Publication Date

March 19, 2021

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • Asia


Military, Political, Women, Gender, & Sexuality

Yan Xu is an associate professor of history and chair at Spelman College. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and has been a member since 2012.

Yan Xu

Yan Xu

Alma maters: BA, Nanjing University, China, 2004; MA and PhD, Ohio State University, 2013

Fields of Interest: modern China, state building, military, the Second Sino-Japanese War, war and society, women

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

I entered Nanjing University School of Intensive Instruction in Sciences and Arts (now Kuang Yaming Honors School). I really enjoyed attending talks by historians from the US and lectures hosted by the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. I was fascinated by multiple perspectives in historical narratives. So I chose to major in history in my junior year, and after graduation I decided to go to the US for my graduate study in history. My career in the US started at Ohio State University, where I studied for my MA and PhD in East Asian history with Dr. Christopher A. Reed as my primary advisor. After I successfully defended my dissertation, I went to teach East Asian history part-time at Catholic University of America. I joined Spelman College in August 2014 as an assistant professor of Asian history. I started to serve as the chair for the Department of History at Spelman College in August 2019. And I was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor at Spelman in May 2020.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

I have great passion in promoting East Asian studies among minority students. My experience at Spelman stimulated me to establish a nonprofit organization, Sisters Without Borders, dedicated to empowering girls and women to lead change.

What projects are you currently working on?

I will continue to add social, cultural, and gender perspectives to wars in modern China, particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries. I am working on translating my first monograph, The Soldier Image and State Building in Modern China, 1924–1945, into Chinese. I am also working on a book project on a social and cultural history of guerrilla warfare in modern China. In addition to my scholarly pursuits, I will continue to advocate history education and East Asian studies among minority students and among K–12 students.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

My focus has expanded from China to global perspective.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

Any information that complicates or challenges the commonly received beliefs or stereotypes.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

Author and New York Times bestseller Peter Harmsen’s blog on the 1931–45 conflict and the birth of modern Asia:

What do you value most about the history discipline?

History teaches vital skills to be a critical thinker in the 21st century and nurtures personal and collective identity in a diverse world. It is the foundation for strong, vibrant communities. I am fascinated by the study of history also because it promotes a further understanding of human nature.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

The AHA is the only organization that keeps me connected to scholars, professionals, analysts, and K-12 educators outside of my fields. The AHA annual meeting provides a perfect opportunity for me to make connections with my colleagues, potential employers, and publishers. It also stimulates me to think of new project ideas.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association