About Us

Our Mission

The Fairbank Center’s mission is to advance scholarship in all fields of China Studies at Harvard. We achieve this mission in four ways:

1. Serving as Harvard’s main platform for the promotion and dissemination of research in China studies, especially interdisciplinary scholarship.

We have an active opens in a new windowevents calendar, hold conferences, and host opens in a new windowpost-doctoral fellows, opens in a new windowvisiting scholars, opens in a new windowgraduate student associates, and a opens in a new windowrange of other affiliates. We support new academic scholarship on China through the opens in a new windowAsia Center Publications Program.


2. Awarding grants to support faculty and student research.

We provide grants for opens in a new windowfaculty to conduct research, for opens in a new windowstudents to travel to China, and to support opens in a new windowstudent groups here on campus.


3. Sharing authoritative information about Greater China with the media, policymakers, and the public.

We engage with policymakers and the media, as well as maintaining a robust  opens in a new windowsocial media presence, opens in a new windowblog, and opens in a new windowpodcast.


4. Providing the resources of the Fairbank Center Collection at the Fung Library to scholars and practitioners.

Our opens in a new windowbest-in-class library specializes in difficult to find resources and provides individualized research assistance to scholars from Harvard and beyond.

Director's Word 主任寄语

Few years in history can be said to be transformational, but 2020 will surely be counted among them.

Usually, my Director’s Word for the Fairbank Center Annual Report is a chance to talk about our successes of the past twelve months, our achievements as a world-class research center, and our plans for the coming academic year. While we have certainly achieved a lot this year, a maelstrom of events has fundamentally altered our activities. Plans for the future remain uncertain and will continue to be shaped by factors beyond our control.

The tragic spread of COVID-19 across the globe continues to bring unforeseen challenges. The performance of the Fairbank Center team this past semester was remarkable. They creatively reimagined how to operate the Center in a remote environment by rapidly shifting our activities to online platforms, and in the process attracted new and larger audiences than ever before. I am also immensely proud of our efforts to channel resources to those most affected by the pandemic: students whose research and in some cases, whose very lives have been upended. At a time of immense personal and professional hardship for many, we have redoubled efforts to support our community of scholars.

The past several months have served as a stark reminder that our work does not take place in a vacuum. Trying to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its implications spanning health, politics, history, technology, the environment, economics, and the arts and humanities, reminds us of the limitations of traditional disciplinary boundaries. The global scale of the pandemic has revealed how interconnected are our respective areas of study, and how much we are bound up in the contemporary moment.

As a U.S.-based center for the study of China, the shifting tides of U.S.-China relations have long influenced both our purpose and our research capabilities. Unfortunately, the state of the bilateral relationship is worsening. But rather than succumb to negativity, perhaps we can take from the current point of crisis a renewed sense of purpose in our work. At a time when anti-China sentiment is provoked by the most senior leadership in the U.S. government, and Beijing continues to stoke tensions with any whom it deems oppositional, we stand by our mission of pursuing teaching and research on Greater China. What is increasingly clear, moreover, is that our research cannot be separated from our own moral commitments.

Current circumstances are leading us to confront fundamental questions about the future of China Studies in the United States. Even setting aside the limitations imposed by the pandemic, many of us face new restrictions and new concerns about our ability to travel to and conduct research in mainland China or even in Hong Kong, where academic freedom has not previously been a major concern. Furthermore, the human rights crisis in Xinjiang, where measures such as the euphemistically-named “re-education centers” appear aimed at nothing less than the erasure of Uyghur identity, demand our attention as responsible commentators on China.

Closer to home, the heightened politicization of China studies in the U.S. (and the West generally), which has led some to question the legitimacy and value of academic engagement with China, poses a fundamental challenge to the Fairbank Center and our peer institutions. U.S. government policies that are inimical to the free movement of students and scholars from China make our work that much harder, and that much more important. In circumstances like these, it is ethically impossible for us to pretend that scholarship on China, in whatever discipline, can be separated from politics.

The present moment, in which all of us are engaged in so much online activity, raises other issues of special but not unique concern to everyone in China studies. As colleagues such as Prof. Meg Rithmire have thoughtfully commented, online classes bring additional challenges to how we teach and how we approach questions of digital security, especially the security of our students studying online in China.

Although the situations in China and the U.S. are not equivalent, both require our attention. Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. and around the world necessitate a grappling with questions of how to dismantle systemic racism and inequality, and the need for greater diversity within our own fields of study and more broadly. As Dean Claudine Gay wrote after the death of George Floyd, we still have a long way to go to change ingrained prejudices, but “the fight for change requires our resilience.” At the Fairbank Center, we are making efforts to not merely pay lip service to this fight but to think about how we can restructure our activities so that, at the very least, we can play a supportive role in addressing these issues.

Solutions to all these questions must begin locally. In the case of our engagement with China, relations between those in the White House and those in Zhongnanhai may grow increasingly tense by the day, but I stand by my previous assessment that the U.S.-China relationship cannot be “fixed” by our respective political leaders. Instead, as I said at the Harvard College China Forum last year, we would do well to consider our bilateral relations not as a single, abstract relationship, but as multiple real relationships embodied in personal connections.

As scholars, researchers, teachers, and students, we participate in our own personal version of this relationship every day, as we engage with the complex and rich range of experiences that texture the connections bridging our shared Pacific. It is this model of engagement – an active willingness to better understand – that makes possible our effective analysis, nuanced understanding and sometimes criticism of China. And it is this understanding that both imbues our work with renewed resolution and assigns a personal responsibility to each one of us in the broad church of China Studies.

This August, normally a period of calm before the semester, the Fairbank Center made international news. Having learned of the firing of Tsinghua University Professor Xu Zhangrun, we decided after consultation with faculty to offer him an affiliation as Fairbank Center Associate-in-Research. Although it was not our intention for this to become a public gesture, Xu’s powerful letter of thanks (available in translation here) attracted considerable media attention. Our offer of affiliation was largely symbolic, but symbols matter. Our commitment to intellectual freedom is unwavering, and we will continue – as we have done often before in our more than sixty-year history – to support, as best as we can, colleagues whose work runs afoul of political authority.

I will be taking a long-delayed sabbatical for the 2020-21 academic year, and will therefore be handing over leadership of Center to Professor Winnie (Chi-Man) Yip. Professor Yip is Professor of the Practice of Global Health Policy and Economics in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and also Director of the China Health Partnership. As a scholar of health, and as the Center’s first director from Asia, she brings an important perspective to the Center’s leadership. I know the Fairbank Center will be in capable hands during my absence. At a time when global health is on everyone’s mind, I look forward to Professor Yip’s initiatives to bring together scholars from across Harvard, in collaboration with colleagues in China, to contribute to new research that will help address those problems that affect us all.

I offer you my best wishes for good health, and a happy and productive academic year.

Michael A. Szonyi
Director, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies
Frank Wen-Hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History, Harvard University

History of the Fairbank Center

The Fairbank Center was founded in 1955 by Professor John King Fairbank, a leading scholar in modern and contemporary China studies. The Center was originally called the Center for East Asian Research. Under Professor Fairbank’s leadership, the Center took an active role in promoting the study of modern and contemporary China from a social science perspective. At the time, this focus marked a sharp departure from the field of Sinology, which had emphasized the study of texts from a humanistic perspective. The Center for East Asian Research was renamed as the John K. Fairbank Center for East Asian Research following Professor Fairbank’s retirement, in honor of his signal contributions to China studies through his teaching and publications. In 2007, after institutes for Japan studies and Korea studies had been established at Harvard, the Fairbank Center was renamed to show its strength in Chinese Studies.

More at Harvard University

The Fairbank Center is a unit of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Center works closely with other Asia-focused institutions within the University including the Asia Center, the Harvard China Fund, the Harvard China Project, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, the Korea Institute, the South Asia Institute, the Harvard-Yenching Institute and the Harvard-Yenching Library. For more information about Harvard’s global involvement please visit opens in a new windowHarvard Worldwide.

Harvard Tercentenary Stele

This slender marble slab, or stele, was presented to Harvard in 1936 as a gift from Chinese alumni on the occasion of the University’s tercentenary. The inscription commemorates the founding of Harvard College in 1636 and celebrates the importance of culture and learning both in the United States and in China. The full Chinese text, 370 words long, is presented on the accompanying panel, together with an English translation; the original calligraphy, in kaishu style, is that of the famous scholar-diplomat Hu Shi (1891-1962), who took part in the ceremonies as the representative of Peking University and received an honorary degree.

Read the Stele's Chinese inscription, and English translation. 

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Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy Statement

The Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University is unambiguously committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which no member of our community is, on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination in any University program or activity.

As a research center within the broader university, we are committed to an atmosphere of safe, healthy, and robust engagement with each other as teachers, students, and colleagues. We will continue working to sustain an environment in which we can all do our best work and strive to fulfill our full potential.

If you have any concerns, or if you have suggestions on ways in which we can better create such an environment, please do not hesitate to reach out to us, Title IX officers, or other Harvard resources such as the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (OSAPR), which is a confidential resource to all members in our community.

Statement on Anti-Asian Discrimination, Racism, and Violence

The Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies stands in solidarity with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities in the U.S. and around the world. We reject and denounce discrimination, harassment, racism, and violence. These deplorable acts and the individuals who perpetrate them have no place at Harvard or elsewhere. We convey our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families and extend our compassion to all in the Asian and AAPI community who are in pain.

Our collective responsibility as students and scholars of Asia is to actively work against such violence and the misguided views that drive it. Recent events show that the need to educate against false narratives that fuel racism is more pressing than ever before.

Regrettably, the latest incidents against the Asian and AAPI community adds to a long shadow cast by the legacy of historical prejudices affecting Asians and Asian-Americans in North America. Increases in attacks since the onset of COVID-19, spurred on by scapegoating and the deliberate stoking of anti-Asian sentiment for political gain, are highly disturbing. We stand together to reject this hate.

Each new incident takes an emotional and physical toll on many of those of Asian descent. Discrimination is sadly all too real and personal for many in our community. Many feel targeted and share a sense of anxiety and fear about the all-too-frequent occurrences of racist attacks, be they verbal, physical, or otherwise.

At times, these reports can trigger feelings of grief, sadness, anger, frustration, and isolation. Please take personal care in ways that are meaningful to you at these moments and know that, if needed, there are many people able to provide support.

The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations has an extensive and regularly-updated list of legal, social, and mental health resources for Asian and AAPI students who have or who worry that they may experience harassment and discrimination, and their allies. You can also reach out to staff and faculty. We want to do what we can to help.

Pursuing New Directions in China Studies

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