Xuelei Huang

Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies


I studied at Fudan University (BA) and Peking University (MA) in China, and received my PhD with summa cum laude from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. I joined the University of Edinburgh as a Chancellor's Fellow, and became a Lecturer in 2016, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2019. Before taking up my position in Edinburgh I was a post-doctoral researcher at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, a research fellow at the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies in France and the International Research Centre for Cultural Studies in Vienna (IFK). I was awarded the Ruprecht Karls Prize for my PhD dissertation, and received fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Gerda Henkel Foundation, and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, among others.

My current research focuses on sensory history in modern China. My recent book, Scents of China: A Modern History of Smell (Cambridge University Press, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009207065),  revisits modern Chinese history through the nose. Drawing on unexplored archival materials, this book unveils how microscopic molecular processes of smelling ran deeply beneath everyday social interactions, bringing to light complex socio-corporeal dynamics underlying the untold stories of stinking ditches, artificial scents, sexual odours, and foul class enemies. I have also co-edited a volume (with Shengqing Wu) entitled Sensing China: Modern Transformations of Sensory Culture (Routledge, 2022, https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003176220). Bringing together twelve articles by internationally renowned scholars, this book explores the deeply rooted meanings that the senses have ingrained in culture and society of modern China.

Another field of my research is early Chinese cinema and media culture. I have published widely on this subject, including the monograph Shanghai Filmmaking: Crossing Borders, Connecting to the Globe, 1922-1938 (Brill, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004279346), which sheds new light on early Chinese film culture through a case study of the Mingxing (Star) Motion Picture Company, one of the most influential film studios in early Chinese film history. My research interest also includes theatre, print media, and visual culture in modern China.

Undergraduate teaching

  • Media and Visual Culture in Modern China (ASST10151)
  • Chinese Silent Cinema, 1920-1935 (ASST10138)
  • Modern China in Literature and Film (ASST08034)
  • Modern East Asian History B (ASST08043)

Postgraduate teaching

Introduction to Chinese Society and Culture (ASST11046)

Media and Visual Culture in Modern China (ASST11106)

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

  • Chinese cinema
  • sensory history
  • print culture, drama, literature in modern China
  • social/cultural history of modern China


Research summary

My research field is the cultural and social history of modern China, including several intersected areas:

1. sensory history

This is the main field that I have been pursuing in my recent books on olfactory history and modern sensorium in China. My works probe questions such as how sensory perception shapes and is shaped by major sociopolitical forces in history, and how microscopic everydayness interacts with grand narratives of history through the mediator of the sensorium.

2. early Chinese cinema

I am particularly interested in understanding institutional dimensions of cinema and cinema's engagement with society and culture. I have studied the history of an early Chinese film studio (the Mingxing Film Company), a movie theatre (Isis Theatre) and its role in colonial relationships, and exhibition and reception of Soviet movies in Republican China, among other topics.

3. print culture and drama

I am also interested in print culture and drama which had close interactions with cinema in the Republican era (1911-1949). I look at popular cultural production as a network within which different media and cultural forms engaged with each other. At the same time, I examine cultural phenomena in Republican China in the context of global cultural flows in this time of early globalization.

Knowledge exchange

I have been co-curating the China programme for the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, held annually in March in Bo'ness, Scotland, bringing Chinese silent films to a Scottish and international audience. The films shown so far include The Goddess (神女), Daybreak (天明), The Red Heroine (紅俠), and Striving (奮鬥).

Conference details

  • “Early Chinese Filmmaking through the Lens of a Victorian/Japanese/Chinese Story,” Symposium “Acceptance and Practice of Early Cinema in East Asia: Comparative Film History of China, Japan, Korea,” Busan International Film Festival, Korea, Oct. 2019.
  • “Touring Nanyang/Southeast Asia: Body, Performativity, and Cosmopolitanism in Early Chinese Film History,” conference “Cinemas of the Sinosphere: Border Crossing in Chinese Cinemas,” University of Exeter, Sept. 2019.
  • “Sensorial Reeducation: Sentinels under the Neon Lights and Didactic Tropes in Mao's Revolution,” workshop “Didactic Literature and Film from Reformist and Revolutionary Asia,” University of Newcastle, Jun. 2019.
  • “想象的自我/他者:民國上海電影文化中的南洋敘事,”「從人文到數位人文──華人文化研究的新趨勢與新方法」, National Chengchi University, Taiwan, Nov. 2018.
  • “China Stinks? Towards a Sensory Rethinking of (Post-)Colonialism”, workshop “Where is China in the World? Going Beyond Cultures to Get Past Post-Colonialism”, University of Heidelberg, Feb. 2018.
  • “Aromas of the Red Chamber: The material culture of perfume and olfactory/literary imagination in eighteenth-century China”, British Association for Chinese Studies annual conference, University of Glasgow, Sept. 2017.
  • “Nanyang (Southeast Asia): The Physical Other, the Imaginary Self in the World of Shanghai Cinema, 1910s-1940s,” AAS-in-Asia annual conference, Seoul, Jul. 2017.
  • “Kant, Stinking Fish, and the Feeling of Disgust: The Politics of Smell in China, 1800s-1940s,” Conference “Qing/Emotion, Mobility and East Asian Modernity,” National Tsing Hua University and National Central University, Taiwan, Dec. 2016.
  • Public lecture “Chinese Silent Cinema: A Historical Tour,” The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, Bo’ness, Mar. 2016.

  • “Marginalized Voices of the Everyday: Jia Zhitan and His Village Documentaries,” AAS Annual Conference, Seattle, Mar. 2016.

  • “Odours of the Other: An Anatomy of Chinese Smells under Western Noses,” Workshop “Dimensions of Mobility: Travel and Adventure in Modern China’s Literary and Cultural Landscape,” University of Edinburgh, Jun. 2015; British Association for Chinese Studies (BACS), University of Leeds, Sept. 2015; Workshop “Comparative Perspectives on Senses, Sensibilities, and Sentiment,” Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, May 2016.

  • “Hong Shen in the Popular Press, 1924–1949,” European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS), Braga, July 2014.

  • “Bringing the Real to the Reel: Realism and Silent Filmmaking in a Globalizing World, 1910s–1920s,” East Asian Screen Studies Symposium, King’s College London, May 2014.
  • “Mediating, Interlinking, and Multitasking: Hong Shen at the Mingxing (Star) Motion Picture Company, 1925-1937,” Symposium “Hong Shen and the Modern Mediasphere in Republican Era China,” The Ohio State University, Nov. 2013
  • “Odors of Nanjing Road: The Cultural Life of Smell in Modern China, 1840s–1940s”, AAS Annual Conference, San Diego, Mar. 2013 (as organizer of the panel “Senses Make Sense: Seeing, Hearing, Touching, Tasting and Smelling in Chinese Everyday Life, 1870s-1990s”)
  • Lecture “(De)odorizing China: The Changing Smellscapes of Nanjing Road in Shanghai, 1840s–1940s”, IFK Vienna, Apr. 2013; Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies, Feb. 2013
  • “The Banality of the Sublime: Consuming Soviet Movies in Pre-Socialist China”, AAS Annual Conference, Toronto, Mar. 2012; Conference “Trends on the Move: Transcultural Dimensions of Popular Flows”, Heidelberg University, Oct. 2011
  • “Ideologies of the Leg: Women’s Legs and Changing Prototypes of the Ideal Woman on China’s Silver Screen (1920s–1970s)”, Annual Conference of the Heidelberg Cluster of Excellence “Frontiers of Knowledge: Health, Environment and the History of Science,” Oct. 2011
  • “A Factory of Chinese Dreams: The Mingxing Motion Picture Company and the Early Chinese Film Industry, 1922–1938,” Conference “Traditional Chinese Business Culture and its Modern Fate”, Academia Sinica and Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea, Jul. 2011
  • “A Theater on the Border: ‘Spatial Practices’ of Transculturality of the Isis Theater, 1917–1937”, Symposium “Spaces of Asian Cinemas,” University of California, Davis, Nov. 2009
  • “Jade Pear Spirit: From Page to Screen”, Conference “Eighth International Conference for Junior Scholars of Chinese Studies: Print and Culture in Modern China,” Chengchi University, Taiwan, Mar. 2009
  • “Good Women? Bad Women? Women’s Images in Butterfly, Left-wing and Right-wing Films”, Workshop “The Common People and the Artist in the 1930s,” Heidelberg University, Dec. 2008
  • “From East Lynne to Konggu lan”, Workshop “Rethinking Trends,” Heidelberg University, Nov. 2008
  • “China’s First Film? The Canonization of The Difficult Couple,” Conference “Locality, Translocality, and De-Locality: Cultural, Aesthetic, and Political Dynamics of Chinese-Language Cinema”, Shanghai University, Jul. 2008; Conference “Re-examining Early Chinese Cinema”, Hong Kong University and Hong Kong Film Archives, Dec. 2009

Invited speaker

  • “The Politics of Smell: Language, Olfactory Metaphor, and the Chinese Revolution,” Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics, University of St. Andrews, Feb. 2019.
  • “Touring Nanyang/Southeast Asia: Body, Performativity, and Cosmopolitanism in Early Chinese Film History,” King’s College London Film Studies Seminar, Feb. 2019.
  • “The Stagnant Ditch and the Politics of Deodorizing China”, University of Oxford China Centre, Jan. 2018.
  • “康德、臭鱼与恶心感:晚清西人游记中的中国气味”, Peking University, Jun. 2017; National Chengchi University, Taiwan, Nov. 2018.
  • “Perfuming China: The Modern Cosmetics Industry and Changing Smellscapes in China, 1850s–1940s,” University of Leicester, Feb. 2015; University of Aberdeen, Mar. 2015; SOAS, Feb. 2016.


  • International conference “In the Realm of the Senses: Mapping China’s Modern Sensorium” (co-organised with Shengqing Wu), University of Edinburgh, 19-20 June 2018.
  • International conference “Qing/Emotion, Mobility and East Asian Modernity” (co-organised with Guan Kean-Fung and Lu Wen-tsuei), National Tsing Hua University and National Central University, Taiwan, Dec. 2016.
  • International Workshop “Dimensions of Mobility: Travel and Adventure in Modern China’s Literary and Cultural Landscape,” University of Edinburgh, Jun. 2015 (co-organised with Chia-ling Yang and Christopher Rosenmeier).