School of Modern Languages

Staff Profiles

Dr Jo Smith Finley

Reader in Chinese Studies



Dr. Smith Finley obtained her BA Honours in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds in 1991. Between 1992 and 1994, she studied Japanese language and culture, and taught English in Kyoto, Japan. She then returned to the UK to pursue an interdisciplinary PhD in Chinese Studies / Social Anthropology at the University of Leeds, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, UK. Her thesis focused on changing identities among the Uyghur people of Xinjiang, NW China, and contemporary relations between Uyghur and Han Chinese communities (June 1999). This research included a period of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Xinjiang in 1995-6. Dr Smith Finley joined Newcastle University in January 2000, where she is Reader in Chinese Studies, and delivers research-led teaching on Chinese language, society and politics. Based on nearly three decades of expertise in Uyghur and Xinjiang studies, Dr. Smith Finley writes op-eds for the international media and gives frequent interviews to investigative journalists, news correspondents, and independent documentary filmmakers. In the context of the ongoing human rights crisis in Xinjiang, where upwards of 1 million mainly Turkic Muslims have been extra-judicially detained since 2017, she serves as "expert country witness" in Uyghur asylum cases in the UK, Europe, the US and Canada, and advises legal firms, refugee support organisations, government departments  and non-governmental organisations.

Roles and Responsibilities

Within the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Smith Finley is Co-Convenor of the Asian Studies Research Group, which brings together researchers from the Schools of Modern Languages; Geography, Politics and Sociology; Architecture, Planning and Landscape; and History, Classics and Archaeology.

Within the School of Modern Languages, Dr. Smith Finley is Year Abroad Officer for China (outgoing students) and manages exchange programmes with five partner institutions in China. She was Head of East Asian Studies from 2009-2012, and Degree Programme Director for the Single Honours courses in Chinese Studies and Japanese Studies from 2003-2014.

Dr. Smith Finley is one of three UCU (Universities and Colleges Union) reps for the School. 


BA Honours Modern Chinese Studies (University of Leeds, 1987-1991) -

Modern Chinese language (Mandarin), documents, history, politics, cultural institutions, and modern Chinese literature. Options in Japanese language and modern Japanese literature.

PhD by Research in Chinese Studies / Social Anthropology (University of Leeds, 1994-1999) - 

Thesis title: “Changing Uyghur Identities in Xinjiang in the 1990s.” Supervised by Professor Gregor Benton (formerly of East Asian Studies, University of Leeds) and Dr. Ray Pawson (Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds).

Cambridge/RSA CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) (September-October 2000) -

International House, Stowell Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Grade A.

Previous Positions

January 1997-March 1999:
Teaching assistant - Dept. of East Asian Studies, University of Leeds (Chinese language and modern Chinese history at undergraduate level; Chinese-English translation at postgraduate level).

July-December 1998:
Researcher/Interpreter for “The Dragon’s Ascent,” - Totem Productions, London SW11. A multi-media project on the history of Chinese civilisation (TV documentary series, book, CD Rom). Responsibilities included research and reconnaissance for films/stills; interpreting for production crews; organising stills shoots; interviewing; fixing; creation of a stills database.

April 1992-August 1994:
EFL instructor - English language schools in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan. Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Japanese nationals of various ages.


Association for Asian Studies (AAS - China and Inner Asia Council member since 2019); Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS); British Association for Chinese Studies (BACS - Council Member, 2011-2014); European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS); International Advisory Board of the academic journal Central Asian Survey (from March 2020).


Spoken and written Chinese, Japanese and Uyghur; written French and German.

Informal Interests

Dr Smith Finley is a trained classical pianist, avid music enthusiast, environmental activist, and advocate for social equality and social justice.

Google Scholar


Research Interests

My research interests include the evolution of identities among the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, NW China, and in the Uyghur diaspora; strategies of symbolic resistance in Xinjiang; Uyghur women between Islamic revival and Chinese state securitization of religion; PRC counter-terrorism measures in Xinjiang as state terror; and political 're-education' in Xinjiang as cultural genocide.

Current Work

Earlier in 2019, I guest-edited a Special Issue for Central Asian Survey, titled 'Securitization, Insecurity and Conflict in Contemporary Xinjiang', which includes my opening article titled 'Has PRC Counter-terrorism in Xinjiang Evolved into State Terror?' and my second contribution titled 'The Wang Lixiong Prophecy: "Palestinization" in Xinjiang and the consequences of Chinese state securitization of religion'. See it here:

I have also published several online op-eds in 2018-19 on the subject of China's campaign of political 're-education' and mass internment in Xinjiang for The Asia Dialogue, ChinaFile, and Focus On (Oxford Islamic Studies Online).

My book chapters on the contestation of space, place and cultural ownership in Xinjiang, as articulated through the rock fusion of Mando-pop singer Dao Lang (Routledge) and on gendered Uyghur proverbs, co-authored with Dilmurat Mahmut (Brill Academic Publishing) were published in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

My second co-edited volume - on language, education and Uyghur identity in urban Xinjiang - was published by Routledge (Studies of Ethnicity in Asia series) in October 2015. See it here:  

In 2013, I published my monograph The Art of Symbolic Resistance: Uyghur Identities and Uyghur-Han Relations in Contemporary Xinjiang (Leiden: Brill, 2013). This is an ethnographic study of evolving Uyghur identities and ethnic relations over a period of 20 years (from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union through the 1997 Ghulja disturbances and the 2009 Urumchi riots to the present). See it here:

Future Research

My next project continues my preliminary work on gender roles in Uyghur society. I am interested in the situation of Uyghur men and women caught between Islamic revival and the state, whether that means Chinese state policies of religious repression (securitization of Islam) in Xinjiang or host nations' attitudes towards Islam (and popular forms of Islamophobia) as experienced by the Uyghur diaspora.

Postgraduate Supervision

I am keen to supervise students working on Xinjiang Studies and Uyghur Studies topics, as well as on contemporary China topics that fall broadly within the following areas: ethnicity, identity and nationalism; ethnic relations and ethnic conflict; popular resistance; religious renewal; popular music / culture and representation; continuity and change in gender roles and interactions; grassroots activism.   

PhD students currently under supervision:

Hanna Burdorf: PhD, "Bilingual" Education for Uyghurs in Xinjiang: PRC State Discourses on and Practice of Bilingual Education and Multiculturalism.

Mohammad Alharby: PhD, Negotiation of Gender Identities among Female Expatriate Healthcare Workers in Saudi Arabia.

PGR students supervised to completion:

James Cummings: PhD (ESRC North East Doctoral Training Centre), Constructing Sexual Lives in a Changing Society: Gay Men's Understandings of Sexual Being, Belonging and Identities in Hainan Province, P.R. China. 2013 - 2019.

Anthony Baker: MLitt, Mining the Literatures of the Six Dynasties Period: The Origins of Contemporary International Relations Theory?. Graduated 2014.

James Cummings: MLitt, Homosexual Identity Construction at the Intersection of Sexuality and Regionalism in Hainan province. Graduated 2013. 

Farah Lodhi: MLitt, Ethnic Representation and Social Marginalisation of Uyghur Migrants in Shanghai. Graduated 2013.

Lingzhi (Liz) Gu: Integrated PhD, Occidentalism in Academic Discourses of Translation Studies in China. Graduated 2009.

Esteem Indicators 

19-22 March 2020: Invited organizer/speaker for double Xinjiang panel, Association for Asian Studies annual conference, Boston U.S.A.

22 Jan 2020: Invited seminar, Asian Studies Seminar Series, Edinburgh University.

12 Dec 2019: Invited guest lecture, Université libre Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium.

9-10 Dec 2019: Invited speaker, ‘Documenting, Assessing and Reporting the Uyghur Crisis’ conference, Université libre Bruxelles, Belgium.

14 Nov 2019: Invited speaker on the Uyghur genocide, Kings College London.

18 Sept 2019: Invited speaker on the ‘Evolving Uyghur situation in Xinjiang’, Baillie Gifford global investment management firm, Edinburgh.

3 Sept 2019: Invited speaker, ‘The Xinjiang Emergency: Exploring the Context, Evidence and Implications of China’s Mass Detention of Turkic Muslims’ conference, National Security College, Australian National University, Canberra.

27-29 June 2019: Invited speaker, ‘Plenary Roundtable on International Cooperation and Academic Freedom’, ESCAS Conference, Exeter University.

28 May 2019: Invited seminar, New College, Oxford University.

28 May 2019: Invited lecture, Montagu Barker lecture series, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), Oxford.

21 March 2019: Invited speaker, Panel discussion on the Xinjiang Muslim internment crisis, Edinburgh Political Union,University of Edinburgh.

26-27 November 2018: Invited speaker, ‘Policy Forum on the Xinjiang Muslim Internment Camps’, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

5 November 2018: Invited participant at Xinjiang Policy Roundtable: ‘Extra-judicial Internment Camps in Xinjiang’, Université libre Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium.

25 October, 2018: Invited speaker, Roundtable on the Internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China, University of Nottingham. 

23 April 2018: Invited seminar, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

23-26 October 2016: Invited paper, Third International Conference on Uyghur Studies: History, Culture and Society, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

11-13 June 2015: Publication Workshop 'Develop The West: Chinese State Development and Uyghur Cultural Resilience, Adaptation and Co-optation in Xinjiang, George Washington University, Washington D.C.

8-9 December 2014: China Frontier Development Forum, Minzu University of China (MUC), Beijing.

25-27 September 2014: Invited paper, First International Conference on Uyghur Studies: History, Culture and Society, Central Asia Program,  Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington DC.

28th November, 2013: Invited lecture 'Redistribution of wealth or consolidation of majority Han power? The "national partner assistance programme" in Khotan, Xinjiang'. Scottish Centre for China Research (SCCR), University of Glasgow

1st May 2013: Invited lecture 'All Five Digits on a Hand Are Not the Same: Sources of Islamic Renewal in Contemporary Xinjiang', Religious Studies seminar series at the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen, convened by Dr Zohar Hadromi-Allouche

5th November 2012: Talk on the risks of returning Uyghur asylum seekers to China at a bi-annual seminar for Dutch lawyers and legal aid workers in the field of asylum and immigration. Seminar organised by the Dutch Council for Refugees, Congreszal Juliana, Jaarbeurs Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands.

10th-12th May 2012: Invited paper, 'Return to Kashgar': an International Workshop in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the death of Ambassadør Gunnar Jarring. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Organised by Dr. Ildikó Bellér-Hann (University of Copenhagen), Dr. Jun Sugawara (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) and Prof. Birgit Schlyter (Stockholm University).

15th March 2012: Invited lecture on the politics of pop music fusion in Northwest China, Centre for Contemporary China Studies, Durham University. Series convened by Mr Mamtymin Sunuodula.

3rd-4th November 2011: Keynote lecture at the 'Beyond "The Xinjiang Problem"', International Workshop held at the Australian National University (ANU). See:

20-21 May 2011: Invited paper, 'Challenging the Harmonious Society: Tibetans and Uyghurs in Socialist China': an International Workshop held at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Organised by Dr. Ildikó Bellér-Hann and Dr Trine Brox (both of University of Copenhagen).

30th April, 2010: Invited paper, 'Xinjiang and Travel Writing' Workshop held at Liverpool University, organised by Professor Charles Forsdick (Liverpool University) and Professor Alex Hughes (University of Kent).

15th April 2010: Invited paper, 'Xinjiang Riots 2009', one-day strategic seminar organised by Dr Uradyn Bulag of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Unit (MIASU), University of Cambridge.

15th-16th May 2006: Invited paper, 'China-Middle East Connections', a bi-national academic conference (UK-Israel) held at Haifa University, Israel. Organised by Professor Yitzhak Shichor, Haifa University.  

Referees articles and reviews books for the following leading scholarly journals:

  • Asian Ethnicity
  • The China Journal
  • The China Quarterly
  • Inner Asia
  • Journal of Contemporary China
  • Modern China
  • Focaal: European Journal of Anthropology
  • Ethnic and Racial Studies
  • Equal Rights Review 
  • The Sociological Review
  • Japanese Journal of Political Science  

I have refereed monographs for the White Horse Press (Cambridge), Routledge, University of Chicago Press, and Hong Kong University Press; and research grant applications for the Leverhulme Trust and Veluxe Fonden.

My first published article ‘Four Generations of Uyghurs’ was named as one of the best to appear in the early issues of Inner Asia in a Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) review.

My book chapter ‘“Ethnic Anomaly” or Modern Uyghur Survivor? A Case Study of the Minkaohan Hybrid Identity in Xinjiang’ was singled out for commendation by Professor Nicholas Tapp (Australian National University) in a 2008 review of my co-edited volume, Situating the Uyghurs Between China and Central Asia (Ashgate, 2007).


2014: Newcastle University Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Profile-Raising Funds / Newcastle Human Rights and  Social Justice Forum. Funding to support a Strategic Workshop: Ethnic Conflict in Xinjiang, China: How far is insecurity the product of increased securitisation? Held at Newcastle University, 3 October, 2014.

2012: Centre for Russian, Central and East European Studies (CRCEES), University of Glasgow. Funding to support the Annual Nawruz-Noorus Postgraduate Workshop on Central Asia, held at Newcastle University, 21-22 March 2013.

2011: China and Inner Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies (CIAC-AAS). Funding to support Publication Workshop 'Uyghur Youth Identities in Urban Xinjiang', held at the White Rose East Asia Centre (WREAC), Sheffield, 8th July 2011. Additional funding provided by WREAC.

2004: China and Inner Asia Council  of the Association for Asian Studies (CIAC-AAS), in conjunction with the Chiang Ching-Kuo (CCK) Foundation; The British Academy. Funding for international conference 'Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia', 5th-6th November, 2004, co-organised with Dr Ildikó Bellér-Hann; Dr Cristina Cesàro; and Dr Rachel Harris, held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Additional funding provided by SOAS. 


Undergraduate Teaching


  • SML1022 Introduction to Cultural Studies


  • CHN2004 Contemporary Chinese Society 

  • CHN4061 Level D Chinese language (Chinese-English Translation: Authentic Texts)
  • CHN4004 Ethnicity and Nationalism in Contemporary China
  • SML4099 Dissertation (China)