• Director of the Fairbank Center; Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History
  • fairbankdirector@fas.harvard.edu
  • https://scholar.harvard.edu/szonyi
  • CGIS South Building | 1730 Cambridge Street | Cambridge MA 02138

Michael Szonyi is Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History 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, Prof. Szonyi taught at McGill University and University of Toronto.

Research interests: local history of southeast China, especially in the Ming dynasty; the history of Chinese popular religion; overseas Chinese history.

From the Fairbank Center Blog:  Defining China Studies for 60 Years, January 26, 2018 Trump and China: Foreign Policy under a New Administration, January 19, 2017 Trudeau’s China Visit: Challenges ahead for Sino-Canadian Relations, September 1, 2016 Taiwan’s Election and its Regional Impact, January 16, 2016 A Word from Director Michael A. Szonyi, January 15, 2016 Michael A. Szonyi appointed Director of Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, November 18, 2015 China, Leave those Wombs Alone, November 12, 2015 From the Fairbank Podcast: 

宋怡明教授 (Michael A. Szonyi),现为哈佛大学东亚语言文明系中国历史学教授,费正清研究中心主任,明清及中国近代社会史学家。擅于利用历史人类学和田野调查方法研究中国东南地区的社会史,目前正致力研究明朝军户的历史。宋怡明教授早年于加拿大多伦多大学获得学士学位,其後又在英国牛津大学攻读博士。期间他先後到台湾大学以及厦门大学访学。其著作包括 Practicing Kinship: Lineage and Descent in Late Imperial China (实行家族:明清家族组织研究) (2002) 与 Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line (冷战岛:处于前线的金门) (2008)。


Jennifer Rudolf and Michael Szonyi, eds., The China Questions, 337 pages, Harvard University Press, 2018

The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China, 303 pages, Princeton University Press, 2017

Editor, A Companion to Chinese History. 480 pages. Wiley-Blackwell, 2017

Zheng Yangwen, Liu Hong and Michael Szonyi, eds. The Cold War in Asia: The Battle for Hearts and Minds. 268 pages. 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). 265 pages. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology South China Research Centre, Hong Kong. 2006.

Practicing Kinship: Strategies of Descent and Lineage in Late Imperial China. 313 pages. 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. 320 pages. University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.

Referred Articles

“Militarization and Jinmen (Quemoy) Society, 1949-92,” in James Flath and Norman Smith, eds., Beyond Suffering: Recounting War in Modern China (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 80-103.

Revised Japanese version published as “Gunjika, kioku, Jinmen shakai - 1949-1992,” Chiiki kenkyu (Japan Center for Area Studies Review) 11.1 (2011), 62-87.

“Secularization theories and the study of Chinese religions,” Social Compass 56.3 (2009), 312-327.

“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.

“Mothers, Sons, and Lovers: Fidelity and Frugality in the Overseas Chinese Divided Family before 1949,” Journal of Chinese Overseas 1.1 (2005), 43-64.

“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.

Reprinted in Pamela Stewart and Andrew Strathern, eds., Asian Ritual Systems: Syncretisms and Ruptures, Durham NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2007, 183-208.

“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.

Revised Chinese version published as “Huang Xiulang muzhi: 20 shiji chuqi de huaqiao, qiaoxiang yu xiandaihua,” Haijiaoshi yanjiu (Maritime History Studies), 43 (2003), 100-106.
Revised version published as “The cemetery of Huang Xiulang: Transnationalism and the overseas Chinese in the early twentieth century,” in Eric Fong and Chiu Luk eds., Chinese Ethnic Business, New York: Routledge, 2007, 132-146.

“Local cult, Lijia, and Lineage: Religious and Social Organization in Ming and Qing Fujian,” Journal of Chinese Religions, 28 (2000), 93-126.

Revised Chinese version published as “Citang, cunmiao, yamen: jianlun Ming-Qing shiqi Fuzhou diqu minjian xinyang yu wenhua tonghe,” in Jinmen lishi, wenhua yu shengtai guoji xueshu yantaohui lunwenji (Proceedings of the International Conference on the History, Culture and Ecology of Quemoy), ed Wang Qiukui. Taipei: Shih Ho-cheng Cultural Foundation, 2004.

“China: The Years Ahead,” International Journal, 55.3 (August, 2000), 475-484

“The Cult of Hu Tianbao and the Eighteenth Century Discourse of Homosexuality," Late Imperial China, 19.1 (June, 1998), 1-25.

Revised Chinese version published as “Hu Tianbao yu Qing zhongye tongxinglian
huayu,” Lishi renleixue (Journal of History and Anthropology), 1:1 (2003), 67-82.

“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.

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies