I attended Peking University in Beijing and received a B.A. in history. I will always have fond memories of my college years, when the dream of becoming a scholar blossomed and I found myself constantly hungry for knowledge and inspiration. As an undergraduate I had the good fortune to attend graduate-level workshops, where I spent a lot of time reading old manuscripts unearthed from Dunhuang, a vibrant border town guarding the Silk Road in middle-period China (800-1400). One document in particular attracted my attention: a horoscope written by a street astrologer who seemed well-versed in indigenous Chinese astrology and whose vocabulary clearly showed the influence of Indian and Ptolemaic astronomy. I wrote my senior thesis on this horoscope and graduated with two ambitions: to become a professional historian and to keep exploring the cultural vicissitudes of human history.
Me and my dog, Coco
p.4071 Horoscope of Mr. Kang Zun, the Dunhuang manuscript I wrote my senior thesis on.
After leaving Beijing I arrived at Princeton University, New Jersey, where I earned a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies and mused about Chinese history while keeping company with Princeton’s famous black squirrels. My years in graduate school helped me clarify my scholarly vision and refine my specific methodological focus. As a cultural and intellectual historian, I am fascinated by ideas and how they circulate in the human world. While maintaining my methodological foothold in intellectual history, I make forays into a number of related sub-fields, including the history of science and technology, medical history, the history of the book, material culture studies, sensory history, and the history of emotions. My interdisciplinary interests afford me a broad and inclusive perspective for exploring ideas and knowledge in premodern China.
My first monograph Shen Gua’s Empiricism (Harvard University Asia Center, 2018) is the first book-length study in English of Shen Gua, the best known Renaissance man in medieval China and the author of Brush Talks from Dream Brook (Mengxi bitan), an old text featuring a gamut of remarkable “scientific” discoveries and thus seemingly ahead of its time. In addition to providing an in-depth analysis of Shen, my book is simultaneously a study of historical epistemology, which illuminates a version of empiricism on the basis of an original reading of Neo-Confucian theory of knowledge.
Recently I have been drawn to the history and philosophy of emotions. My new project is a cultural history of crying and tears in premodern China.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Associate Professor of History
Intellectual and Cultural History
History of Emotions
History of Science and Technology
History of Medicine
B.A. in History
Ph.D. in East Asian Studies