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 392: History of Chinese Medicine
HIS 492: Poisons, Medicines, and Panaceas
HIS 507: Asian Core
HIS 544: History of the Body

Research Interests

I am a cultural historian of China, specializing in the history of medicine in the first millennium. I am generally interested in the history of pharmacology, religious healing (especially Daoism), alchemy, the history of senses and emotions, and the exchange of medical knowledge in the global context.  I am currently preparing a book manuscript tentatively titled "Toxic Cures: Poisons and Medicines in Early Imperial China." The project explores the use of toxic substances as therapeutic agents in traditional Chinese pharmacy, highlighting the shifting boundary between medicine and poison as shaped by technical, cultural, and social conditions. My future projects include the history of food in China and the circulation of aromatics (saffron, camphor, etc.) across Eurasia.

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: Introduction to Health, Medicine, and Society (HIS 144), China in the World (HIS 391), the history of epidemics from the Black Death to Ebola, medieval history, and the history of 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

“Poisonous Medicine in Ancient China,” History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity, Volume II, ed. Philip Wexler, Elsevier, 2015: 89-97.

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