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Gordon Barrett

Departmental Lecturer in Modern Chinese History & Politics


My research focuses on the politics of science and science in politics in modern China and the Cold War. My previous research has examined the roles played scientists and scientific organisations in the early foreign relations of the People’s Republic of China. These scientists were singularly effective intercultural intermediaries who, being embedded in overlapping transnational epistemic and activist networks, won sympathy and support for the People’s Republic of China among foreign intellectuals. This study complicates longstanding narratives of China’s ‘closure’ and ‘isolation’ from international science during the 1950s and 1960s. It also shows that new and developing states like the PRC were as keen as the Cold War superpowers to utilise international organisations and events as tools for cultural diplomacy and propaganda.

Tied to my interest in the development of Sino-British scientific relations, in 2015 I was a British Inter-University China Centre Early Career Researcher at the University of Bristol, working on a Cultural Engagement Partnership project with the Needham Research Institute, Cambridge. This project focused on digitising photographs and diaries relating to Dr. Joseph Needham’s British Council-sponsored activities as head of the Sino-British Science Cooperation Office, 1943-1946. This material is now available via the Cambridge University Digital Library. I also created a ‘pop-up’ exhibition entitled ‘Chinese Wartime Science through the Lens of Joseph Needham’, which showcases material from this collection and has been shown in Cambridge, Bristol, and London.

My current research examines Nationalist and Communist Party-led approaches to utilising China’s highly internationalised scientific community alongside ‘foreign experts’ and advisers in China sponsored by both foreign powers and international organisations between 1931 and 1953. This analysis of wartime mobilisation in science and technology aims to chart successive reconfigurations and reorganisations in the state-science relations, exploring the relationship between war and modernisation.

Website here.