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The Australian National University
Benjamin Penny

Dr Benjamin Penny


PhD (Chinese Religious History), ANU
MPhil (Chinese Studies), University of Cambridge
Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours), University of Sydney

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Benjamin Penny is a historian of religions in China who has worked on medieval China, the nineteenth century and contemporary times. His most recent book is The Religion of Falun Gong (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012) and he is currently working on a monograph concerning expatriate scholarship in Shanghai after the first Opium War, as well as co-editing East Asian History. After studying at the Universities of Sydney, Cambridge, Peking and the ANU, Penny held a post-doctoral fellowship also at the ANU before moving to the Humanities Research Centre. Between 1999 and 2005, he worked as the first Executive Officer of the Herbert and Valmae Freilich Foundation, and from 2003 to 2004 also held a research fellowship at the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. Penny was appointed to the Division of Pacific and Asian History in October 2005 and in January 2010 became the Deputy Director of the new School of Culture, History and Language in the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific. From June 2015 to December 2017 he was the Director of the Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU, and head of the China Everyday research stream.

Other Languages

  • Chinese

Research Interests

  • Religious and spiritual movements in modern and contemporary China, in particular Falun Gong and the qigong boom
  • The interpretation of Chinese religions by westerners, in particular, nineteenth century protestant missionary-scholars
  • Shanghai and the Treaty Ports, 1843-1870
  • Medieval Religious Daoism, in particular religious biography, preceptual literature and demonology
  • The history of the religions of the Australian Chinese, and their connections to religions in China
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Current Projects

  • Expatriate scholarship in Shanghai after the first Opium War
  • Co-editing East Asian History
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PhD Students

  • Lee Minsoen, Western-Korean Encounters in the late 19th century
  • Li Geng, Popular Religious Practice in Contemporary China
  • Paul Farrelly, The History of the New Age in Taiwan
  • Caroline Stevenson, The Amherst Embassy
  • Zhou Yun, Women Christian Journals in the Republican Period
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Selected Publications

Contributions to The China Story

‘On the Acquisition of Moral Character’, in Geremie R. Barmé and Jeremy Goldkorn (eds.), China Story Yearbook 2014: Shared Destiny, Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World (forthcoming)

‘An Exemplary Society’, in Geremie R. Barmé and Jeremy Goldkorn (eds.), China Story Yearbook 2013: Civilising China,Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World, 2013, online at:

‘Searching for a Sage Today’, in Geremie R. Barmé with Jeremy Goldkorn, Carolyn Cartier and Gloria Davies (eds.), China Story Yearbook 2012: Red Rising Red Eclipse, Canberra: Australian Centre on China in the World, 2012, online at:


The Religion of the Falun Gong, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012

‘Karmic Retribution, Animal Spirits, Falun Gong and the State’, in Mayfair Yang, Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008

‘Master Li Encounters Jesus: Christianity and the Configurations of Falun Gong’, W. Smith, M. Tomlinson, and L. Manderson (eds.), Beliefs beyond Borders: Faith, Spiritual Practice and Communities in Asia/Pacific, New York: Springer, 2012

‘More than One Adam?: Revelation and Philology in Nineteenth-Century China’, Humanities Research, XIV, 2007, at

‘An Immigrant Chinese Sea God in Australia: The Chinese Background to Sydney’s Retreat Street Temple’, Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, 2, 2008, 54-81
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Updated:  6 March 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director, China in the World /Page Contact:  China in the World