Michael A. Szonyi

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


Michael Szonyi (宋怡明) is Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu 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 eleven books, including The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China (2017) and Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line (2008).  He is also co-editor, with Jennifer Rudolph, of The China Questions: Critical Insights on a Rising Power (2018), and, with Jennifer Rudolph and Adele Carrai, of The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into US-China Relations (2022).  He is currently writing a modern history of village China.

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

  • Adele Carrai, Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi, eds., The China Questions 2: Critical Insights into US-China Relations. Harvard University Press, 2022.
  • Tarun Khanna and Michael Szonyi, eds., Making Meritocracy: Lessons from China and India, from Antiquity to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2022.
  • Michael Szonyi and Shiyu Zhao, eds., The Chinese Empire in Local Society: Ming Military Institutions and Their Legacies. 318 pages. Routledge, 2020.
  • 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 case in the vase: legal process, legal culture and justice in The Plum in the Golden Vase,” in Andrew Schonebaum, ed, Approaches to teaching the Plum in the Golden Vase (The Golden Lotus) (Modern Languages Association: 2022), 151-171.
  • 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.
  • “Junhu and the art of everyday politics in imperial China,” Aeon, 11 April 2018, https:/aeon.co/essays/the-junhu-and-the-art-of-everyday-politics-in-imperialChina.
  • “Military mobilization and the experience of living with the Ming state,” in John Brooke, Julia Strauss and Greg Anderson, eds, State Formations: Global Histories and Cultures of Statehood (Cambridge: 2018) 276-289.
  • with Geremie Barme, “Chinese history in the era of the Chinese dream,” in Michael Szonyi, ed, A Companion to Chinese History (Wiley: 2017), 64-70.
  • Szonyi, Michael. “The Cold War on the Ground: Reflections from Jinmen,” The Journal of Asian Studies 75, no. 4 (2016): 1041-48.



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