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Dr Song-Chuan Chen

Chen Office:
Office Hours:

Room 3.10, third floor, Faculty of Arts Building
Book a meeting time.

Academic Profile

  • From 2019: Associate Professor
  • 2022–2023: Leverhulme Research Fellowship
  • 2017–2019: Assistant Professor, University of Warwick
  • 2011–2017: Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • 2008–2011: Research Associate, University of Bristol
  • 2009: PhD, University of Cambridge

Research Interests

My research interests lie in the field of modern Chinese history, with an emphasis on history from below. Currently I am researching travel journals, letters, personal diaries, and legal documents in order to trace information about Chinese commoners in the international port of Canton before 1842. Their interactions with foreigners and their history in the most important trading port of the long eighteenth century has not been accounted for. I am also working on the Cold War history of Taiwan. This project is rooted in my upbringing on Matsu—one of Taiwan’s Cold War frontier islands. Exploring military archives, private records, and source materials collected form interviews during fieldwork, I am writing a social history of the islanders in the context of the wider global Cold War. Through these two ongoing projects, I want to know how ordinary people made use of and interacted with larger socio-political-economic structures and to explore the possibilities of writing peoples’ history.

Current project: Canton's Workers of the WorldLink opens in a new window.

Selected Publications

Specialist book:

Refereed Journal Articles:

Book Chapters:

Other publications:

  • Book review essay: "Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs,Link opens in a new window" The Journal of the Social History, 21:2 (2023).
  • A-Level history: “China’s 1911 Republican Revolution: Fulfilling the Inspiration for Democratic Politics”, in Modern History Review, 23:1 (September 2020)
  • Book review essay: "Review of Imperial Twilight: the Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age", Review in History (review no. 2367, January 2020) DOI: 10.14296/RiH/2014/2367.
  • A-Level history: “The Opium War and British MerchantsLink opens in a new window”, in Modern History Review, 21:4 (April 2019), 24-27
  • Book chapter on teaching history with virtual reality: Linda Fang and Song-Chuan Chen “Enhancing the Learning of History through Virtual Reality: The Thirteen Factories Icube Experience” in Väljataga, Terje, Laanpere, Mart (Eds.) Digital Turn in Schools—Research, Policy, Practice International Council for Educational MediaLink opens in a new window. Springer (2018), 37-50.
  • Blog article: “A Ghost Army of Ancestors”, Past and Present Blog, 28 April 2018
  • Book review essay: "Violence and Order on the Chengdu Plain: the Story of a Secret Brotherhood in Rural China, 1939-1949", Social History 43:4 (October, 2018), 556-558.
  • Book review essay: "Southwest China in a Regional and Global Perspective (c.1600-1911): Metals, Transport, Trade and Society", The Economic History Review 71:4 (November 2018), 1431-1432.
  • Book review essay: “Luxurious Networks: Salt Merchants, Status, and Statecraft in Eighteenth-Century China.” The Journal of the Historical Association, Volume 103, Issue 354 (January 2018), 159-161.
  • Encyclopaedia entry: “Nationalism”, in Michael Dillon (ed.) Encyclopedia of Chinese HistoryLink opens in a new window, (Routledge, 2017).
  • Encyclopaedia entry: “Imperial Household Department (Neiwufu)”, in Michael Dillon (ed.) Encyclopedia of Chinese HistoryLink opens in a new window, (Routledge, 2017).
  • Book review essay: “From Amorous Histories to Sexual Histories: Tongzhi Writings and the Construction of Masculinities in Late Qing and Modern China”, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, 9:3 (Sep 2015).
  • Book review essay: “China’s Contested Capital: Architecture, Ritual, and Response in Nanjing, and New Narratives of Urban Space in Republican Chinese Cities: Emerging Social, Legal and Governance Orders. The China Journal, No. 73 (January 2015).
  • Book review essay: “Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West. (Tonio Andrade, Princeton University Press, 2011.), Itinerario, 36:01 (April 2012).
  • Public history essay: “Preserving Tianjin: Colonial-style Houses and Martial-Arts Fiction,” China Heritage Quarterly, No.21 (March, 2010)
  • Book review essay: “East Asia before the West—Five centuries of trade and tribute, (David C. Kang. New York, Columbia University Press. 2010), for East Asia Integration Studies
  • Book review essay: “China and the international system, 1840-1949: Power, presence and perceptions in a century of humiliation,” in East Asia, 26:2 (June 2009).


Postgraduate supervision:

I am open to considering postgraduate supervisions on topics related to the history of modern China and particularly welcome proposals on the history of ordinary people since the seventeenth century and the 'history from below' approach.

Current PhD students

  • Qing Chen, 'British Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai'.
  • Gongchen YangLink opens in a new window, 'The British Commercial Community in Canton and the Changes
    of Modern China Foreign Trade System, 1700s–1840s'
  • Xianxian Dai, 'China's Emotional Objects: Sites and Memorials of the First Opium War'
  • Zilu Yang, 'The Working Class in Early Twentieth Century Shanghai Cartoons'
  • Jeremy Goh, 'Globalizing from the Periphery: Chinese banking transnationalism in Singapore, Malaya, and China'

Recently Graduated PhD Students

YouTube Video

The First Opium War: Merchants of War and Peace ILink opens in a new window

The First Opium War: Merchants of War and Peace IILink opens in a new window

BBC, Radio 4, In Our Time

The May Fourth Movement, 1919

(May the Fourth be with you!)

@ BBC Sounds:Link opens in a new window

Link opens in a new window

@ YouTube edition:Link opens in a new window

Link opens in a new window

cover_front.gifLink opens in a new window


<Book summary>

Merchants of War and Peace in Youtube videos.

Part I

Part II

<Learning history>

The Thirteen Factories of Canton, 

a virtual reality project, with Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)

In Video

About the concept

Teaching Award, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2017