William C. Kirby

T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies; Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration; Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor; Director of the Harvard China Fund; former Director of the Fairbank Center 2006-2013


William C. Kirby (柯偉林) is Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University. He is a University Distinguished Service Professor. Professor Kirby serves as Chairman of the Harvard China Fund, the University’s academic venture fund for China, and Faculty Chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai, Harvard’s first University-wide center located outside the United States.

A historian by training, Professor Kirby examines contemporary China’s business, economic, and political development in an international context. He writes and teaches on the growth of modern companies in China (Chinese and foreign; state-owned and private); Chinese corporate law and company structure; business relations across Greater China (PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong); and China’s relations with the United States and Europe. He has authored or co-authored more than forty HBS cases on business in China, ranging from start-ups to SOEs; agribusiness and middle-class consumption; banking and microfinance; healthcare and education; corporate governance and corporate social responsibility; and the global strategies of Chinese firms. His current projects include case studies of trend-setting Chinese businesses and a comparative study of higher education in China, Europe, and the United States. His most recent book is Can China Lead? (Harvard Business Review Press).

Before coming to Harvard in 1992, he was Professor of History, Director of Asian Studies, and Dean of University College at Washington University in St. Louis. At Harvard, Professor Kirby has served as Chair of the History Department, Director of the Harvard University Asia Center, Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

As Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he led Harvard’s largest school, with 10,000 students, 1,000 faculty members, 2,500 staff, and an annual budget of $1 billion. He initiated major reforms in undergraduate education in Harvard College; enhanced Harvard’s international studies at home and abroad; increased substantially financial aid in the College and in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; supported the growth of the Division (now School) of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and oversaw the construction of major new buildings in the Life Sciences, Engineering, and the Arts. During his tenure, the Faculty expanded at its most rapid rate since the 1960s.

Professor Kirby’s research and consulting have focused on strategies for business and education in China. He serves on the Board of Directors of Cabot Corporation; The China Fund, Inc.; The Taiwan Fund, Inc.; the American Council of Learned Societies; and Harvard University Press. He chairs the Academic Advisory Council for Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University and serves as Senior Advisor on China to Duke University.

Professor Kirby holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and (Dr. Phil. Honoris Causa) from the Freie Universität Berlin and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He has been named Honorary Professor at Tsinghua University, Peking University, Nanjing University, Fudan University, Zhejiang University, Chongqing University, East China Normal University, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and National Chengchi University. He has held appointments also as Visiting Professor at University of Heidelberg and the Freie Universität Berlin. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests: Doing business in China in the early 21st century; Chinese companies and consumer markets; Chinese Universities: Leaders of the 21st Century?; The enduring role of State-Owned Enterprises in China; Business, political, and cultural relations across the Taiwan Strait

Selected Publications


  • Kirby, William C. Empires of Ideas: Creating the Modern University from Germany to America to China. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2022. 
  • van der Wende, Marijk C., William C. Kirby, Nian Cai Liu, and Simon Marginson, eds. China and Europe on the New Silk Road: Connecting Universities Across Eurasia. Oxford University Press, 2020. 
  • Kirby, William C. and Marijk C. van der Wende, eds. Experiences in Liberal Arts and Science Education from America, Europe, and Asia: A Dialogue Across Continents. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 
  • Abrami, Regina M., William C. Kirby, and F. Warren McFarlan. Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth. Harvard Business Review Press, 2014. 
  • Kirby, William C., ed. The People’s Republic of China at 60–An International Assessment. Cambridge: Harvard University, Asia Center, 2011. 
  • Alford, William P., William Kirby and Kenneth Winston, eds. Prospects for the Professions in China. Routledge Studies on Civil Society in Asia. London: Routledge, 2010. 
  • Kirby, William C. and Dayong Niu, eds. China and the World: Internationalization, Internalization, Externalization (Zhongguo yu shijie: guojihua, neihua yu waihua). Beijing: Hebei People’s Press, 2007. 
  • Kirby, William C., Gong Li and Robert Ross, eds. The Normalization of U.S.-China Relations: An International History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006. (Also published as Cong jiedong zou xiang jianjiao [From Rapprochement to the Establishment of Sino-American Relations, 1969-1979.] (Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2004.) 
  • Kirby, William C., Mechthild Leutner and Klaus Mühlhahn, eds. Global Conjectures: China in Transnational Perspective. Vol. 30, Berliner China-Hefte. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2006. 
  • Kirby, William C., ed. Realms of Freedom in Modern China. Vol. 15, Making of Modern Freedom. Stanford University Press, 2004. 
  • Kirby, William C., James Chin Shih, Man-houng Lin and David A. Pietz, eds. State and Economy in Republican China: A Handbook for Scholars. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University, Asia Center, 2001.
  • Kirby, William C. Germany and Republican China. Stanford University Press, 1984. (With new Chinese introduction and translation, published as Deguo yu Zhonghua minguo [Germany and the Republic of China], Chen Qianping, Chen Hongmin, et al., trans. (Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2006). First translated with new Chinese foreword as Jiang Jieshi yu Nacui Deguo [Chiang Kai-shek and Nazi Germany], Chen Jianping, et al., trans., (Beijing: Zhongguo qingnian chubanshe, 1994).) 
  • Hillgruber, Andreas, and William C. Kirby. Germany and the Two World Wars. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. (William C. Kirby, translator.)

Recent Articles and Publications

  • Kirby, William C. “Zeroing Out on zero-COVID.” (pdf) Science 376, no. 6597 (June 2, 2022): 1026. 
  • Kirby, William C. “A Note on the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s Visit to China.” (pdf) Cross-Currents e-Journal: East Asian History and Culture Review, no. 2 (March 2012). 
  • Kirby, William C., and Marijk C. van der Wende. “The New Silk Road: Implications for Higher Education in China and the West?” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 12, no. 1 (March 2019): 127–144.
  • Kirby, William C. “The Real Reason Uber Is Giving Up in China.” Harvard Business Review (website) (August 2, 2017). 
  • Kirby, William C., and Marijk C. van der Wende. “Editors’ Note.” Special Issue on New Directions in Liberal Arts and Science Education in Asia. International Journal of Chinese Education 5, no. 1 (2016): 1–4. 
  • Kirby, William C., and F. Warren McFarlan. “China Still Isn’t Ready to Be a True Global Leader.” Harvard Business Review (website) (January 5, 2015). 
  • Kirby, William C. “Zhongguo shiji? Gaodeng jiaoyu de tiaozhan [The Chinese Century? The Challenges of Higher Education].” Qinghua daxue jiaoyu yanjiu [Tsinghua Journal of Education] 35, no. 3 (June 2014): 1–8. 
  • Kirby, William C. “The Chinese Century? The Challenges of Higher Education.” Daedalus 143, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 145–156.
  • Kirby, William C., F. Warren McFarlan, and Regina M. Abrami. “Five Challenges China Must Meet by 2034.” Harvard Business Review Blogs (November 27, 2013). http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/11/five-challenges-china-must-meet-by-2034/. 
  • Kirby, William C. “The Ex-CEO Contemplates a Coup.” Harvard Business Review 91, no. 6 (June 2013): 129–133. 
  • Abrami, Regina M., William C. Kirby, and F. Warren McFarlan. “Why China Can’t Innovate.” Harvard Business Review 92, no. 3 (March 2014): 107–111. 


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