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Dr Elisabeth Forster DPhil

Lecturer in Chinese History; Academic Integrity Officer

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I am a historian of modern China, focusing on intellectual, diplomatic and social history, and especially the way they tie in with each other. My current project explores concepts of peace in China from the 19th century to the present.

My background is in Chinese Studies, which I pursued in Munich, Dalian (China) and Oxford. I received my D.Phil. from Oxford in 2015. Before coming to Southampton, I taught Chinese history in Oxford (2014-2016), Freiburg (Germany, 2016-2018) and Hamburg (Germany, 2017-2018).


MSt, Oriental Studies (Chinese), University of Oxford 2011

DPhil, University of Oxford 2015

Appointments held:

Aug 2016-Aug 2018 - Postdoc/ Assistant Professor (wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin), Institute for Chinese Studies, University of Freiburg, Germany

Oct 2017-Feb 2018 - Visiting Professor, Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Hamburg, Germany

Oct 2014-Jul 2016 - Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese History and Politics, Faculty of History, University of Oxford

My current book project has the working title A Peaceful Nation? China’s Peacefulness Claim from the 19th Century to the Present. China’s claim to be peaceful is surprisingly durable in its modern history, and appears in the 19th century, in the Second World War, in the Cold War, as well as in the present. My goal is not to discuss whether China really is peaceful or not. Instead, I ask which functions the peacefulness rhetoric had at various points in time and which changing concepts of peace and peacefulness lay behind it.

My doctoral research, which was recently published as a book (1919 – The Year That Changed China), was a revisionist study of China’s New Culture Movement (also known as May Fourth). This was an event in the early 20th century that in many ways created modern Chinese culture – for example, it was instrumental in creating the modern Chinese language, and also in the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party. These ideas gained currency over the course of the year 1919, and this was a development that took even well-informed circles by surprise. I ask why nobody predicted that Chinese culture would take this path of this form of modernity at the beginning of the year 1919, when this was obvious to most by its end. The story I tell about this cultural transformation is one about academic infighting, rumours and conspiracy theories, newspaper stories and intellectuals (hell-)bent on selling agendas through powerful buzzwords.


Guest on BBC Radio 4 "In Our Time", talking about the May Fourth Movement with Melvyn Bragg, Rana Mitter and Song-Chuan Chen.

Click here to listen.

Research project(s)

Peaceful China – Discourses about War and Peace in the Long 20th Century

“Peaceful China” explores the question of how China has participated in the global conversation on war and peace in the long 20th century.

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Book Chapter

HIST1177 - Twentieth-Century China

HIST3251 and HIST3252 - China in the Cold War, Part 1 and 2

HIST6128 - China in the Cold War

HIST3244 - A Short history of the populist leader

HIST2231 - Imperial China: From China’s mythical emperors to the 19th century

HIST3255 - A short history of the ethics of war

Dr Elisabeth Forster
Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Southampton SO17 1BF, United Kingdom

Room Number : 65/2051

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