Michael A. Szonyi

Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History; Former Director of the Fairbank Center 2016 – 2022



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Michael A. Szonyi


Michael Szonyi (宋怡明) is Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History and the former Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies (2016-2022) at Harvard University. He is a social historian of late imperial and modern China who studies local society in southeast China using a combination of traditional textual sources and ethnographic-style fieldwork. He has written, translated or edited seven books, including The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China (2017); A Companion to Chinese History (2017), Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line (2008; Chinese edition 2016) and Practicing Kinship (2002). He is also co-editor, with Jennifer Rudolph, of The China Questions: Critical Insights on a Rising Power (2018).

A frequent commentator on Chinese affairs, Szonyi is a Fellow of the Public Intellectuals Program of the National Committee on US-China relations. He recently completed a term as member of the China and Inner Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies, and served for many years as English-language editor for the journal of Historical Anthropology.

Szonyi received his BA from the University of Toronto and his D.Phil from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He has also studied at National Taiwan University and Xiamen University. Prior to coming to Harvard in 2005, Professor Szonyi taught at McGill University and the University of Toronto.

Selected Publications

Books and Monographs

  • The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power. Harvard 2018.
  • The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China. Princeton 2017.
  • A Companion to Chinese History. Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.
  • Zheng Yangwen, Liu Hong and Michael Szonyi, eds. The Cold War in Asia: The Battle for Hearts and Minds. Brill, 2010.
  • Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line. 310 pages. Cambridge University Press, 2008. Chinese edition National Taiwan University Press, 2016. 
  • Ming-Qing Fujian Wudi Xinyang Ziliao Huibian (Collected Materials on Beliefs in the Five Emperors in Fujian). Hong Kong University of Science and Technology South China Research Centre, Hong Kong. 2006.
  • Practicing Kinship: Strategies for Descent and Lineage in Late Imperial China. Stanford University Press, 2002.
  • Zheng Zhenman, Family and Lineage Organization and Social Change in Ming-Qing Fujian, translated and with an introduction by Michael Szonyi. University of Hawai’i Press, 2001.

Recent Articles and Chapters

  • “The Illusion of Standardizing the Gods: The Cult of the Five Emperors in Late Imperial China,” Journal of Asian Studies, 56.1 (February, 1997), 113-135.
  • “The Cult of Hu Tianbao and the Eighteenth Century Discourse of Homosexuality,” Late Imperial China, 19.1 (June, 1998), 1-25. 
  • “Local cult, Lijia, and Lineage: Religious and Social Organization in Ming and Qing Fujian,” Journal of Chinese Religions, 28 (2000), 93-126. 
  • “China: The Years Ahead,” International Journal, 55.3 (August, 2000), 475-484. 
  • “The Graveyard of Huang Xiulang: Early Twentieth Century Perspectives on the Role of Overseas Chinese in Chinese Modernization,” Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 10.1 (2001), 81-98. 
  • “The Virgin and the Chinese State: The Cult of Wang Yulan and the Politics of Local Identity on Jinmen (Quemoy),” Journal of Ritual Studies 19.2 (2005), 87-98.
  • “Mothers, Sons, and Lovers: Fidelity and Frugality in the Overseas Chinese Divided Family before 1949,” Journal of Chinese Overseas 1.1 (2005), 43-64.
  • “Making Claims about Standardization and Orthopraxy in Late Imperial China: Rituals and Cults in the Fuzhou Region in Light of Watson’s Theories,” Modern China 33.1 (2007), 47-71.
  • “Secularization theories and the study of Chinese religions,” Social Compass 56.3 (2009), 312-327.
  • “Militarization and Jinmen (Quemoy) Society, 1949-92,” in James Flath and Normal Smith, eds., Beyond Suffering: Recounting War in Modern China (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 80-103.
  • Szonyi, Michael. “The Cold War on the Ground: Reflections from Jinmen,” The Journal of Asian Studies 75, no. 4 (2016): 1041-48.
  • Deal, Jacqueline, and Michael Szonyi. “China’s Demographic Trends: How Will They Matter?” Edited by Nicholas Eberstadt. China’s Changing Family Structure: Dimensions and Implications. American Enterprise Institute. 2019.



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