Jonathan Spence

Jonathan Dermot Spence (born 11 August 1936) is an English-born American historian and public intellectual 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.

Jonathan D. Spence
Born (1936-08-11) 11 August 1936
Surrey, England[1]
Alma materClare College, Cambridge (MA), Yale University (PhD)
Spouse(s)Annping Chin
Scientific career
FieldsChinese history
InstitutionsYale University
Doctoral advisorMary C. Wright
Other academic advisorsFang Chao-ying (房兆楹)[2]
Doctoral studentsSherman Cochran, Pamela Crossley, Robert Oxnam, Kenneth Pomeranz, Joanna Waley-Cohen[3]
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese史景遷
Simplified Chinese史景迁

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]


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.



  • The Search for Modern China (1990; 2nd edition, 1999; 3rd edition 2013)
  • Tsʻao Yin and the Kʻang-hsi Emperor: bondservant and master (1966)[11]
  • To Change China: Western Advisers in China, 1620–1960 (Boston, Little Brown, 1969).
  • Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi (1974)[12]
  • The Death of Woman Wang (1978). Story situated in 17th century Tancheng.
  • The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (1984)
  • The Question of Hu (New York: Knopf, 1987 ISBN 978-0-394-57190-4). Biography of John Hu 胡若望, 18th-century Chinese who came to France.
  • Chinese Roundabout: Essays on History and Culture
  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution 1895–1980 (1982)
  • The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds
  • God's Chinese Son (New York: Norton, 1996 ISBN 978-0-393-03844-6). Biography of Hong Xiuchuan, leader of Taiping Rebellion.
  • Mao Zedong. Penguin Lives. New York: Viking Press. 1999. ISBN 978-0-670-88669-2. OCLC 41641238. Lay summary (6 February 2000).
  • Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man (2007) Viking, 332 pages. ISBN 978-0-670-06357-4
  • Treason by the Book

Book reviews

  • "The Dream of Catholic China" The New York Review of Books 54/11 (28 June 2007) : 22–24 [reviews Liam Matthew Brockey, Journey to the East: the Jesuit Mission to China, 1579–1724]


  1. 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. 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. 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.
  11. Tsʻao Yin and the Kʻang-hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master – Jonathan D. Spence – Google Boeken. 1988. ISBN 978-0-300-04277-1. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  12. Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi – Jonathan D. Spence – Google Boeken. 25 July 2012. ISBN 978-0-307-82306-9. Retrieved 15 February 2013.


  • Lu, Hanchao (2004). "The Art of History: A Conversation with Jonathan Spence" (PDF). The Chinese Historical Review. 11 (2): 133–154.
  • Bruce Mazlish, The Question of the Question of Hu," History and Theory 11 (1992): 141–152
  • Mirsky, Jonathan. Review of Chinese Roundabout The New York Review of Books, Volume 39, Issue No. 17 (5 November 1992): 51–55.
  • Nathan, Andrew J. "A Culture of Cruelty: Review of The Search for Modern China" pages 30–34 from The New Republic, Volume 203 (30 July 1990): 50–54.
  • Roberts, Priscilla. "Spence, Jonathan D.," The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, (London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999 ISBN 978-1-884964-33-6): 1136–1137.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.