Verna Yu



verna photo




Verna Yu

Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies



​​​​​​Dr Verna Yu is a Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. She researches and teaches the history and politics of modern and contemporary China.  She received her doctorate in history from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  Her dissertation investigated the intellectual transformation of a group of Chinese Communist party elders who struggled in a dynamic tension between their longing for democracy and their devotion to the Communist revolution from the 1930s to the post-Mao era. 

Prior to academia, she was an award-winning journalist whose works on human rights, civil society and Chinese politics have been published widely in the international press, primarily The Guardian and the South China Morning Post, and also in the Diplomat and New York Times among other international publications.  Her two-decade China coverage has been recognised through 10 prestigious press awards, including seven Human Rights Press Awards and three Society of Publishers in Asia Editorial Awards (SOPA) awards. 

She is also a Research Associate and blog editor of the China Institute at SOAS, the University of London. Dr Yu previously held a lectureship at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She was a Chevening scholar at the Reuters Fellowship Programme at the University of Oxford and has a master’s degree in International and Public Affairs from the University of Hong Kong. 


Research Interests:

Modern and contemporary Chinese history and politics, in particular the Mao era and 20th century Chinese intellectuals.  Civil society, human rights and party-society relations.


Courses Taught:

Chinese Contemporary Politics and Government (undergraduate)

Modern China (undergraduate and graduate)

Premodern East Asia, Chinese History & Civilisation 20th-21st Century (undergraduate)

Seminar on Modern China: MPhil Humanities (graduate)

Graduate Colloquium on History and Historiography of Modern China (graduate)


Publications and Presentations:

Conference paper 'Victim or Perpetrator? Xu Liangying’s Struggles during the Political Movements of the Mao Era', to be presented as part of a panel on 'New Perspectives on Maoist China' at the Joint East Asian Studies Conference 2024 (26-28 June 2024).

'Unfulfilled Dreams: China’s "Liberal" Communist Party Intellectuals’ Struggle for Democracy from the 1930s to the 2000s',  Talk at China Centre, University of Oxford (30 April 2024).

'China’s "Liberal" Communist Party Intellectuals’ Struggle for Democracy from the 1930s to the 2000s'. China Institute, SOAS, University of London (23 October 2023).

'From Loyal Revolutionary to Dissident Physicist: The intellectual transformation of Xu Liangying from the 1930s to 2013.' Needham Research Institute, University of Cambridge (13 October 2023).   

Conference Paper “China’s ‘Liberal’ Communist Party Intellectuals’ Struggle for Democracy from the 1930s to the 2000s”  presented at The British Association for Chinese Studies Annual Conference, King’s College London (7-8 September 2023).

Yu, Verna, and Emma Graham-Harrison, 'Xi Jinping: from "counter-revolutionary" to absolute power.'  In The Bedside Guardian 2023, edited by David Teather, 14-20.  London: Guardian Books, 2023.


Press (selected):

Yu, Verna. 'How one man went from China’s Communist party golden child to enemy of the state.' The Guardian, 17 April 2023.

Yu, Verna. '"A defeated person": sidelined by Xi, China’s Li Keqiang bows out as premier.' The Guardian, 11 March 2023.

Yu, Verna. 'History revisited: what the isolationist Qing dynasty tells us about Xi Jinping’s China.' The Guardian, 16 January 2023.