Jonathan Spence is Professor of History Emeritus at Yale. Among his books are The Death of Woman Wang, Treason by the Book, The Question of Hu, and The Search for Modern China.


Who Killed Pamela in Peking?

A studio portrait of Pamela Werner, who was murdered in Peking in 1937

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

by Paul French
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 City. (Japan would occupy the city seven months later.) The …

A Master in the Shadows

Fu Baoshi: Prague Castle, 1957

Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904–1965)

an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, October 16, 2011–January 8, 2012, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, January 30–April 29, 2012
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 just let it all go? …

The Ball and the World

‘Swimming Reindeer’; carved from mammoth tusk, 8 inches long, found in Montastruc, France, 11,000 BC

A History of the World in 100 Objects

by Neil MacGregor
There are no fixed rules for writing a history of the world. Unless one is tied to some text-bound pattern of belief, each of us can open the global story pretty much where we wish: by conjuring up a tiny speck in galactic time, by evoking primal creatures of the …

Kissinger and China

Henry Kissinger with Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong, Beijing, February 1973

On China

by Henry Kissinger
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 policies across two and a half millennia, and to bring China’s past full circle in order to illuminate the present. In form, the book is highly idiosyncratic, for it is not exactly a memoir, or a monograph, or an autobiography; rather it is part reminiscence, part reflection, part history, and part intuitive exploration.

Recharging Chinese Art

Detail of a mural from Juanqinzhai (Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service) in the Qianlong Garden, Forbidden City, by Wang Youxue and assistants, eighteenth century

The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City

an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, September 14, 2010–January 9, 2011; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, February 3–May 1, 2011; and the Milwaukee Art Museum, June 11–September 12, 2011.

Fresh Ink: Ten Takes on Chinese Tradition

an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, November 20, 2010–February 13, 2011.
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 reigned from 1736 to 1795 CE, was unusual in his willingness to plan for …

The Question of Pearl Buck

Pearl Buck, circa 1932

Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth

by Hilary Spurling
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 academy of an American writer in …

The Triumph of Madame Chiang

Madame Chiang at a celebration held in her honor at the Hollywood Bowl, April 4, 1943. The flowers she is holding were given to her by Mary Pickford, who can be seen in the background on the right.

The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China

by Hannah Pakula
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 Coast Guard cutter, …

Specters of a Chinese Master

Luo Ping: Portrait of Mr. Dongxin [Jin Nong] (detail), circa 1760s

Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733–1799)

an exhibition at the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, April 9–July 12, 2009; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, October 6, 2009– January 10, 2010
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 Yangzi River, which linked …