Our Mission

Our Mission

The Fairbank Center’s mission is to advance scholarship in all fields of China Studies at Harvard. We achieve this mission in four ways:

1. Serving as Harvard’s main platform for the promotion and dissemination of research in China studies, especially interdisciplinary scholarship.

We have an active events calendar, hold conferences, and host post-doctoral candidates, visiting scholars, graduate student associates, and a range of other affiliates. We support new academic scholarship on China through the Asia Center Publications Program.


2. Awarding grants to support faculty and student research.

We provide grants for faculty to conduct research, for students to travel to China, and to support student groups here on campus.


3. Sharing authoritative information about Greater China with the media, policymakers, and the public.

We engage with policymakers and the media, as well as maintaining a social media presence, blog, and podcast.


4. Providing the resources of the Fairbank Center Collection at the Fung Library to scholars and practitioners.

Our best-in-class library specializes in difficult to find resources and provides individualized research assistance to scholars from Harvard and beyond.

Director's Word

Michael A. Szonyi

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

This slender marble slab, or stele, was presented to Harvard in 1936 as a gift from Chinese alumni on the occasion of the University’s tercentenary. 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, 370 words long, is presented on the accompanying panel, together with an English translation; the original calligraphy, in kaishu style, is that of the famous scholar-diplomat Hu Shi (1891-1962), who took part in the ceremonies as the representative of Peking University and received an honorary degree.

Read the Stele's Chinese inscription, and English translation. 

60th Anniversary

This year, the Fairbank Center celebrates 60 years at the forefront of research on China and East Asia at Harvard.

Learn More

Facts & Figures 2016-17

Harvard Faculty working on China


Students Funded

Public Lectures

Fairbank Center Faculty

Collaborating Organizations across Harvard


Delegation Visits

Strategic Priorities

Social Media Followers

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies