Gordon Barrett

BAH Mount Allison, MPhil Oxon, PhD Bristol

Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese History & Politics
International Relations Network
Government and Politics Network
Wolfson College
Office address
University of Oxford China Centre, Dixon Poon Building, Canterbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6LU

I work on the history of modern China and international history of the Cold War, with particular interest in the politics of science and medicine, including science diplomacy. In both my research and teaching, I aim to challenge simple narratives and dichotomies, situating the history of modern China within domestic, regional, and global contexts, and placing particular emphasis on circulations of and interactions between scientists and scientific ideas.

In addition to teaching and supervision for the Faculty of History and Department of Politics and International Relations, I am a Research Fellow of Wolfson College. I am also involved in the Oxford and Empire Project, and co-facilitate academic writing groups for doctoral students and early career researchers at the Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology and the University of Oxford China Centre


My research has explored the roles played by scientists and scientific organisations in the early foreign relations of the People’s Republic of China. Examining China’s engagement with international scientific organisations and scientific networks in the developing, socialist, and ‘Western’ worlds, this strand of my research provides new perspectives on the structures and significance of Cold War international science. It also considers the significance of these international activities for the China’s wider efforts at international outreach during the first three decades of CCP rule. Reflecting these research interests, I currently serve on the leadership committee for the Historical Commission on Science, Technology and Diplomacy (IUHPST Division of History of Science and Technology).

My current primary project explores the disciplinary development of psychology and psychiatry in the early decades of the People’s Republic of China. It aims to chart the contrasting the trajectories of such professionals on either side of the science-medicine divide during the era of high socialism and to elucidate the party-state’s influence on research, practice, and discourses in these ‘psy professions’. The initial phase of scoping research for this project was supported by the John Fell Research Fund, which included fieldwork in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai.

In 2015, I was a British Inter-University China Centre Early Career Researcher at the University of Bristol, collaborating with the Needham Research Institute and the Cambridge University Library’s digitisation team on a project to digitise and run public engagement activities based on a unique collection of photographs and documents relating to Sino-British scientific cooperation during the Second World War. Starting in October 2019, I have been a member of the advisory board and acting as an affiliated researcher for the Needham Research Institute’s 3-year Wellcome Trust-funded preservation and engagement project, ‘Science and Medicine in China from World War II to the Cultural Revolution: Sources from the Archives of Joseph and Dorothy Needham’.

Research interests

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy; Groups, Identities and Social Movements; Political thought and ideologies; Asia Pacific; China; History; Ideology; Institutions and organisations; International cooperation; international relations; Political Parties; Socialism.


I teach on PPE 227: Politics in China and contribute lectures to 212: International Relations in the Era of the World Wars and 213: International Relations in the Era of the Cold War. I am supervising students on the MPhil International Relations and MPhil Politics (Comparative Government). For the MPhil IR, I have taught on The Development of the International System and Contemporary Debates in IR Theory, and in 2016-17, I was course convenor for The International Relations of East Asia.

For the History Faculty, I teach on FS29: China Since 1900 and GHXIV: The Global Twentieth Century, 1930-2003, and lecture on GHXIX: Imperial and Global History, 1750-1914 at the undergraduate level. I supervise for the MSt Global and Imperial History and teach on Concepts and Themes in Global and Imperial History, and The History and Historiography of Modern China.

Gordon Barrett