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Pete Millwood


Pete Millwood researches the history of the Chinese world’s international and transnational relations, particularly with the United States. His first book is a history of diplomacy through cultural and scientific exchange in the US-China rapprochement of the 1970s. Published by Cambridge University Press in December 2022, the book examines the role of Americans and Chinese outside of government in the rebuilding of the relationship between the two societies and states. Based on new sources collected from more than a dozen official, non-governmental, and private archives, from across China and the United States, it argues that a broader and more diverse cast of actors than previously recognised — musicians, scientists, academics, and performing artists — were as central to the transformation in US-China relations as were diplomats such as Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. Pete’s research has been published in Diplomatic History, the Journal of Contemporary History, and the Washington Post, among other places.

Pete received his DPhil degree in History from St Antony’s College, Oxford and then held postdoctoral fellowships at Tsinghua University’s Schwarzman College and Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute. He was an LSE Fellow in East Asian History at the London School of Economics for two years before moving to HKU. During his doctorate, he undertook fieldwork through research fellowships at Peking University and the Library of Congress. He holds an MSt in Global and Imperial History from Oxford and a BA in International History from LSE and studied Chinese on a government scholarship at National Taiwan University’s ICLP programme.




Improbable Diplomats: How Ping-Pong Players, Musicians, and Scientists Remade US-China Relations (Cambridge University Press, December 2022)

Peer-reviewed publications

‘An “Exceedingly Delicate Undertaking”: Sino-American Science Diplomacy, 1966–78’, Journal of Contemporary History, 56:1: 166-190 (January 2021)

‘(Mis)Perceptions of Domestic Politics in the U.S.-China Rapprochement’, Diplomatic History, 43:5: 890–915 (November 2019)


 ‘American and Chinese Discourses on Science in the People’s Republic of China, 1971–1978’, in Technological Innovation and the Spread of Globalization in the Cold War, ed. Wolfgang Mueller and Peter Svik (Routledge, 2022)

Authored public history and media articles

‘No, Not Only Nixon Could Go to China’, Wilson Center History and Public Policy Program Sources and Methods blog, 21 February 2022

‘Sino-American Social Science Exchange in the 1970s’, Items (Social Science Research Council), 11 January 2022

‘For China and the US, a Welcome Return to Backchannel Diplomacy’, South China Morning Post, 1 October 2021

Recent talks and presentations

'Improbable Diplomats: How Ping-Pong Players, Musicians, and Scientists Remade US-China Relations', Academia Sinica, Taiwan, January 2023

‘A Source of Vernacular Knowledge or a Final Frontier for Globalized Science? American and Chinese Discourses on Science in the People’s Republic of China, 1971–1978’, presentation of ECR Prize-winning paper to the Commission on History of Science, Technology and Diplomacy, June 2022

‘Opening and Reform before 1978? The Hua Guofeng Transition and China’s Scientific Opening to the United States’, Association for Asian Studies (AAS) annual meeting, Honolulu, HI, March 2022

‘Rethinking the Cold War Narrative of “Only Nixon Could Go to China” and the Origins of US-China “Peer Competition”’, ‘Narrating Cold Wars’ conference, Hong Kong Baptist University, November 2021

‘Sino-American People-to-People Exchanges in the 1970s: The View from Beijing (and Shanghai)’, ‘Conflicts, Geography, and Pax Americana in Cold War East Asia’ conference, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, July 2021 ​​


‘Below Nixon’s Summit: People-to-People Contacts and the Beginning of Sino-American Rapprochement, 1969–72’, Strategy and Statecraft Working Group, Department of History, University of California, Berkeley, October 2020 ​


‘Ping-Pong Diplomacy’s Return Leg: A Transnational Encounter in the  U.S.-China Rapprochement’, Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) annual meeting, New Orleans, LA, June 2020 ​​​


‘An “Exceedingly Delicate, Extraordinarily Difficult Undertaking”: Sino-American Diplomacy and China’s Reintegration into Globalized Science, 1966–1978’, ‘Diplomats in Science Diplomacy’ conference, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen, July 2019 

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