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For the past sixty years, the Fairbank Center has defined Chinese Studies.

The past year marked an important milestone for the Fairbank Center: the 60th anniversary of its founding as Harvard’s Center for East Asian Research. We celebrated the anniversary with a year-long series of events and conversations. One highlight was our celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival. An event of unprecedented scale for the Center, the celebration drew almost one thousand people from across campus and the local community to attend interesting lectures, watch musical and theatrical performances, enjoy seasonal foods, and in the process learn more about the work of our Center. Generations of Fairbank Center faculty and friends attended the Fairbank Center 60th Anniversary Gala, including John and Wilma Fairbank’s two daughters and Wilma’s sister Marian Cannon Schlesinger who, with the wisdom and grace of a centenarian, regaled us with tales of her travels to China in the 1930s. The third highlight was an academic symposium that drew together the extraordinary intellectual talent of the Fairbank Center community to discuss the most important questions facing the study of China today.


Michael Szonyi Mid Autumn Festival 2016

Director Michael Szonyi opens the Fairbank Center’s 60th Anniversary Mid-Autumn Festival


In addition to these events, we also devoted time to engage in conversations about our future. Since its establishment, the Fairbank Center has always been one of the leading – if not the leading – centers for China Studies outside of China. To maintain this position, we will need to adapt to the changing landscape of our field. Although the Fairbank Center is the traditional home for China Studies within Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, today there is not a single school at Harvard which does not have faculty, students, and alumni engaging with and studying China. Our faculty expertise remains unrivaled, but how we can best support scholarship on China in new and increasingly diverse fields of study still remains an open question.

Mark Elliott, Rowan Flad, Jing Tsu, and Rudolf Wagner speak at the Fairbank Center 60th Anniversary Symposium


While the activities of the Fairbank Center are ultimately decided by our community of scholars, from the conversations over the last year we have identified three strategic priorities for our next phase. They are:

DIGITAL CHINA STUDIES: We are working to establish a new Digital China Office to encourage the development and use of new technology, tools, and methods for scholarly research, collaboration, and communication.

CHINA AND THE WORLD: China’s growing role in global affairs demands more research about its interactions with the rest of the world. These changes also present opportunities for comparative work, such as our project on Meritocracy in China and India.

PUBLIC OUTREACH: Our Center is uniquely positioned to help address the greatest challenges and the most important questions facing China. We feel an obligation to engage with the public and the policy-making communities, to contribute to a better understanding and, where we can, to help address the most pressing problems.

Exhibiting Wilma Cannon Fairbank and Marian Cannon Schlesinger’s watercolors from 1930s Peking


As Faculty Director, I am fortunate to work with a group of committed, enthusiastic, and innovative staff. I am grateful to each of them for their hard work on behalf of our shared mission. It was wonderful to see the team’s work recognized this year by their receipt of a Dean’s Distinction Award. This year, we were also joined by Dan Murphy, our new Executive Director. I look forward to working with Dan and the entire staff in the coming year to take the Fairbank Center to new heights. The Fairbank Center was established at a time when China’s role in global affairs was quite limited. No one would make that claim today. China is a central actor in global affairs, and none of the pressing issues in our world can be addressed effectively without the involvement of China. This makes generating and disseminating knowledge about China more important than ever. I look to our friends around the world for advice and support to secure the future of the Fairbank Center, extending the vision of John King Fairbank, our founder, into a second sexagenary cycle.



Director, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies | Professor of Chinese History, Harvard University

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Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies