University of Nottingham Ningbo China
School of
Contemporary Chinese Studies
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David O'Brien 

Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in Chinese Studies , School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences




  • Room 313, Student Services Building
    The University of Nottingham Ningbo China
    199 Taikang East Road
    Ningbo 315100  
  • +86 574 8818 6421
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Dr David O'Brien completed a PhD at the National University of Ireland, University College Cork which examined the construction of ethnic identity in northwestern China.

His research interests include ethnic identity and policy, the Chinese political system as well as social science research methodologies, particularly in the Chinese context.

Dr O'Brien's cross-disciplinary research is based on many years of qualitative fieldwork and seeks to explore how ethnic identity continues to evolve in China and the interplay between state and individual interpretations of identity.

Previously he worked as a journalist for an Irish national newspaper reporting on a wide range of topics in Ireland as well as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, South Africa, India and Nepal. He has worked and lived in China for a number of years.

Recent publications

O’Brien, David and Melissa Brown. ‘Harmony and Dancing on the New Frontier: The Idealisation and Commodification of Ethnic ‘Otherness’ in Xinjiang’. In Reclaiming Identity And (Re)Materialising Pasts: Approaches To Heritage Conservation In China, edited by Carol Ludwig and Yi-Wen Wang, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, (Forthcoming). 

O’Brien, David and Melissa Brown. Ethnic Harmony and Spaces of Otherness on the New Frontier: The Idealisation of Ethnicity and the Past’. In Situating the Periphery Temporal and Spatial Dimensions of Memory in contemporary China, edited by Marc A. Matten and Valentina Punzi, 2017 (Forthcoming).

O’Brien, David. “If there is harmony in the house there will be order in the nation: An exploration of the Han Chinese as Political Actors in Xinjiang”. In Inside China’s New Frontier: Analysing Space, Place and Power in China’s North-West, edited by Anna Hayes and Michael Clarke. London: Routledge 2015.

O’Brien, David. “Violence and identity – the ‘self’ and the ‘other’: An exploration of ethnic relations and conflict in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”. In Asian Studies – Within and Without, edited by Fan Hong and Peter Herrman. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Press, 2013.

O’Brien, David. “Review of Michael Clarke Xinjiang and China’s Rise in Central Asia.” Asian Ethnicity 14 (2) (2013): 142-143.

O’Brien, David. “Review of Jay Dautcher Down a Narrow Road: Identity and Masculinity in a Uyghur Community in Xinjiang.” Asian Ethnicity 14 (1) 2012: 136-137.

O’Brien, David. “The Mountains are High and the Emperor is Far Away: An Examination of Ethnic Violence in Xinjiang,” International Journal of Chinese Studies 2(2) (2011): 389-406.

Recent conference presentations

’See Ethnic People in their Natural Environment’: The Idealisation and Commodification of Ethnicity in Xinjiang". Melissa Shani Brown and David O’Brien Trans-Asian Mobilities and Encounters: Exchange, Commodification and Sustainability, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, January 23 – 24, 2017

Friendship, Complicity and Danger: an exploration of the ethical dilemmas in carrying out research in the sensitive region of Xinjiang, China "Identity, Agency and Fieldwork Methodologies in Risky Environments" - International KOSMOS Workshop, Humboldt University Berlin, July 29-30, 2016.

Whose China Dream is it anyway? An examination of propaganda in different language versions of the Xinjiang Daily newspaper, Xiaoling Zhang, Melissa Shani Brown and David O’Brien, China’s Propaganda System: Legacies and Enduring Themes, University of Kent, July 1, 2016.

Harmony and Dancing on the New Frontier: The idealisation and commodification of ethnic ‘Otherness’ in Xinjiang.  Melissa Brown and David O’Brien, Majoritarian Nationalism and the rights of non-dominant groups. Interdisciplinary symposium organised under the Rights and Justice RPA by the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies, Centre for Race and Rights and ICEMIC. 15th-16th June 2016.

“Who are they talking to? An examination of the different language versions of Xinjiang Daily, Xiaoling Zhang and David O’Brien, British Association for Chinese Studies Annual Conference, University of Leeds, UK, September 2015.

“Religion, Ideology and the Sense of Home: An Exploration of Ethnic Identity in China's Troubled Xinjiang Region”, Ideologies in Translation Co-organised by the Department of Political Science, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies, University of Nottingham United Kingdom, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, April 2015.

"Violence, identity and the sense of home: An exploration of belonging in urban Xinjiang." Intercultural Communication Between Chin And the Rest of the World: Beyond (Reverse) Essentialism and Culturalism?, University of Helsinki, Finland, June 5 2014.

“An exploration of belonging in urban centres in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” Power, Identity and the Authoritarian State - Urban Experiences Juxtaposed, Royal Geographic Society Annual International Conference 2013, Royal Geographic Society, London, August 27-30, 2013. 

“Violence, identity the ‘self’ and the ‘other’: An exploration of ethnic relations and conflict in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”Asian Studies Ireland Association 4th Annual Conference 2013, University College Cork, November 30, 2012. 

““I don’t know why I was attacked; I was only trying to get home”: How ethnic violence in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region has impacted on how ethnic groups see themselves and others.” China Postgraduate Network 5th Annual Conference, University of Edinburgh, June 19, 2012. 

Research interests

  • Ethnic identity in China
  • China's ethnic identity policy
  • China's Western development economic policy
  • China-Central Asian relations
  • Chinese Communist Party leadership
  • China's international relations
  • Ethnographic research methodologies

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