levels. The next two programmes will take place from 12-16 January 2015, and from 20-24 April 2015, at the Oxford China Centre, Canterbury Road, Oxford.

The initial intensive teaching weeks will focus on active learning skills, while the eight weeks of online learning will concentrate on listening and reading comprehension skills, and translation. During the online learning part of the courses, participants will have to complete weekly online assignments, and language instructors will hold Chat Room sessions.

Participants will have to spend at least two hours a day studying new materials, and revising spoken and written texts and lexis. These courses will encourage the development of learner autonomy in the field of Chinese language study, will enable learners to put a wide range of essential communication skills into practice, and will allow learners to read Chinese newspapers, documents and relevant texts with confidence.

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

Applicants for the language courses should email the language co-ordinator, Mr Shio-yun Kan, by 30 November 2015, at with a brief description of their Chinese language learning experience, including how many Chinese characters (or words) that they have learnt and how much time that they have spent in China.

BICC HEFCE Scholarship opportunities

Two BICC scholarships are available for study on the M.Phil. Modern Chinese Studies course at the University of Oxford, commencing in October 2014.  Both scholarships provide £20,000 p.a. towards fees and maintenance.  One scholarship is for the full two years of the course.  The second scholarship is for one year only.  These scholarships will be awarded on the strength of each candidate’s academic background and on the quality of a proposal for doctoral study. The scholarships are funded by the HEFCE Postgraduate Support Scheme award to the ‘Sustainable Funding for Language-based Area Studies’ initiative, led by SOAS, University of London.

Who can apply?

To be eligible to apply, applicants must:

  • Either qualify for UK or EU fee status or be ordinarily resident in the UK or EU.
  • Have submitted an application to the M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies and expect to start the course in October 2014
  • Intend to continue to a doctoral degree after completing the M.Phil.

Students who have not yet applied to the M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford should do so using the application code 2014/MCS/BICC no later than 20 April 2014. Your scholarship application will not be considered until you have submitted a full graduate application. Further details about making a graduate application are available at of one of these scholarships will be dependent upon the applicant meeting all requirements for admission to the M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies, and taking up a place on this course for 2014/15.

Application Process

The deadline for applications is 20 April 2014.

Applications should include:

  • A copy of the application materials submitted to the University of Oxford for entrance to the M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies
  • A statement outlining how undertaking the MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies would prepare the applicant for doctoral study and provide an indication of the applicants’ research interests for doctoral study.

Applications should be submitted by email to

All applicants will automatically be considered for both scholarships.

For more information on the M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford see:

Dr Anna Lora-Wainwright awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize

Congratulations to BICC researcher Dr Anna Lora-Wainwright, who has been awarded a 2013 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Geography.

These prizes are awarded to a handful of individuals on a bi-annual basis in selected subject areas ‘to recognise and facilitate the work of outstanding young research scholars of proven achievement, who have made and are continuing to make original and significant contributions to knowledge in [their] discipline’.

Her most recent book is Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and  Dying of Cancer in a Sichuan Village (2013, University of Hawai’i Press).

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.

‘China’s war with Japan, 1937-1945’: New book by Rana Mitter

BICC research network leader Rana Mitter’s new book cover_China_Japan_WarChina’s war with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival is published this week by Allen Lane.  It is the first comprehensive history of the politics, experience, and aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War that became part of World War II, seen from the Chinese side and drawn from a wide range of Chinese materials.  It argues for a revisionist view of the Nationalist contribution to the Allied war effort, and that a new model of authoritarian social welfarism emerged from the conflict.  Mitter’s book will be published under the title Forgotten Ally in North America in September.

Here, Rana Mitter talks to Rob Gifford, China editor of The Economist, about the book:

Reviews and comments have already been published in The Economist; The Guardian; The Spectator; Prospect; Financial Times:

“Restor[es] a vital part of the wartime narrative to its rightful place. . . . A remarkable story, told with humanity and intelligence; all historians of the second world war will be in Mitter’s debt. . . . No one could ask for a better guide.” – Richard Overy, Guardian

“The best narrative of that long-ago war, whose effects still linger in China today.” – Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator  (London)

“Illuminating and meticulously researched. . . . It is the voice of the Chinese [. . .] that gives the distinctive tone to Mitter’s narrative. From the diaries of Chiang Kai-shek to those of national journalists and middle-class Chinese fleeing the conflict, these first-person observations are woven skilfully into his chronicle of the battles and struggles.”  –The Economist