Leah Zuo

Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies

Teaching this semester

ASNS 2005/HIST 2781. Science, Technology, and Society in China

Seminar. Examines Chinese science, technology, and medicine in the cultural, intellectual, and social circumstances. The first part surveys a selection of main fields of study in traditional Chinese science and technology, nodal points of invention and discovery, and important conceptual themes. The second part tackles the clash between traditional Chinese natural studies and modern science from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Prominent themes include astronomy and court politics, printing technology and books, and the dissemination of Western natural science, among others. Reading materials reflect an interdisciplinary approach and include secondary literature on cultural, intellectual history, ethnography, and the sociology of scientific knowledge. Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: Non Euro/US. It also meets the pre-modern requirement.

ASNS 2012/HIST 2322. China’s Path to Modernity: 1800 to Present

Introduction to modern and contemporary Chinese history. Covers the period from the nineteenth century, when imperial China encountered the greatest national crisis in its contact with the industrial West, to the present People's Republic of China. Provides historical depth to an understanding of the multiple meanings of Chinese modernity. Major topics include: democratic and socialist revolutions; assimilation of Western knowledge and thought; war; imperialism; the origin, development, and unraveling of the Communist rule.

Born and raised in hot and humid southern China, I have now lived in the north for almost half of my life. I first travelled to Beijing, the capital city perched against China’s vast northern plains, where I attended Peking University and received a B. A. in history. There I embarked on my journey as a novice historian and had my first delightful encounters with manuscripts and artifacts unearthed from China’s past. I then arrived in Princeton, New Jersey, where I earned a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies and mused about Chinese history in company with the famous Princeton black squirrels. My pilgrimage as a scholar is also a journey across different cultural worlds; I love to garner ideas and perspectives in a gamut ranging from past to present, and from “us” to “others.” Thus here I am, an intellectual historian deeply fond of ideas and immensely attracted to their circulation in the human world.

My research interests lie predominately in middle and late imperial China. While maintaining my methodological foothold in cultural and intellectual history, I make forays into the history of science, technology, and medicine, which affords me a broad and inclusive perspective in exploring the production of knowledge. My forthcoming book is entitled Shen Gua’s Empiricism. Shen Gua (1031−1095) is a household name in China, known as a distinguished renaissance man and the author of Brush Talks from Dream Brook, an old text whose remarkable “scientific” discoveries make it appear curiously ahead of its time. My book demonstrates how Shen presented a kind of empiricism to the intellectual world as a worthy way of knowing. My research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies and the Luce Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.


  • M.A., Ph.D., Princeton University; Princeton, NJ
  • B.A., Peking University; Beijing, China

Selected Publications

Peer-Reviewed Articles

“‘Ru’ versus ‘Li’: The Divergence between the Generalist and the Specialist in the Northern Song (960−1127),” Journal of Song-Yuan Studies 44 (2014): 83–137.

“Beisong shu lun” 北宋數論 (Discourse on “Number” in the Northern Song), Tang Yanjiu 唐研究 (The Tang Studies) 18 (2012): 475–507.

“The Production of Written Knowledge Under the Rubric of Jiyi,” East Asian Science, Technology, and Society 4 (2010): 255–273.

Edited Volume Contribution:

“Keeping Your Ear to the Cosmos: Coherence as the Standard of Validity in the Northern Song (960−1127) Music Reforms,” forthcoming in Standards of Validity in Late Imperial China, edited by Martin Hofmann, Joachim Kurtz, and Ari D. Levine [50 pages]


First-Year Seminar:

  • AS 1006/HIST 1036  China Encounters the West

1000-Level Lecture:

  • AS 1175/HIST 1420 China’s Path to Modernity 

2000-Level Lectures:

  • AS 2010/HIST 2320 The Emergence of Chinese Civilization
  • AS 2011/HIST 2321 Late Imperial China

2000-Level Seminars:

  • AS 2002/HIST 2780  The Foundations of Chinese Thought
  • AS 2005/HIST 2781 Science, Technology, and Society in China 

3000-Level Seminar:

  • AS 3100/HIST 3320 Revolutionary China