I come from a shopkeeping background and was the first in my family to go to university. I am a beneficiary of state-funded higher education, without which I would have had to leave university and would not have done a doctorate.
My BA is in early medieval European history, but I got interested in China along the way, and studied modern and classical Chinese in Taiwan in order to do my PhD.
I held a Junior Research Fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford, where I had my first child, then worked for two years at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, a small, public, liberal arts college, which gave me a crash course in teaching and in engaged scholarship, and where I had my second child
In 2000 I participated in a 6-month research group at the Institute for Advanced Study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, before returning to the UK to take up a lectureship in Chinese history at Newcastle. There I helped to embed World History and to develop East Asian history within the History programme, and to build East Asian Studies across the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. I became senior lecturer in 2007.
I came to Birmingham as Professor of Medieval History in 2011, the first non-Europeanist to be appointed to a post of this title (though not the first to hold one).