Jonathan D. Spence holds the position of Sterling Professor of History, Emeritus, at Yale University, and is well-known throughout the world for his insightful views on modern China. His books include The Death of Woman Wang (Penguin, 1979), To Change China: Western Advisers in China (Revised edition, Penguin, 1980), Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man (Viking, 2007), and The Search for Modern China (Third edition, Norton, 2012). A graduate of the University of Cambridge and Yale University, Spence holds a number of honorary degrees, has served as president of the American Historical Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has held both a MacArthur and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has received the Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George from Queen Elizabeth II.

Last Updated: May 2, 2014

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03.22.17

China Writers Remember Robert Silvers

Ian Johnson, Orville Schell & more
Robert Silvers died on Monday, March 20, after serving as The New York Review of Books Editor since 1963. Over almost six decades, Silvers cultivated one of the most interesting, reflective, and lustrous stables of China writers in the world, some...

Who Killed Pamela in Peking?

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
An ordinary winter evening in the Legation Quarter of Peking, where foreign embassies and consulates were located, January 7, 1937. Cold. The heavy sound of Japanese armored cars, out on patrol down the busy shopping streets that flank the Forbidden...

A Master in the Shadows

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
How should one assess the best ways to survive in a revolution? What exactly is the tipping point between obedience and outright sycophancy? When does one try to hold on to the values that gave meaning to one’s upbringing, and when is it best to...

Kissinger and China

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
It is hard to fit Henry Kissinger’s latest book, On China, into any conventional frame or genre. Partly that is because the somewhat self-deprecatory title conceals what is, in fact, an ambitious goal: to make sense of China’s diplomacy and foreign...

Recharging Chinese Art

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
Retirement was not usually a concept of pressing concern to Chinese emperors. Succession and survival were normally quite enough to keep them occupied, and death—when it came—was often unexpected and frequently brutal. But Emperor Qianlong, who...

The Question of Pearl Buck

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
The announcement by the Swedish Academy in November 1938 that Pearl Buck had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature was met with sarcasm and even derision by many writers and critics. They were not impressed that this was the third choice by...

The Triumph of Madame Chiang

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
Charlie Soong, born in 1866, was a new kind of figure in Chinese history, an independent-minded youngster with an openness to the world who came to Boston from Hainan Island at the age of twelve to work in a store. At fourteen he stowed away on a...

Specters of a Chinese Master

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
1.Luo Ping, who lived from 1733 to 1799, was perfectly placed by time and circumstance to view the shifts in fortune that were so prominent in China at that period. He grew up in Yangzhou, a prosperous city on the Grand Canal, just north of the...

The Enigma of Chiang Kai-shek

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
Back in 1975, when he died in Taiwan at the age of eighty-seven, it was easy to see Chiang Kai-shek as a failure, as a piece of Chinese flotsam left awkwardly drifting in the wake of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary victories. Now it is not easy to be so...

The Mystery of Zhou Enlai

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
Through the ups and downs of the unpredictable Chinese Revolution, Zhou Enlai’s reputation has seemed to stand untarnished. The reasons for this are in part old-fashioned ones: in a world of violent change, not noted for its finesse, Zhou Enlai...

The Passions of Joseph Needham

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
It is now a little over four hundred years since a scattering of Westerners first began to try to learn the Chinese language. Across that long span, the number of scholars studying Chinese has grown, but their responses to the challenges of Chinese...

Why Didn’t Science Rise in China?

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
In response to:The Passions of Joseph Needham from the August 14, 2008 issueTo the Editors:In his illuminating essay on Joseph Needham [ NYR, August 14], Jonathan Spence notes that early in his career Needham posed the question: “What were the...