JOHN KING FAIRBANK (May 24, 1907 – September 14, 1991), was a
prominent American academic on the history of
* 1 Early life
* 2 Early career
* 3 Chinese studies
* 3.1 Developmenr of field
* 3.2 Accusations of pro-communism
* 3.3 Scholarship and influence
* 3.4 Accusations of US imperialism
* 4 Death
* 5 Selected works
* 5.1 Collaborative works
* 5.2 Conference volumes
* 5.3 Edited letters and texts
* 6 Notes
* 7 Sources
* 8 External links
Fairbank was born in
Huron, South Dakota , in 1907. He was educated
Sioux Falls High School,
Phillips Exeter Academy , the University
of Wisconsin–Madison ,
Harvard College , and Oxford University
(Balliol ). As an undergraduate, Charles Kingsley Webster , the
distinguished British diplomatic historian who was then teaching at
Harvard, advised him to choose a relatively-undeveloped field of
study, and suggested that since the
Qing dynasty 's archives were then
being opened, China's foreign relations would be a prudent choice.
Fairbank later admitted that he then knew nothing about
In 1929, when he graduated from Harvard _summa cum laude _, he went
to Oxford as a
Rhodes scholar .
At Oxford, Fairbank began his study of the
Chinese language and
sought the counsel of
H.B. Morse , retired from the Imperial Maritime
Customs Service . On Webster's advice, he had read Morse's
three-volume study of the Qing dynasty's foreign relations on the ship
that was coming to England. Morse became his mentor. The ambitious
young scholar decided to go to
Beijing to do research in 1932.
In Beijing, he studied at
Tsinghua University under the direction of
the prominent historian
Tsiang Tingfu , who introduced him to the
study of newly-available diplomatic sources and the perspectives of
Chinese scholarship, which balanced the British approaches he saw at
Wilma Denio Cannon, a daughter of
Walter Bradford Cannon , came to
China to marry Fairbank and began a career of her own in Chinese art
history. He and Wilma came to know to a number of Chinese
intellectuals, and they became especially warm friends with Liang
Sicheng , the son of the distinguished Chinese reformer
Liang Qichao ,
and his wife,
Lin Huiyin , whom they called Phyllis.
The Lins introduced them to
Jin Yuelin , a philosopher trained at
Columbia University. Fairbank wrote later that he and Wilma began to
sense through them that the Chinese problem was the "necessity to
winnow the past and discriminate among things foreign, what to
preserve and what to borrow...."
In 1936, Oxford awarded him a
D.Phil. for his thesis, which he
revised and eventually published as _Trade and Diplomacy on the China
Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842-1854_ in 1953.
Fairbank returned to Harvard in 1936 to take up a position teaching
Chinese history and was its first full-time specialist at Harvard. He
Edwin O. Reischauer worked out a year-long introductory survey
China and Japan and later Korea and Southeast Asia. The
course was known as "Rice Paddies," and it became the basis for two
influential texts: _East Asia: The Great Tradition_ (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1960) and _East Asia: The Modern Transformation_ (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1965).
Following the outbreak of the
Pacific War in 1941, Fairbank was
enlisted to work for the
US government , which included service in the
Office of Strategic Services and the
Office of War Information in
Chongqing , the temporary capital of Nationalist
DEVELOPMENR OF FIELD
When he returned to Harvard after the war, Fairbank inaugurated a
master's degree program in area studies , one of several major
universities in the United States to do so. That approach at Harvard
was multi-disciplinary and aimed to train journalists, government
officials, and others who did not want careers in academia. That broad
approach, combined with Fairbank's experience in
China during the war,
shaped his _United States and China_ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, Foreign Policy Library, 1948). That survey went
through new editions in 1958 and 1970, each synthesizing scholarship
in the field for both students and the general public. In 1972, in
Nixon 's visit, the book was read by leaders on both
ACCUSATIONS OF PRO-COMMUNISM
In the late 1940s, Fairbank was among the so-called
China Hands , who
predicted the victory of
Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party
and advocated establishing relations with the new government. Although
Fairbank argued that relations with new
China would be in the American
national interest, the
China Lobby and many other Americans accused
China Hands of selling out an ally and promoting the spread of
communism and of Soviet influence; that was during an intensification
Cold War . In 1949, Fairbank was targeted for being "soft" on
Communism, and he was denied a visa to visit Japan. In 1952, he
testified before the
McCarran Committee , but his secure position at
Harvard protected him. Ironically, many of Fairbank's Chinese friends
and colleagues who returned to
China after 1949, such as Fei Xiaotong
, Ch'ien Tuan-sheng, and
Chen Han-seng , would later be attacked for
being "pro-American," as the
Chinese Communist Party became more
rigidly communist. Critics in Taiwan charged that he was a tool of
SCHOLARSHIP AND INFLUENCE
Fairbank taught at Harvard until he retired in 1977. He published a
number of both academic and non-academic works on China, many of which
would reach a wide audience outside academia. He also published an
expanded revision of his doctoral dissertation as _Trade and Diplomacy
China Coast_ in 1953. One of his students,
Paul Cohen , noted
that the approaches or stages in the development of
China studies of
the 1950s are sometimes referred to as "the Harvard 'school' of China
Fairbank played a major role in developing Harvard as a leading
American center for East Asian studies, including establishing the
Center for East Asian Research, which was renamed to the Fairbank
Center for Chinese Studies after his retirement. He was its director
from 1955 to 1973.
Fairbank raised money to support fellowships for graduate students,
China historians at Harvard, and placed them
widely in universities and colleges in the US and overseas. He
welcomed and funded researchers from all over the world to spend time
in Cambridge and hosted a series of conferences, which brought
scholars together and yielded publications, many of which Fairbank
edited himself. He established the Harvard East Asian Series, which
published monographs to enable students to publish dissertations,
which was essential for achieving tenure. Fairbank and his colleagues
Edwin O. Reischauer and Albert Craig, wrote a textbook on
China and Japan, _A History of East Asian Civilization_. Fairbank
established links to figures in government both by training
journalists, government officials, and foundation executives and by
giving his thoughts to the government on policy on China.
In 1966, Fairbank and the
Denis C. Twitchett , then at
Cambridge University , set in motion plans for _The Cambridge History
China _. Originally intended to cover the entire history of China
in six volumes, the project grew until it reached a projected 15
volumes. Twitchett and Fairbank divided the history, with Fairbank
editing volumes on modern (post-1800) China, and Twitchett and others
took responsibility for the period from the Qin to the early Qing
dynasties. Fairbank edited and wrote parts of Volumes 10 to 15, the
last of which appeared in the year after his death. Martha Henderson
Coolidge and Richard Smith completed and published Fairbank's
biography of H.B. Morse.
ACCUSATIONS OF US IMPERIALISM
Vietnam War in the late 1960s, Fairbank, who had earlier
been criticized as being pro-communist, came under fire from younger
scholars and graduate students in the new Committee of Concerned Asian
Scholars , which he had helped form but then soon ended his
The younger scholars charged that Fairbank and other leaders of the
area studies movement had helped to justify American imperialism in
Asia. By his grounding the study of Asia in modernization theory ,
Fairbank and other liberal scholars presented
China as an irrational
country, which needed American tutelage. Since Fairbank rejected
revolution, he condoned imperialism. A further charge was that
scholars of the Harvard School had put forth a "radical new version"
of China's modern history that argued imperialism "was largely
beneficial in China."
In December 1969,
Howard Zinn and other members of the Radical
Historians' Caucus attempted to persuade the American Historical
Association to pass an anti-
Vietnam War resolution. A later report
said a "debacle unfolded as Harvard historian (and AHA president in
1968) John Fairbank literally wrestled the microphone from Zinn's
hands", in what Fairbank called "our briefly-famous Struggle for the
Fairbank finished the manuscript of his final book, _China: A New
History_ in the summer of 1991. On September 14, 1991 he delivered the
Harvard University Press , then returned home and
suffered a fatal heart attack.
In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about John
WorldCat encompasses roughly 600+ works in 1,500+
publications in 15 languages and 43,000+ library holdings. This is a
dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for
completeness. You can help by expanding it with reliably sourced
* -- _The origin of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, 1850-58._
University of Oxford DPhil thesis, 1936.
* -- _The United States and China._ Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1st ed 1948; 4th, enl. ed. 1983.
* -- _Trade and Diplomacy on the
China Coast: The Opening of the
Treaty Ports, 1842-1854._ 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
* -- "Patterns Behind the Tientsin Massacre." _Harvard Journal of
Asiatic Studies_ 20, no. 3/4 (1957): 480-511.
* -- _Ch'ing Administration: Three Studies._ (with Têng Ssu-yü )
Harvard-Yenching Institute Studies, V. 19. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1960.
* -- _China: The People's Middle Kingdom and the U.S.A_
(Cambridge,MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967).
* -- _
China Perceived; Images and Policies in Chinese-American
Relations_ (New York: Knopf, 1974).
* -- _Chinese-American Interactions : A Historical Summary_ (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1975).
* -- _Chinabound: a fifty-year memoir. New York : Harper & Row,
* -- _The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800-1985_ (New York: Harper
Second Enlarged Edition, 2006. Translated into Chinese, French,
Japanese, Korean, Czech;
* John King Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, _Modern China; a
Bibliographical Guide to Chinese Works, 1898-1937_ (Cambridge,:
Harvard University Press, 1950).
* Conrad Brandt, Benjamin Isadore Schwartz John King Fairbank, eds.,
_A Documentary History of Chinese Communism_ (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1952).
* Ssu-yü Têng , John King Fairbank Chaoying Fang and others. with
E-tu Zen Sun, eds., _China's Response to the West: A Documentary
Survey, 1839-1923_ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954).
* John King Fairbank, Masataka Banno, _Japanese Studies of Modern
China; a Bibliographical Guide to Historical and Social-Science
Research on the 19th and 20th Centuries_ (Rutland, Vt.,: Published for
the Harvard-Yenching Institute by C. E. Tuttle Co., 1955).
* Edwin O. Reischauer, John King Fairbank Albert M. Craig, _A
History of East Asian Civilization_ (Boston,: Houghton Mifflin, 1960).
* Noriko Kamachi, Ichiko Chuzo & John King Fairbank, _Japanese
Studies of Modern
China since 1953: A Bibliographical Guide to
Historical and Social Science Research on the Nineteenth and Twentieth
Centuries : Supplementary Volume for 1953-1969_ (Cambridge, Mass.:
East Asian Research Center, Harvard University : distributed by
Harvard University Press, 1975).
* Denis Twitchett New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1978-).
* John King Fairbank, Martha Henderson Coolidge Traditional China's
Foreign Relations_ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).
* Frank Algerton Kierman,John King Fairbank, eds., _Chinese Ways in
Warfare_ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974).
* John King Fairbank, ed., _The Missionary Enterprise in
America_ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974).
* Suzanne Wilson Barnett John King Fairbank, ed., _Christianity in
China: Early Protestant Missionary Writings_ (Cambridge, Mass.:
Published by the Committee on American-East Asian Relations of the
Dept. of History in collaboration with the Council on East Asian
Studies/Harvard University : Distributed by the Harvard University
* Ernest R. May, John King Fairbank, eds,, _America's
China Trade in
Historical Perspective: The Chinese and American Performance_
(Cambridge, Mass: Committee on American-East Asian Relations of the
Department of History in collaboration with Council on East Asian
Studies distributed by Harvard University Press, 1986).
EDITED LETTERS AND TEXTS
* John King Fairbank, Katherine Frost Bruner, et al., _The I. G. In
Peking Letters of Robert Hart , Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-190_7
(Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975).
* Katherine Frost Bruner, John King Fairbank, et al., _Entering
China's Service: Robert Hart's Journals, 1854-1863_ (Cambridge, Mass.:
Council on East Asian Studies Distributed by the Harvard University
* Richard J. Smith, John King Fairbank, et al., _Robert Hart and
China's Early Modernization: His Journals, 1863-1866_ (Cambridge,
Mass.: Published by the Council on East Asian Studies Distributed by
the Harvard University Press, 1991).
* ^ _A_ _B_ Gonzalez, David (September 16, 1991). "John K.
China Scholar Of Wide Influence, Is Dead at 84". _New York
Times _. Retrieved 2008-08-14. John K. Fairbank, the Harvard history
professor who was widely credited with creating the field of modern
Chinese studies in the United States and was a leading advocate of
diplomatic recognition of the People's Republic of China, died
Saturday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 84 years old. He died of a heart
attack, said Roderick MacFarquhar, a colleague.
* ^ John King Fairbank, _Chinabound: A Fifty-Year Memoir_ (New
York: Harper London:: Columbia University Press. ISBN 023152546X . ,
* ^ Suleski, Ronald Stanley. (2005). _The Fairbank Center for East
Asian Research at Harvard University_, pp. 11-44.
* ^ Cohen, Goldman, _Fairbank Remembered_ includes many
reminiscences of students and colleagues.
* ^ _A History of East Asian Civilization_ infosite,
openlibrary.org; accessed June 20, 2015.
* ^ Richard Madsen, "The Academic
China Specialists," _American
Studies of Contemporary China_ (New York: ME Sharpe, 1993): 163.
* ^ Jim Peck, _The Roots of Rhetoric,_ _Bulletin of Concerned Asian
Scholars_ 2.1 (October 1969), p. 61, reprinted in Edward Friedman and
Mark Selden, (ed.),_America's Asia: Dissenting Essays on
Asian-American Relations_ (New York: Random House, 1969).
* ^ Esherick (1972) , p. 9.
* ^ "Forty Years On: Looking Back at the 1969 Annual Meeting" by
Carl Mirra in the February 2010 issue of _Perspectives on History_
published by the American Historical Association
* ^ From the June 1970 AHA Newsletter "Professional Comment and
Controversy: An Open Letter to Howard Zinn", historians.org; accessed
June 23, 2015.
WorldCat Identities Archived 2010-12-30 at the Wayback Machine
.: Fairbank, John King 1907-1991
* ^ _China: A New History_ WorldCat.org
* Alesevich, Christopher. "John King Fairbank: Present at the
China Today_, November 9, 2007.
* Evans, Paul M. _John Fairbank and the American Understanding of
Modern China._ New York: B. Blackwell, 1988.
* Paul A. Cohen Merle Goldman, eds., _Fairbank Remembered_
(Cambridge, Mass.: Published by the
John K. Fairbank Center for East
Asian Research Harvard University : Distributed by Harvard University
Press, 1992). Brief reminiscences by students, colleagues, friends,
* Gordon, Leonard H.D.; Chang, Sydney (1970). "
John K. Fairbank and
His Critics in the Republic of
China (Review Article)". _Journal of
Asian Studies_. 30 (1): 137–149.
* Esherick, Joseph (1972). "Harvard on China: The Apologetics of
Imperialism" (PDF). _Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars_. 4 (4):
* Reins, Thomas. "Fairbank, John King", in Kelly Boyd (ed.),
_Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing_ (London; Chicago:
Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999). pp. 375-377.
* Suleski, Ronald Stanley. (2005). _The Fairbank Center for East
Asian Research at Harvard University: a Fifty Year History,
1955-2005._ Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 097679800X /ISBN