History of the China Centre

History of the China Centre

The University of Oxford’s China Centre was founded in 2008. Conversations about the possibility of establishing a China Centre had been going on long before this, and the fact that these came to fruition was the result of the hard work of many within the University, including Dame Jessica Rawson (then Warden of Merton College), the then Vice Chancellor John Hood, the then Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research Bill Macmillan, Vivienne Shue (then the Director of the Contemporary China Studies Programme), Frank Pieke, (then the Director of the Institute for Chinese Studies in the Oriental Studies Faculty) as well as successive Heads of the Oriental Studies Faculty and the then Area and Development Studies Department. The founding director was Prof Frank Pieke, a renowned anthropologist of modern China. Prof Andrew Goudie, a distinguished physical geographer and the former Master of St Cross College, served as the Director from 2011 to 2013.

In 2013, Prof Rana Mitter OBE, a leading historian of China, assumed the directorship of the China Centre. An expert on the emergence of nationalism in modern China, he had written extensively the impact China’s war with Japan in the 1930s and 1940s had on the development of Chinese politics, society and culture. He also was, and continues to be, a frequent contributor to British and international television and radio.

His tenure, lasting until 2020, would mark an expansion of the activities of the China Centre, with a robust schedule of external speakers, events, and engagement activities. The Centre hosted exhibitions, academic conferences, and a range of events, including the China Centre Distinguished Lecture series, which saw leading figures from the worlds of business, politics and culture discuss contemporary China. Speakers included acclaimed film director Lu Chuan, rock star and former Director of International Communications at Baidu Kaiser Kuo, former Singaporean Ambassador to the UN and President of the UN Security Council Kishore Mahbubani, British Ambassador to China Dame Barbara Woodward, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In 2014, the China Centre was relocated to its current location in the Dickson Poon Building at St Hugh’s College. The Principal of St Hugh's, Andrew Dilnot, played a leading role in developing the building. Funded by a generous donation, including ten million pounds from Sir Dickson Poon, the building boasts a lecture theatre, offices, class and seminar rooms, student accommodation, and the Wordsworth Tea Room, a cafeteria serving the wider university community. It also houses the Bodleian Library’s Chinese Collection in the KB Chen China Centre Library. The Centre was opened on the 8th of September by HRH Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge.

In 2020, Prof Todd Hall, a scholar of international relations, became director of the China Centre. The beginning of his tenure saw a sharp increase in the China Centre’s online activities, particularly during the period of the Covid lockdown. Starting in 2020, the Centre also began publishing its bi-annual newsletter. In 2021, it began a partnership with the Great Britain China Centre to provide China-focused capabilities training for policymakers, civil servants, and members of the private sector through the Future Leaders Programme, and in 2022, it initiated its DPhil Associates Programme to bring together DPhils across Oxford working on China-related topics.  

At present, the Centre is host to one of the largest assembled groups of China-focused students and scholars in Europe, is home to an internationally renowned collection of China-related and Chinese-language sources, and is proud to showcase a wide variety of world-leading China-related research across multiple fields.