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 on 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, visiting scholars, associates, staff, and alumni—in its intellectual life. Likewise, the Center relies on a high level of participation from faculty based at institutions across New England.
In addition, the Fairbank 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 Greater China and the Sinophone world.
Like many college professors, every fall I enjoy reading the latest edition of Beloit College’s “Mindset List,” which offers a benchmark for what the incoming freshmen have and have not experienced. For the Class of 2019, the Daily Show has always been a leading source of news; Bill Gates has always been the wealthiest man in the U.S., and women have always played professional basketball. China doesn’t usually make the list, but it’s interesting to think about what a China version of the “Mindset List” might look like. For the Class of 2019, Hong Kong has always been part of China; China has never had a particularly charismatic leader, and Shenzhen has always been the place where iPhones and iPads are made. One of my freshman advisees last year told me he first became interested in China after watching the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For him, China has always been a confident, ambitious, globally engaged and modern nation.
None of these characteristics was even imaginable when I took my first course in Chinese history thirty years ago. At that time China was emerging hesitantly from the Maoist era under a new slogan “Opening Up and Reform,” to which we devoted a week or two at the end of the semester. Like many of you, my professional career has coincided with the extraordinary transformations brought about by the pursuit of that slogan.
China has never mattered more to Harvard and to the world in which we live. The number of people working on China at Harvard has never been larger. Our exchanges with Chinese colleagues have never been more extensive.
The textbook for that first course was John King Fairbank’s The United States and China. I recall being very impressed that one of the students in the course had actually seen Fairbank speak (this was before YouTube, remember). I never would have imagined that I might one day have the honor of serving as director of the research center that he founded and that now bears his name.
I’m especially grateful to be taking over as director at a time when, thanks to the work of my predecessors, our faculty, and the staff, the Fairbank Center is a well-run, collegial and, most important, intellectually vibrant place where students and scholars from around the world want to be.
In the coming months we will begin planning for the 60th anniversary of the Fairbank Center. It will be a celebration of our history but also an opportunity to think about our future. China has never mattered more to Harvard and to the world in which we live. The number of people working on China at Harvard has never been larger. Our exchanges with Chinese colleagues have never been more extensive. As the study of China becomes normalized across every school and department of the University, we face the challenge of building a new and broader community and facilitating collaboration in new areas. I hope you will not only join us for the events associated with the anniversary – I can promise they will be excellent – but also for the conversations we will be having about the future directions of the Fairbank Center and the study of China at Harvard.
Michael A. Szonyi
Director, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
Professor of Chinese History
History of the Fairbank Center
The 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.
More at Harvard University
The Fairbank Center is a unit of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Center works closely with other Asia-focused institutions within the University including the Asia Center, the Harvard China Fund, the Harvard China Project, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, the Korea Institute, the South Asia Institute, the Harvard-Yenching Institute and the Harvard-Yenching Library. For more information about Harvard’s global involvement please visit Harvard Worldwide.
Harvard Tercentenary Stele
The slender marble slab, or stele, situated next to Harvard's Widener Library was presented to the university in 1936 as a gift from Chinese alumni on the occasion of the University’s three hundredth anniversary. The inscription commemorates the founding of Harvard College in 1636 and celebrates the importance of culture and learning both in the United States and in China. The full Chinese text is 370 words long; the original calligraphy, in kaishu style, is that of the famous scholar-diplomat Hu Shi (1891-1962), who took part in the 1936 ceremonies as the representative of Peking University and received an honorary degree. Probably first carved in the early nineteenth century, it once stood in the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, and now stands adjacent to Boylston Hall, which at the time of the gift housed the Department of Far Eastern Languages.
Facts & Figures 2016-17