Defining China Studies for 60 Years

2016–2017: Our 60th Anniversary Year in Review

Read our 2016–2017 Annual Report on our website

For the past sixty years, the Fairbank Center has defined China Studies.

The past year marked an important milestone for the Fairbank Center: the 60th anniversary of its founding as Harvard’s Center for East Asian Research.

Director Michael Szonyi speaks at the Fairbank Center’s 60th Anniversary Mid-Autumn Festival

We celebrated the anniversary with a year-long series of events and conversations. One highlight was our celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival. An event of unprecedented scale for the Center, the celebration drew almost one thousand people from across campus and the local community to attend interesting lectures, watch musical and theatrical performances, enjoy seasonal foods, and in the process learn more about the work of our Center.

Attendees enjoy Chinese food at the 60th Anniversary Mid-Autumn Festival

Generations of Fairbank Center faculty and friends attended the Fairbank Center 60th Anniversary Gala, including John and Wilma Fairbank’s two daughters and Wilma’s sister Marian Cannon Schlesinger who, with the wisdom and grace of a centenarian, regaled us with tales of her travels to China in the 1930s.

The 60th Anniversary Gala Celebration honored the legacy of John and Wilma Fairbank in establishing Harvard’s Center for East Asian Research

The third highlight was an academic symposium that drew together the extraordinary intellectual talent of the Fairbank Center community to discuss the most important questions facing the study of China today.

Professor Jing Tsu at the Fairbank Center’s 60th Anniversary Symposium

Celebrating our anniversary in style.

In addition to these events, we also devoted time to engage in conversations about our future. Since its establishment, the Fairbank Center has always been one of the leading — if not the leading — centers for China Studies outside of China. To maintain this position, we will need to adapt to the changing landscape of our field.

Our 60th Anniversary included an exhibition of Wilma Cannon Fairbank and Marian Cannon Schlesinger’s watercolors from 1930s Beijing, and photography by Sidney Gamble

Although the Fairbank Center is the traditional home for China Studies within Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, today there is not a single school at Harvard which does not have faculty, students, and alumni engaging with and studying China. Our faculty expertise remains unrivaled, but how we can best support scholarship on China in new and increasingly diverse fields of study still remains an open question.

Our strategic priorities

While the activities of the Fairbank Center are ultimately decided by our community of scholars, from the conversations over the last year we have identified three strategic priorities for our next phase. They are:


We are working to establish a new Digital China Office to encourage the development and use of new technology, tools, and methods for scholarly research, collaboration, and communication.

Digital visualization of the Buddhist Cannon (image: Donald Sturgeon)


China’s growing role in global affairs demands more research about its interactions with the rest of the world. These changes also present opportunities for comparative work, such as our project on Meritocracy in China and India.

Mark Elliott, Vice Provost for International Affairs and former Fairbank Center Director, talks with Professor Arunabh Ghosh at our recent “Meritocracy in China and India” workshop.


Our Center is uniquely positioned to help address the greatest challenges and the most important questions facing China. We feel an obligation to engage with the public and the policy-making communities, to contribute to a better understanding and, where we can, to help address the most pressing problems.

Mark Elliott, Rowan Flad, Jing Tsu, and Rudolf Wagner speak at the Fairbank Center’s 60th Anniversary Symposium.

A superb team with new leadership

As Faculty Director, I am fortunate to work with a group of committed, enthusiastic, and innovative staff. I am grateful to each of them for their hard work on behalf of our shared mission. It was wonderful to see the team’s work recognized this year by their receipt of a Dean’s Distinction Award. This year, we were also joined by Dan Murphy, our new Executive Director. I look forward to working with Dan and the entire staff in the coming year to take the Fairbank Center to new heights.

Former directors of the Fairbank Center with John and Wilma Fairbank’s daughters, Holly and Laura. From left to right: Mark Elliott, Wilt Idema, Michael Szonyi, Holly Fairbank, Laura Fairbank, Roderick MacFarquhar, Ezra Vogel, and William Kirby.

The Fairbank Center was established at a time when China’s role in global affairs was quite limited. No one would make that claim today. China is a central actor in global affairs, and none of the pressing issues in our world can be addressed effectively without the involvement of China.

This makes generating and disseminating knowledge about China more important than ever. I look to our friends around the world for advice and support to secure the future of the Fairbank Center, extending the vision of John King Fairbank, our founder, into a second sexagenary cycle.

Michael Szonyi
Director, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Professor of Chinese History, Harvard University

Read our 2016–2017 Annual Report on our website

Read and download our 2016–2017 Annual Report on our website