John K. Fairbank (1907-1991) was a highly influential scholar of Chinese history. He is largely credited with founding the field of Chinese Studies in the United States. After graduating from Harvard University, Fairbank traveled to Beijing in 1932 as a Rhodes Scholar to do research on the newly opened Qing Imperial archives. In 1936, he returned from Beijing to Harvard where he was appointed as a History instructor. At Harvard, he started to set up a Chinese studies department. During the Second World War, Fairbank worked as an OSS officer in the Guomingdang capital of Chongqing. After the war, he returned to Harvard as a professor of History. In 1955, he founded Harvard's East Asian Research Center, renamed the Fairbank Center after his retirement in 1977. Fairbank continued to write and participate in scholarly activities up until his death.

Last Updated: May 29, 2014

History on the Wing

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
Golden Inches is a charming memoir of an American couple who built up the YMCA in Chengtu and Chungking. Their careers on America’s farthest Western cultural frontier in Szechwan province give us a sense of the day-to-day texture of Chinese-American...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
When I began teaching Chinese history at Harvard in 1936 my first students turned out to be the brightest I would ever have—Theodore White as an undergraduate and Mary Clabaugh as a Ph.D. candidate. Mary Clabaugh was a Vassar graduate from...

Why China’s Rulers Fear Democracy

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
To try to understand is not to condone or forgive. Quite the contrary. In this bicentennial year when a euphoria for democratic rights seemed to be sweeping the world, why was it stopped in Tiananmen Square? Why do China’s rulers attack their...

Mao and Snow

John K. Fairbank & Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In response to:Message from Mao from the February 16, 1989 issueTo the Editors:Edgar Snow was set up by Mao and mugged by the Cold War. I first met him in 1932 in Peking and kept more or less in touch during the next forty years of his life. I think...

Roots of Revolution

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
The books by Frank Ching and Zhang Xianliang are vastly different in content, aim, and style, as opposite as yang and yin. Yet each casts light on the Cultural Revolution. Considered together, they may even begin to explain it.Mao’s venomous “class...

Born Too Late

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
The Last Emperor is a spectacular film photographed in brilliant color. It is also a moral drama with controversial political overtones of great ambiguity. It spans sixty years of history, between the Manchu dynasty’s final decrepitude and the...

Blind Obedience

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
Son of the Revolution is actually three stories in one—first, a graphic I-was-there account of what it was like to grow up during the Cultural Revolution; second, a cliffhanger love story with a happy ending; and third, a poignant analysis of how...

His Man in Canton

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
In the Chinese united front of the mid-1920s, the Soviet agent Borodin has been a protean figure. Bringing Leninist skills, arms, and advisers to Canton, he seemed to be the priceless ingredient that finally catalyzed Sun Yat-sen’s revolution...

How Aggressive is China?

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
Peking’s “expansionism” has been the major justification for the United States’s containment policy. The sudden Chinese attack on Indian border forces in October, 1962, was denounced by India as unprovoked aggression, and it still contributes to the...

Still Mysterious

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
Within mainland China today the ratio of Westerners to Chinese is probably no greater than it was in Marco Polo’s time seven hundred years ago. Sino-foreign contact is so minimal that it almost meets the old Taoist stay-at-home ideal, “to live...

The Great Wall

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
China is so distant, big, and complex that each Marco Polo nowadays tells a different tale. The authors of the three books under review—a cool Swedish journalist, a passionate Chinese true-believer, and a philosophical Frenchman—give very different...

How to Deal with the Chinese Revolution

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
The Vietnam debate reflects our intellectual unpreparedness. Crisis has arisen on the farthest frontier of public knowledge, and viewpoints diverge widely because we all lack background information. “Vietnam” was not even a label on our horizon...