Yan Liu


Professor Yan Liu.

Yan Liu


Yan Liu



Chinese History; Asian History; History of Medicine, Disability and Science; History of Religion; Transnational History


  • PhD, Harvard University, History of Science, 2015
  • MA, University of Michigan, Chinese Studies, 2009
  • PhD, University of Michigan, Biology, 2007
  • BS, University of Science and Technology of China, Biology, 2000

Courses Regularly Taught

HIS 181: Asian Civilizations I (origins to 1600): Connections and Movements
HIS 367: Food in Asia
HIS 391: China and the World
HIS 392: Chinese Medicine in the World
HIS 492: Poisons, Medicines, and Panaceas
HIS 507: Asian Core
HIS 544: History of the Body

Research Interests

As a scholar of Chinese history and the history of medicine, I specialize in the medical culture of medieval China with particular interests in pharmacology, religious healing, alchemy, the history of senses and emotions, and the circulation of medical knowledge in the global context. My first book, Healing with Poisons: Potent Medicines in Medieval China, was published by the University of Washington Press in June 2021. The book offers a cultural history of poisons as healing agents in the formative age of Chinese pharmacology (200–800), highlighting the shifting boundary between medicines and poisons as shaped by technical, political, and cultural conditions. My second book project, tentatively titled Scent from Afar: A Transcultural History of Aromatics in Medieval China, explores the circulation of aromatics along the Silk Road, the local integration of imported knowledge, and the history of smells. For more information, please see my personal website.

Teaching Interests

I teach courses on both Asian history and the history of medicine. Besides the courses listed above, I also plan to offer the following courses: History of Poisons (HIS 199), History of Epidemics, History of the Senses. I am keen in introducing comparative perspectives into my teaching to broaden students’ horizons, and trying creative assignments (multimedia productions, for example) to enrich their learning experience.

Selected Publications


Healing with Poisons: Potent Medicines in Medieval China (University of Washington Press, 2021). Open access edition.

Articles and Chapters

"Scented Protection: Saffron’s Transcultural Premodern History." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 83.1 (2023): 113-51.

Poisons in the Premodern World.” Encyclopedia of the History of Science (May, 2021).

Fluid Being: Mercury in Chinese Medicine and Alchemy.” Co-authored with Shigehisa Kuriyama, in Fluid Matter(s): Flow and Transformation in the History of the Body, edited by Natalie Köhle and Shigehisa Kuriyama. Asian Studies Monograph Series 14. Canberra, Australian National University Press, 2020.

“Words, Demons, and Illness: Incantatory Healing in Medieval China.” Asian Medicine 14 (2019): 1-29.

“Poisonous Medicine in Ancient China.” In History of Toxicology and Environmental Health Series: Toxicology in Antiquity, edited by Philip Wexler, first edition, 2015; second edition (Elsevier/Academic Press, 2019), 431-39.

Awards and Fellowships

Institute for Advanced Study Residential Fellowship in the School of Historical Studies, Princeton, Fall 2023

Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Publication Subsidies, Spring 2021

Dr. Nuala McGann Drescher Diversity and Inclusion Leave Program Award, Spring 2020

Humanities Institute Faculty Research Fellowship, SUNY Buffalo, Spring 2019

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto, 2015-16