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Dr Sally Church

Dr Sally Church

Affiliated Researcher

Fellow, Tutor, and International Student Liaison Officer, Wolfson College


I began learning Chinese during three summers at the Middlebury Summer Language Schools (Vermont, USA) with the "total immersion" method. Meanwhile, I studied with Prof. David Roy for a Master's in Chinese literature at the University of Chicago and with Prof. Patrick Hanan for a PhD at Harvard, which I completed in 1993. My husband's sabbatical brought us to England in 1993-1994, and we moved to Cambridge permanently in 1996. At Cambridge I worked on Joseph Needham's diaries at the Needham Research Institute for three years, while teaching part-time at the Faculty. I was appointed Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College in 1999 and was made Tutor at Wolfson in 2001. I have also served there as International Student Liaison Officer  since 2005. After coordinating the Civilizations in Contact research project from 2008 to 2011, I am now Director of Civilizations in Contact, a UK charity (Reg. No. 1148995), whose purpose is to conduct educational outreach, produce teaching and learning materials, and build a web-based history learning resource for schools and independent learners. I have lectured in Ming literature, literary Chinese, modern Chinese texts and Tang poetry, and have also taught in the Ancient Empires programme in Cambridge's International Summer Schools (2012). I have also acted as an internal examiner for the tripos, and for Master's and Ph.D degrees in this Faculty as well as in the Faculty of History. 

Research Interests

Ming fiction and drama; Ming history; Chinese ships and shipbuilding; Zheng He's maritime expeditions; Zheng He's ships; The Longjiang Shipyard Treatise; Chen Cheng; Chinese Diplomacy; China's relations with Central Asia; the Silk Road; the Maritime Silk Road; Chinese Buddhism, Faxian's Travels; Chinese travel literature; Zhao Rugua and the Zhufan zhi; Tang poetry; World History; World History education; the use of GIS software to map long-distance journeys.

Other Professional Activities

After focusing on the size of the ships used on Zheng He's maritime expeditions (1405-1433), I am now investigating the Longjiang chuanchang zhi (Longjiang Shipyard Treatise) of 1553, and the wealth of information it contains about not only shipbuilding in the mid-Ming period but also the economic and social context of Nanjing and surrounding areas. I am finishing a new translation of the early 5th century monk Faxian's Travels in collaboration with Dr Robert Harding, and translating a history of Chinese shipbuilding by Prof. Xi Longfei of the Research Centre for the History of Shipbuilding at Wuhan University of Science and Engineering. My interest also extends to Zhao Rugua and his Song dynasty accounts of places and trade goods in India and the rest of the Indian Ocean. I am Associate Editor of the Medieval History Journal.

Key Publications

2015 (co-editor, with Kim Siebenhüner), Autobiographical Writings and Concepts of Personhood: Transcultural Perspectives, Special Issue of The Medieval History Journal, Volume 18.2.

2012 (co-editor, with Chia Lin Sien) Zheng He and the Afro-Asian World. Singapore: International Zheng He Society. Proceedings from the International Zheng He Conference, July 2010, Melaka.

2011 "Gujarat in a 13th Century Chinese Source: Zhao Rugua's Chapter on Gujarat in Zhu fan zhi", "Zhao Rugua's Chapter on Gujarat in the Song dynasty Zhu fan zhi", Lotika Varadarajan, ed., Gujarat and the Sea. Vadodara: Darshak Itihas Nidhi, 2011.

2010 "Two Ming Dynasty Shipyards in Nanjing and their Infrastructure", in Jun Kumura, ed., Shipwreck ASIA: Thematic Studies in East Asian Maritime Archaeology. Adelaide: Maritime Archaeology Program.

2009 "Centre and Periphery in Ming Foreign Relations: The Case of Chen Cheng" (Ming chao waijiao guanxi de hexin yu bianchui: Chen Cheng zhi li 明朝外交關係的核心與邊陲: 陳誠之例), Furen lishi xuebao 輔仁歷史學報 24 (December), pp. 3-52.

2005 "Zheng He: An Investigation into the Plausibility of 450-ft Treasure Ships", Monumenta Serica, Vol. LIII, pp. 1-42.

See more here (link to PDF of publications)