• Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History; Harvard College Professor
  • puett@fas.harvard.edu
  • http://ealc.fas.harvard.edu/people/michael-puett
  • 2 Divinity Avenue | Cambridge MA, 02138

Research interests: Chinese history c. 1200 B.C. - c. 755 A.D.; classical Chinese ethical and political theory

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion. He is also a non-resident long-term fellow for programs in anthropological and historical sciences and the languages and civilizations of East Asia at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala.

Puett joined the Harvard faculty in 1994 after earning his M.A. (1987) and Ph.D. (1994) from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. His interests focus on the inter-relations between religion, anthropology, history, and philosophy. In his research, Puett aims to bring the study of China into larger historical and comparative frameworks. He has published many articles on early Chinese history (c. 1200 B.C. - c. 755 A.D.), and on classical Chinese ritual, social, and political theory.

Puett is the author of The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China (Stanford, 2001) and To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China (Harvard, 2002), as well as the co-author, with Adam Seligman, Robert Weller, and Bennett Simon, of Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (Oxford, 2008). Puett has received multiple awards for his teaching and advising. In 2013 Puett was one of five named Harvard College Professors in recognition of his dedication to undergraduate education. Since 2012 his General Education course, “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory,” has been the third most enrolled undergraduate course at Harvard.



Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. Co-authored with Robert Weller,
Adam Seligman, and Bennett Simon. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.)

To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China. (Cambridge: Harvard
University Asia Center, 2002.)

The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China. (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 2001.)

The Huainanzi and Textual Production in Early China. Co-edited with Sarah A. Queen. (Leiden: Brill,

Narrative, Authorship, and Historiography: Studies on Sima Qian's Shiji (Records of the Historian),
editor. (Forthcoming from the State University of New York Press.)


Articles and Reviews:

“Text and Commentary: The Early Tradition.” The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature,
edited by Wiebke Denecke, Wai-Yee Li, and Xiaofei Tian. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017),
pp. 112-122.

“Early China in Eurasian History.” A Companion to Chinese History, edited by Michael Szonyi.
(Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell: 2017), pp. 89-105.

“Manifesting Sagely Knowledge: Commentarial Practice in Chinese Late Antiquity.” The Rhetoric of
Hiddenness in Traditional Chinese Culture. Edited by Paula M. Varsano. (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 2016), pp. 303-331.

“In Praise of Play.” Foreword to Why We Play: An Anthropological Study, by Roberte Hamayon
(Chicago: HAU Books, 2016), pp. xv-xix.

“Periodization and ‘The Medieval Globe’: A Conversation.” Kathleen Davis and Michael Puett. The
Medieval Globe 2.1 (2016): 1-14.

“Ritual and Ritual Obligations: Perspectives on Normativity from Classical China.” The Journal of Value
Inquiry 49.4 (2015): 543-550

“Constructions of Reality: Metaphysics in the Ritual Traditions of Classical China.” Chinese
Metaphysics and its Problems. Edited by Li Chenyang and Franklin Perkins. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 120-129.

“Ghosts, Gods, and the Coming Apocalypse: Empire and Religion in Early China and Ancient Rome.”
State Power in Ancient China and Rome. Edited by Walter Scheidel. (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2015), pp. 230-259.

“Ritual Disjunctions: Ghosts, Philosophy, and Anthropology.” The Ground Between: Anthropologists
Engage Philosophy. Edited by Veena Das, Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, Bhrigupati Singh.
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), pp. 218-233.

“Sages, Creation, and the End of History in the Huainanzi.” The Huainanzi and Textual Production in
Early China. Edited by Sarah A. Queen and Michael Puett. (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 269-290.

“Introduction,” by Sarah A. Queen and Michael Puett. The Huainanzi and Textual Production in Early
China. Edited by Sarah A. Queen and Michael Puett. (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 1-19.

“Classical Chinese Historical Thought.” A Companion to Global Historical Thought. Edited by Prasenjit
Duara, Viren Murthy, and Andrew Sartori. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), pp. 34-46.

“Critical Approaches to Religion in China.” Critical Research on Religion. 1 (2013): 95-101.

“Economies of Ghosts, Gods, and Goods: The History and Anthropology of Chinese Temple Networks.” 6
Radical Egalitarianism: Local Realities, Global Relations. Edited by Michael M. J. Fischer, Felicity
Aulino, Miriam Goheen and Stanley J. Tambiah. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp.

“Introduction to the English Edition.” The History of Chinese Civilization, Volume I: Earliest Times -
221 B.C.E. Edited by Yan Wenming. English text edited by David Knechtges. (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 31-38.

“Social Order or Social Chaos.” The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. Edited by Robert A.
Orsi. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 109-129.

“Sages, the Past, and the Dead: Death in the Huainanzi.” Mortality in Traditional Chinese Thought.
Edited by Amy Olberding and Philip J. Ivanhoe. (Albany: State University of New York Press,
2011), pp. 225-248.

“Theodicies of Discontinuity: Domesticating Energies and Dispositions in Early China.” Journal of
Chinese Philosophy, 37, Supplement 1 (December 2010): 51-66.

“Ritualization as Domestication: Ritual Theory from Classical China.” Ritual Dynamics and the Science
of Ritual, Volume I: Grammars and Morphologies of Ritual Practices in Asia. Edited by Axel
Michaels, Anand Mishra, Lucia Dolce, Gil Raz, and Katja Triplett. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz
Verlag, 2010), pp. 365-376.

“The Haunted World of Humanity: Ritual Theory from Early China.” Rethinking the Human. Edited by
J. Michelle Molina and Donald K. Swearer, with Susan Lloyd McGarry. (Cambridge: Center for the
Study of World Religions, 2010), pp. 95-111.

“Becoming Laozi: Cultivating and Visualizing Spirits in Early Medieval China.” Asia Major, Third
series, 23.1 (2010): 223-252.

“Centering the Realm: Wang Mang, the Zhouli, and Early Chinese Statecraft.” Statecraft and Classical
Learning: The Rituals of Zhou in East Asian History. Edited by Benjamin A. Elman and Martin
Kern. (Leiden: Brill, 2010.) Pages 129-154.

“Sages, Gods, and History: Commentarial Strategies in Chinese Late Antiquity,” Antiquorum Philosophia
3 (2009): 71-87.

“Combining the Ghosts and Spirits, Centering the Realm: Mortuary Ritual and Political Organization in
the Ritual Compendia of Early China.” Early Chinese Religion: Shang Through Han (1250 BC-220
AD). Edited by John Lagerwey and Marc Kalinowski. (Leiden: Brill, 2009). Pages 695-720.

“The Belatedness of the Present: Debates over Antiquity during the Han Dynasty.” Perceptions of
Antiquity in Chinese Civilization. Edited by Dieter Kuhn and Helga Stahl. (Heidelberg: Würzburger
Sinologische Schriften, 2008). Pages 177-190.

“Human and Divine Kingship in Early China: Comparative Reflections.” Religion and Power: Divine
Kingship in the Ancient World and Beyond. Edited by Nicole Brisch. (Chicago: The Oriental
Institute of the University of Chicago, 2008.) Pages 199-212.

“The Temptations of Sagehood, or: The Rise and Decline of Sagely Writing in Early China.” Books in 7
Numbers. Edited by Wilt Idema. (Cambridge: Harvard-Yenching Library, 2007.) Pages 23-47.

“Humans, Spirits, and Sages in Chinese Late Antiquity: Ge Hong’s Master Who Embraces Simplicity
(Baopuzi).” Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident 29 (2007): 95-119.

“Listening to Sages: Divination, Omens, and the Rhetoric of Antiquity in Wang Chong’s Lunheng.”
Oriens Extremus 45 (2005-2006): 271-281.

“Innovation as Ritualization: The Fractured Cosmology of Early China.” Cardozo Law Review 28.1
(October 2006): 23-36.

“The Offering of Food and the Creation of Order: The Practice of Sacrifice in Early China.” Of Tripod
and Palate: Food, Politics, and Religion in Traditional China. Edited by Roel Sterckx. (New York:
Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.) Pages 75-95.

“Bones.” Encyclopedia of Religion, second edition. Edited by Lindsay Jones. (New York: MacMillan
Reference Books, 2005.) Pages 1013-1016.

“Forming Spirits for the Way: The Cosmology of the Xiang’er Commentary to the Laozi.” Journal of
Chinese Religions 32 (2004): 1-27.

“Following the Commands of Heaven: The Notion of Ming in Early China.” The Magnitude of Ming:
Command, Allotment, and Fate in Chinese Culture. Edited by Christopher Lupke. (Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 2005.) Pages 49-69.

“The Ascension of the Spirit: Toward a Cultural History of Self-Divinization Movements in Early
China.” Religion and Chinese Society. Edited by John Lagerwey. (Hong Kong: Chinese University
Press, 2004.) Pages 193-222.

“The Ethics of Responding Properly: The Notion of Qing in Early Chinese Thought.” Love and
Emotions in Traditional Chinese Literature. Edited by Halvor Eifring. (Leiden, Brill, 2004.) Pages

“Determining the Position of Heaven and Earth: Debates Over State Sacrifices in the Western Han
Dynasty.” Confucian Spirituality. Edited by Tu Wei-Ming and Mary Evelyn Tucker. (New York:
Crossroad Press, 2003)

“'Nothing Can Overcome Heaven': The Notion of Spirit in the Zhuangzi.” Hiding the World in the
World: Essays on Zhuangzi. Edited by Scott Cook. (Albany: State University of New York Press,

“Violent Misreadings: The Hermeneutics of Cosmology in the Huainanzi.” Bulletin of the Museum of
Far Eastern Antiquities. 72 (2000): 29-47.

“Humans and Gods: The Theme of Self-Divinization in Early China and Early Greece.” Thinking
Through Comparisons: Ancient China and Ancient Greece. Edited by Stephen Durrant and Steven
Shankman. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), pp. 55-74.

“Philosophy and Literature in Early China.” The Columbia History of Chinese Literature, edited by
Victor Mair. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), pp. 70-85.

“China in Early Eurasian History: A Brief Review of Recent Scholarship on the Issue.” Bronze Age and
Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia. Edited by Victor Mair. (Washington D.C.: Institute
for the Study of Man, 1998), pp. 699-715.

“Sages, Ministers, and Rebels: Narratives from Early China Concerning the Initial Creation of the State.”
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 58.2 (December 1998): 425-479.

“Nature and Artifice: Debates in Late Warring States China Concerning the Creation of Culture.”
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 57.2 (December 1997): 471-518.

Review of Stephen Durrant’s The Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian.
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 57.1 (June 1997): 290-301.


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies