Professor Elisabeth Hsu

professor elisabeth hsu 576x768

Professor of Anthropology, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford 

Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford


In order to set up its Medical Anthropology MSc and MPhil courses, Elisabeth Hsu joined the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Oxford as University Lecturer in Medical Anthropology in 2001. She obtained Recognition of Distinction as Reader in Social Anthropology in 2006 and as Professor in Anthropology in 2010.

She co-founded the ongoing Berghahn book series on “Epistemologies of Healing” in 2005, specifically to increase the reach of doctoral-research-based monographs. She also co-established the ongoing “Anthropology Research Group at Oxford on Eastern Medicines and Religions”, Argo-EMR, in 2006, for post-doctoral researchers interested in medical anthropological approaches to scholarly medical traditions. 

Elisabeth Hsu's research contributes to the fields of medical anthropology and ethnobotany; language and text critical studies; and the history of science, technology and medicine in China and beyond. It concerns Chinese medicine, and East Asian and traditional and pre-twentieth century medicines more generally; the transmission of knowledge and practice; body and personhood; treatment modalities and their efficaciousness; pulse diagnosis; touch, pain, feelings and affect, cognition and emotions, and sensory experience.  Her latest ethnography Chinese Medicine in East Africa: An Intimacy with Strangers, has just been published in 2022.


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 274681



Publications list, thematically arranged.

Publication list, chronologically arranged.


Elisabeth Hsu’s profile is highly transdisciplinary: she learned modern standard Chinese at the Beijing Language Institute in the People’s Republic of China in 1978-79; completed the equivalent of a BSc and MSc in the Natural Sciences (Biology), Ecology, at ETH Zurich in 1979-84; a MPhil in General Linguistics in 1986-87 and a PhD in Social Anthropology in 1987-92, both from the University of Cambridge. She thereupon worked as Assistant Professor in Social/Medical Anthropology at the Institute of Social Anthropology of the University of Zurich from 1992-96; as Chiang Chingkuo Teaching and Research Fellow in the History of Chinese Science, Technology and Medicine at the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Cambridge from 1996-99; and as Swiss National Foundation Research Fellow from 1997-99. She completed her Habilitation in Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg in 2002.

Elisabeth Hsu did long term field research in the PR China (Kunming city, Yunnan province, 1988-89; see monograph The Transmission of Chinese Medicine, 1999) and in East Africa (between 2001-08, 9 field trips; see monograph Chinese Medicine in East Africa: An Intimacy with Strangers, 2022). She also has conducted research into kinship and relatedness based on field trips into remote areas of Southwest China (since 1979, 10x); on tactility in caring practices and technologies of the self after fieldwork in Huizhou (since 1997, 3x); and on the Neolithic gaze based on treks through historic English landscapes (since 2013, regularly). Finally, she has conducted ethnobiological and linguistic anthropological research, as well as textual translation work, into the interpretation of the practical applications of the herbal antimalarial qinghao in Chinese formulae and materia medica, namely the fangji and bencao literatures from 168 BCE-1911, in collaboration with academic staff working at the Swiss Tropical Institute in Basel; in the Pharmacognosy team in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Bradford; and at the Traditional Chinese Medicine Universities of Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing.


Current DPhil students
Former DPhil students

Yuxin Peng, 2024 (Exploring multiple efficacies through sensory relatedness at Restore, an Oxfordshire mental health charity). Sole supervisor.

Wang Yishan, 2022 (Nature-watching and affective encounters with more-than-human beings in post-reform Beijing). Sole supervisor.

Hyunkoo Kim, 2021 (A medicine of constitutions: Sasang medicine in contemporary South Korea). Sole supervisor. 

Adelaida Barros-Cajdler, 2020 (What Makes a Machi a Real Machi: An Exploration of the Problem of Ritual Healing Efficacy). Sole supervisor.

Cory Rodgers, 2018 (Rural, remote, raiya: Herders living as “People of the Periphery” in Turkana, Kenya). Supervised by Elisabeth Hsu and David Turton. 

Kitty Wheater, 2017 (Once More to the Body: an Ethnography of Mindfulness Practitioners in the United Kingdom). Supervised by Caroline Potter and Elisabeth Hsu. 

Neil Armstrong, 2017 (Information, self-management and common sense: an ethnography among NHS community mental health teams and their patients). Sole supervisor. 

Yuri Nonami, 2015 (Homeopathy as iyashi healing in Japan: narrative analyses). Supervisors: Elisabeth Hsu & Takehiko Kariya.

Chen Yunju, 2014 (Zhang (Miasma), heat, and dampness of the south: environmental experience in textual knowledge of Song medicine (960-1279)). Sole supervisor. 

Elizabeth Rahman, 2014 (Made by artful practice: therapeutics of the everyday among Xie dwellers of northwestern Amazonia). Supervisors: Elizabeth Ewart and Elisabeth Hsu. 

Tara Kelly, 2014 (Plants, Power, Possibility: Manoeuvring the medical landscape in response to enduring illness and uncertainty). Supervisors: Elisabeth Hsu and David Pratten. 

Nick Shapiro, 2014 (In pursuit of biological citizenship in New Orleans: asthmatic and legal struggles after Hurricane Katrina) Supervisors: Elisabeth Hsu and Javier Lezaun. 

Amy McLennan, 2013 (An ethnographic investigation of lifestyle change, living for the moment, and obesity emergence in Nauru). Supervisors: Stanley Ulijaszek and Elisabeth Hsu. 

Daniel Dolley, 2013 (Manifestations of the dead: investigating ghost encounters among the Tsachila of western Ecuador). Supervisors: Elisabeth Hsu and Elizabeth Ewart.

Kate Fayers-Kerr, 2013 (Beyond the social skin: healing arts and sacred clays among the Mun (Mursi) in Southwest Ethiopia). Supervisors: Elisabeth Hsu and David Turton. 

Yosuke Shimazono, 2013 (Kidneys in-between: an anthropological study of live kidney transplantation in the Philippines). Sole supervisor.

Charlotte Bruckermann, 2012 (Life in the rural Shanxi house: seasonal resonances and techniques of transformation in north-central China). Sole supervisor.

Doreen Montag, 2011 (Autonomy, cohesion and health. Perceptions of and responses to fever among urban Shipibo-Konibo in Mai Joshin). Supervisors: Elizabeth Ewart, Elisabeth Hsu, David Parkin, Laura Rival.

Kristine Krause, 2010 (Sickness, migration and social relations: therapeutic practices and medical subjectivities among Ghanaians in London). Supervisors: Steven Vertovec, Robert Parkin, Elisabeth Hsu.

Arielle Rittersmith, 2010 (Convention, control and creativity: the case of Chinese medicine in Singapore). Sole supervisor.

Martin Saxer, 2010 (Manufacturing Tibetan medicine: the creation of an industry and the moral economy of Tibetanness). Supervisors: Charles Ramble and Elisabeth Hsu.

Karin Eli, 2009 (Understanding Anorexia Nervosa through the Phenomenological Experiences of Israeli Anorectics: A Critical Biocultural Analysis). Sole supervisor.

Helen Lloyd, 2007 (Ethnic difference in perceived family burden and service use patterns in schizophrenia: a matched cohort study). Supervisors: Tom Burns and Elisabeth Hsu.

Caroline M. Potter, 2007 (Learning to Dance: Sensory Experience in British Contemporary Dance Training). Sole supervisor.

Patrizia Bassini, 2007 (Heart distress on the Sino-Tibetan frontier: history, gender, ecology and ritual practice in Tibetan popular perceptions and experiences of heart distress (snying nad) and other illnesses in the Qinghai part of Amdo). Supervisors: Elisabeth Hsu and Charles Ramble.

Anna Lora-Wainwright, 2006 (Perceptions of Health, Illness and Healing in a Sichuan Village, China). Sole supervisor.

Adam Hamilton Russell, 2003 (Nurturing nature: men, steroids and anthropology). Supervisors: Nick Allen, Elisabeth Hsu, Sarah Green.