Jonathan Spence

Last updated

Jonathan D. Spence
Born (1936-08-11) 11 August 1936 (age 85)
Surrey, England [1]
Education Clare College, Cambridge (MA)
Yale University (PhD)
Spouse(s) Annping Chin
Scientific career
Fields Chinese history
Institutions Yale University
Doctoral advisor Mary C. Wright
Other academic advisorsFang Chao-ying (房兆楹) [2]
Doctoral students Sherman Cochran, Pamela Crossley, Robert Oxnam, Kenneth Pomeranz, Joanna Waley-Cohen [3]
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 史景遷
Simplified Chinese 史景迁

Jonathan Dermot Spence (born 11 August 1936) is an English-born American historian, sinologist, and writer specialising in Chinese history. He was Sterling Professor of History at Yale University from 1993 to 2008. His most widely read book is The Search for Modern China, a survey of the last several hundred years of Chinese history based on his popular course at Yale. A prolific author, reviewer, and essayist, he has published more than a dozen books on China. He retired from Yale in 2008.


Spence's major interest is modern China, especially the Qing Dynasty, and relations between China and the West. [4] Spence frequently uses biographies to examine cultural and political history. Another common theme is the efforts of both Westerners and Chinese "to change China," [5] and how such efforts were frustrated. [4]


Spence was educated at Winchester College and at Clare College, Cambridge. He received his BA in history from Cambridge in 1959. He went to Yale on a Clare-Mellon Fellowship to study the history and culture of China, receiving an MA and then a PhD in 1965, when he won the John Addison Porter Prize. As part of his graduate training, he spent a year in Australia to study under Fang Chao-ying and Tu Lien-che, pre-eminent scholars of the Qing dynasty. [6]


Widely recognised as a leading scholar of Chinese history, Spence was president of the American Historical Association for the 2004–2005 term. [6] While his primary focus has been on Qing dynasty China, he has also written a biography of Mao Zedong and The Gate of Heavenly Peace , a study of twentieth-century intellectuals and their relation to revolution. Spence taught a popular undergraduate class at Yale on the history of modern China, which formed the basis for his text The Search for Modern China, whose dedication is "For My Students."

His name in Chinese was chosen to reflect his love of history and admiration for the historian Sima Qian. His name in Chinese is 史景遷/Shǐ Jǐngqiān. He chose the family name 史/Shǐ (literally "history") and personal name 景遷/Jǐngqiān where 景/Jǐng means admire (景仰) and 遷/Qiān was taken from the personal name of Sima Qian (司馬遷). [7]


Spence has received eight honorary degrees in the United States as well as from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and (in 2003) from Oxford University. He was invited to become a visiting professor at Peking University and an honorary professor at Nanjing University. He was named Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, [6] and, in 2006, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge.

He received the William C. DeVane Medal of the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (1952); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1979); the Los Angeles Times History Prize (1982), and the Vursel Prize of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1983). He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1985), named a MacArthur Fellow (1988), appointed to the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress (1988), elected a member of the American Philosophical Society (1993), and named a corresponding fellow of the British Academy (1997). [6]

In May and June 2008, he gave the 60th anniversary Reith Lectures, which were broadcast on BBC Radio 4. [8] [9]

In 2010, Spence was appointed to deliver the annual Jefferson Lecture at the Library of Congress, the US federal government's highest honour for achievement in the humanities. [10]

Spence has been criticised for describing Mao Zedong as one of the 20th century's Great Leaders. [11]


Born in Surrey, England, Spence became an American citizen in 2000. [1] He lives in West Haven with his wife, Annping Chin (a senior lecturer in history at Yale who got her PhD in classical Chinese philosophy at Columbia). He has two sons from a previous marriage (1962–1993) to Helen Alexander, Colin and Ian Spence, and two stepchildren, Yar Woo and Mei Chin.



Book reviews

Related Research Articles

The Twenty-Four Histories, also known as the Orthodox Histories, are the Chinese official dynastic histories covering from the earliest dynasty in 3000 BC to the Ming dynasty in the 17th century.

Shunzhi Emperor 2nd Emperor of the Qing Dynasty; first to rule over China proper (r. 1644-61)

The Shunzhi Emperor was Emperor of the Qing dynasty from 1644 to 1661, and the first Qing emperor to rule over China proper. A committee of Manchu princes chose him to succeed his father, Hong Taiji (1592–1643), in September 1643, when he was six years old. The princes also appointed two co-regents: Dorgon (1612–1650), the 14th son of the Qing dynasty's founder Nurhaci (1559–1626), and Jirgalang (1599–1655), one of Nurhaci's nephews, both of whom were members of the Qing imperial clan.

Cao Xueqin Chinese writer during the Qing dynasty

Cáo Xuěqín ; was a Chinese writer during the Qing dynasty. He is best known as the author of Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. His given name was Cáo Zhān (曹霑) and his courtesy name was Mèngruǎn.

He Zizhen

He Zizhen was the third wife of Chairman Mao Zedong from May 1930 to 1937.

Kang Youwei Political thinker and reformer

Kang Youwei was a prominent political thinker and reformer of the late Qing dynasty. His increasing closeness to and influence over the young Guangxu Emperor sparked conflict between the emperor and his adoptive mother, the regent Empress Dowager Cixi. His ideas were influential in the abortive Hundred Days' Reform. Following the coup by Cixi that ended the reform, Kang was forced to flee. He continued to advocate for a Chinese constitutional monarchy after the founding of the Republic of China.

<i>Quan Tangshi</i>

Quan Tangshi is the largest collection of Tang poetry, containing some 49,000 lyric poems by more than twenty-two hundred poets. In 1705, it was commissioned at the direction of the Qing dynasty Kangxi Emperor and published under his name. The Quan Tangshi is the major reservoir of surviving Tang dynasty poems, from which the pre-eminent shorter anthology, Three Hundred Tang Poems, is largely drawn.

Shang Kexi Prince of Pingnan

Shang Kexi was a Chinese general of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. His family had migrated to Liaodong in 1576 and his father, Shang Xueli, served in the army guarding the northeast frontier. As his father did, Shang Kexi joined the army and guarded the frontier against the attack of the Jurchens. Shang was described to be a brave and resourceful man who was skilful at mounted archery and capable in military matters.

Zhou Ruchang

Zhou Ruchang, was a Chinese writer noted for his study of the novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. He is regarded as among the most renowned and influential redologists of the 20th century. In addition, Zhou was also an accomplished calligrapher and expert on traditional Chinese poetry and fiction.

Xu Jingqian (徐景遷) (919-937), also known in some historical records as Li Jingqian (李景遷), posthumously honored as Prince Ding of Chu (楚定王), was an official of the Chinese Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period state Wu, serving as junior regent under his father, the senior regent Xu Zhigao, who would later found Wu's successor state Southern Tang.

This bibliography covers the English language scholarship of major studies in Chinese history.

Events from the year 1668 in China.

Events from the year 1669 in China.

Events from the year 1676 in China.

Events from the year 1678 in China.

Events from the year 1679 in China.

Events from the year 1683 in China.

Events from the year 1684 in China.

Events from the year 1685 in China.

Events from the year 1686 in China.

Events from the year 1687 in China.



  1. 1 2 Skinner, David (2010). Jonathan Spence Biography, National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  2. Jonathan D. Spence, Ts'ao Yin and the K'ang-Hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. xv.
  3. "CEAS | Events". Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  4. 1 2 Roberts, Priscilla "Spence, Jonathan D." pages 1136–1137 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London:Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999 page 1136.
  5. Jonathan D. Spence To Change China; Western Advisers in China, 1620–1960. Boston: Little Brown, 1969
  6. 1 2 3 4 Frederic E. Wakeman Jr., Jonathan D. Spence at American Historical Association website (retrieved 10 March 2010).
  7. Spence, Johnathan D. (1998). 天安门:知识分子与中国革命. Beijing: 中央编译出版社. p. 1.
  8. Earnshaw, Graham (2008). "Reith Lecture: English Lessons". The China Beat.
  9. Hayford, Charles W. (2008). "Jonathan Spence's Third Reith Lecture: Dreams, Paradoxes, and the Uses of History". The China Beat.
  10. Jill Laster, "Eminent China Scholar Will Deliver 2010 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities", Chronicle of Higher Education , 8 March 2010.
  12. Spence, Jonathan D. (1988). Tsʻao Yin and the Kʻang-hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master – Jonathan D. Spence – Google Boeken. ISBN   978-0-300-04277-1 . Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  13. Spence, Jonathan D. (25 July 2012). Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi – Jonathan D. Spence – Google Boeken. ISBN   978-0-307-82306-9 . Retrieved 15 February 2013.