Dr. Hailian Chen

Dr. Hailian Chen

Research Fellow

Ostasiatisches Institut Sinologie
Schillerstraße 6
04109 Leipzig


Dr. Hailian Chen is an engineer-sinologist trained at the Universities of Tsinghua and Tübingen. Before joining the faculty at Leipzig in 2019, she held a university lecturer position and taught various courses on modern China at the University of Trier; she has also worked as a research fellow on a DFG-Project, “Monies, Markets and Finance in China and East Asia, 1600-1900” at the University of Tübingen as well as on an exhibition project at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. She is the author of "Zinc for Coin and Brass: Bureaucrats, Merchants, Artisans, and Mining Laborers in Qing China, ca. 1680s–1830s" (published by Brill in November 2018) and several peer-reviewed articles on the history of zinc and coal and the conceptual history of art/technology in late imperial and modern China. She is currently working on her second monograph "Engineering Confucian Art" that examines the history of technical education and intellectual transformation in long nineteenth-century China.

Professional career

  • since 09/2019
    Researcher (Principal Investigator), Department of Chinese Studies, University of Leipzig
  • 04/2019 - 09/2019
    Adjunct Lecturer, University of Trier
  • 11/2017 - 09/2018
    Research fellow associated with Gutenberg Museum in Mainz for the exhibition project “Ohne Zweifel Gutenberg? Die Erfindung des Buchdrucks in Europa und Asien,” with contributions to book culture and printing technology in Chinese history
  • 10/2017 - 03/2018
    Lecturer in modern Chinese literature, culture, and society (replacement position), University of Trier
  • 11/2016 - 11/2017
    Parental Leave
  • 10/2015 - 09/2016
    Lecturer in modern Chinese literature, culture, and society (replacement position), University of Trier
  • 10/2014 - 03/2015
    Adjunct Lecturer, University of Trier
  • 10/2013 - 09/2014
    Lecturer in modern Chinese literature, culture, and society (replacement position), University of Trier
  • 02/2013 - 02/2014
    Parental Leave
  • 08/2011 - 09/2011
    Grants for research trip in Beijing, sponsored by the Calwer Hermann-Hesse-Stiftung
  • 07/2011 - 06/2012
    Chiang Ching-kuo Fellowships for Ph.D. Dissertations and Postdoctoral Grants, sponsored by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange
  • 10/2008 - 09/2011
    Research fellow in the DFG-Research group (FOR 596) “Monies, Markets and Finance in China and East Asia, 1600-1900: Local, Regional, National and International Dimensions,” University of Tübingen
  • 10/2006 - 09/2012
    Coordinator and organizer of the “Mint Metal Transportation Database” for the DFG-Research group (FOR 596), University of Tübingen
  • 09/2005 - 07/2008
    Research fellow in the project “Research on Mint Copper Transportation in Southwest China of Qing Dynasty,” supported by Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program, Tsinghua University
  • 02/2005 - 07/2005
    Internship (for Bachelor Thesis) at the Architectural Design & Research Institute of Tsinghua University


  • 10/2008 - 06/2017
    PhD (summa cum laude) in Chinese Studies: University of Tübingen. Dissertation entitled: Zinc for Coin and Brass: Bureaucrats, Merchants, Artisans, and Mining Laborers in Qing China, ca. 1680s–1830s.
  • 09/2005 - 07/2008
    Master in History: Institute for History of Science and Technology & Ancient Texts, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.
  • 09/2001 - 07/2005
    Bachelor of Engineering: Department of Civil Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.

Trained as an engineer and an early modern historian, Hailian Chen is interested in the history of technology, in particular, the interaction between technology, society, culture, and nature through the actions of human agents. Her research to date employs interdisciplinary, transnational, and comparative perspectives, which places China in both local and global contexts. It has explored the following areas:

  • history of technology (mining practices)
  • economic, social, and environmental history (resources)
  • material culture
  • technical education (textbooks and global knowledge production)

Her first book Zinc for Coin and Brass: Bureaucrats, Merchants, Artisans, and Mining Laborers in Qing China, ca. 1680s–1830s (Leiden: Brill, 2019. 788 pp. With forewords by Prof. Hans Ulrich Vogel and Prof. George Bryan Souza), using commodity chain analysis, presents the first comprehensive history of zinc in Late Imperial China.

She is currently working as the principal investigator on her second book project The Pioneers of China's Rise to technological Power: Technical Educational Institutions and Their Students in the Age of Global Transformation, 1860-1911 at the University of Leipzig, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This project aims to examine the role of technical education in the making of modern China and pays particular attention to the flow of global knowledge (Update see https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hailian-Chen/projects).

Recent teaching areas

  • China’s economic space
  • intercultural communication
  • China’s modernization debates
  • transformation of modern Chinese society and intellectuals’ life
  • modern Chinese literature
  • material culture
  • classical and modern Chinese languages and translations
  • Tutorial course for using Chinese tools and aids in research

  • List of Courses (selected)

    • Economic Space of China
    • Intercultural Communication and Intercultural Learning
    • Material Culture in China
    • An Introduction to Modern Chinese Literature
    • China’s Transformation as Reflected in Literature and Intellectuals’ Lives
    • Debates and Controversies about China’s Modernization
    • Representative and Original Reading Materials on China’s Culture and Society
    • Representative Works in the History of Chinese Thought
    • Tutorial Course for Using Chinese Tools and Aids in Research