Nathanael Lai

PhD Candidate in History

I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I came to study for an MPhil in World History at Cambridge following a BA in History and English at the University of Hong Kong. I am now a PhD candidate supervised by Dr Rachel Leow.

My PhD research examines the politics of itinerant historical actors from across Cold War Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, in particular Thailand and Singapore. Focusing on a range of ethnic or ‘overseas’ Chinese whose lives were entangled — athletes, bankers, educators, journalists, and publishers — my project foregrounds the way these people circumnavigated the increasingly constricted political landscape of the 1950s, articulating politics that complicate deep-seated binaries of the Cold War era: pro-Beijing versus pro-Taipei, left versus right, communism versus anti-communism. I am grateful to the Gates Cambridge Trust for supporting my research.

My past research projects centred on the history of protest and dissent in colonial Hong Kong, not least its connections to Southeast Asia, which I still strive to explore and develop academically and otherwise.

I co-convene Cambridge's World History Workshop in the 2023-2024 academic year.

Histories of the Cold War, transnational and modern China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, contentious politics, etc.

I supervise for the Part 1A Outline paper O11 ‘The Twentieth-Century World’ (2023-2024). For Part II I lead the HAP (Historical Argument and Practice) seminar on ‘Transnational Histories’.

  • 'The "Stars" Aligned? Journalism and Gender in Cold War East and Southeast Asia, c. 1949-1963', PhD Workshop, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), June 2024.
  • ‘Researching the Cold War and Chinese Overseas in Thailand and Beyond’, Sharing Session on ‘Navigating Overseas Archives and Libraries’, World History Workshop, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, February 2024.
  • ‘Loans, Textbooks, and the Cold War in 1950s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong’, Research Seminar, Department of History, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, April 2023; ‘Innovating Chinese Business History’ Workshop, Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong, October 2023; Early Career Scholars Workshop, Hong Kong History Centre, University of Bristol, October 2023; Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, Seattle, March 2024.
  • ‘Chinese Banking and Everyday Practices in 1950s Southeast Asia’, Postgraduate Research Seminar, Department of History, University of Hong Kong, November 2022.
  • ‘Hong Kong's 1956 Disturbances and the Transnational Campaign of Triad Leader Zhang Xunyi in Southeast Asia’, Society for Hong Kong Studies Annual Conference, June 2022.
  • ‘Entangled Resistance in Colonial Hong Kong and Singapore, c. 1956’, World History Workshop, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, February 2022.


Tags & Themes


Hughes Hall, Cambridge, CB1 2EW


Key publications

'On Documenting Life as Politics', The Scholar, May 2023.