About the Fairbank Center


Founded in 1955, the Fairbank Center exists to advance scholarship in all fields of Chinese studies at Harvard. We do this in many ways, sponsoring seminars and conferences, supporting faculty and student research, maintaining Harvard’s research library for contemporary China, hosting postdoctoral fellows, visiting scholars, and associates in research, and publishing new research. The Center strives to involve all members of the Harvard community – undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni – in its intellectual life, and has always relied as well on a high level of participation of faculty from sister institutions in greater Boston and across New England. In addition, the Center works closely with the other international centers and institutes, and with the Harvard Center Shanghai in particular, to promote the study of global issues on campus and to expand Harvard’s global reach in mainland China, Taiwan, and the greater Sinophone world.


Fairbank Center History

John King Fairbank Portrait by Gwendolyn StewartThe Fairbank Center was founded in 1955 by Professor John King Fairbank, a leading scholar in modern and contemporary China studies. The Center was originally called the Center for East Asian Research. Under Professor Fairbank’s leadership, the Center took an active role in promoting the study of modern and contemporary China from a social science perspective. At the time, this focus marked a sharp departure from the field of Sinology, which had emphasized the study of texts from a humanistic perspective. The Center for East Asian Research was renamed as the John K. Fairbank Center for East Asian Research following Professor Fairbank’s retirement, in honor of his signal contributions to China studies through his teaching and publications. In 2007, after institutes for Japan studies and Korea studies had been established at Harvard, the Fairbank Center was renamed to show its strength in Chinese Studies.

photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart

Wilma Fairbank

John & Wilma Fairbank 1930sArriving in Peking in 1932 to marry John Fairbank, Wilma Fairbank found herself "suddenly immersed in sensory stimuli so fresh and immediate" that she became overwhelmed.  As a response to this new world around her, she began to spontaneously draw and paint the people, places, and adventures that interested her and that she grew to love. She also wrote brief comments to accompany her images, in order to try to further capture the impact that  China, and in particular Peking, had on her. These images and words offer a glimpse of what life was like for Wilma Fairbank during her time in China in the 1930s, and allow us to experience a part of the Fairbank's journey from that era. View the works of Wilma Fairbank.