Jonathan D. Spence

Born(1936-08-11)11 August 1936
Surrey, England
Died25 December 2021(2021-12-25) (aged 85)
EducationClare College, Cambridge (MA)
Yale University (PhD)
SpouseAnnping Chin
Scientific career
FieldsChinese history
InstitutionsYale University
Doctoral advisorMary C. Wright
Other academic advisorsFang Chao-ying (房兆楹)[1]
Doctoral studentsSherman Cochran,[2] Robert Oxnam[2] Pamela Kyle Crossley, Kenneth Pomeranz, Joanna Waley-Cohen Mark C. Elliott[3]
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese史景遷
Simplified Chinese史景迁

Jonathan Dermot Spence CMG (11 August 1936 – 25 December 2021) was an English-born American historian, sinologist, and writer who specialized 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 published more than a dozen books on China. Spence's major interest was modern China, especially the Qing dynasty, and relations between China and the West.[4] Spence frequently used 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]

Early life

Spence was born on 11 August 1936 to Muriel (née Crailsham) and Dermot Spence in Surrey in England. His mother was a French researcher while his father worked at an art gallery and a publishing house.[6]

Spence was educated first at Winchester College, graduating in 1954. He then spent two years in the British Army and was deployed in Germany during this period.[6] He received his BA in history in 1959, studying at Clare College, Cambridge.[6] During this time he was the editor of the campus magazine and was also the co-editor of British literary magazine Granta.[6] He went to Yale University 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, scholars of the Qing dynasty.[7]


Spence taught a popular undergraduate course at Yale University on the history of modern China, which formed the basis for his book The Search for Modern China (1990).[8] He taught for more than 40 years at the university. During this time he wrote many books on China that furthered the understanding of the country and its culture with Western audiences. Some of his books during this period included The Search for Modern China (1990), which was published on the back of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (1996).[6]

Spence was president of the American Historical Association between 2004 and 2005.[7] While his primary focus was on Qing dynasty China, he also wrote a biography of Mao Zedong[9] and The Gate of Heavenly Peace, a study of twentieth-century intellectuals and their relation to revolution.[10][11] He retired from Yale in 2008.[12]

His book The Search for Modern China was a New York Times best seller and documented the evolution of China starting from the decline of the Ming dynasty in the early 1600s to the pro-democracy movement of 1989, while his book Treason by the Book (2001) documented the story of a scholar who took on the third Manchu Emperor in the 1700s.[6]


Spence 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[13] and an honorary professor at Nanjing University.[7] He was named Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 2001,[14] and in 2006, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge.[15]

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).[7]

In May and June 2008, he gave the 60th anniversary Reith Lectures, which were broadcast on BBC Radio 4.[16][17]

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.[18]

Personal life

Spence's name in Chinese, 史景遷 (pinyin: Shǐ Jǐngqiān), was given to him by Fang Chao-ying to reflect his love of history and admiration for the Han dynasty historian Sima Qian. He chose the surname 史 (Shǐ; literally "history") and personal name 景遷 (Jǐngqiān), where (jǐng) means admire (as in 景仰) and (qiān) was taken from the personal name of Sima Qian (司馬遷).[19][20][21] Spence became a U.S. citizen in 2000.[22]

Spence's wife Annping Chin was a senior lecturer in history at Yale with a PhD in Chinese thought from Columbia.[12][23] He had two sons from a previous marriage (1962–1993) to Helen Alexander, Colin and Ian Spence, two stepchildren, Yar Woo and Mei Chin, a grandchild as well as two step-grandchildren.[24][20] Spence died from complications of Parkinson's disease on 25 December 2021, at the age of 85 at his residence in West Haven, Connecticut.[12][24][20]



Book reviews



  1. ^ Jonathan D. Spence, Ts'ao Yin and the K'ang-Hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. xv. [1]
  2. ^ a b Kapp, Robert A. (1 July 2009). "History, Generations, and China Stories". The China Beat Blog Archive 2008-2012. DigitalCommons @ University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Archived from the original on 19 August 2022. Retrieved 1 January 2022. Happily, several of Spence's Ph.D. students decided to throw their efforts into a conference and celebration in his honor, on the Yale Campus, in early May.... Four attendees in particular – Robert Oxnam, Roger DesForges, Sherman Cochran, and I – represented the original tranche of doctoral candidates who finished their degrees under Jonathan's benign and helpful guidance...((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. ^ Center_on_U.S._China_Relations (2022).
  4. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c d e f Genzlinger, Neil (27 December 2021). "Jonathan Spence, Noted China Scholar, Dies at 85". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d Frederic E. Wakeman Jr., Jonathan D. Spence at American Historical Association website (retrieved 10 March 2010).
  8. ^ a b Schwarcz, Vera; Bruckner, D.J.R. (13 May 1990). "CHINA: THE HARD ROAD TO NOW". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  9. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (1999). Mao Zedong. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-88669-2.
  10. ^ Lattimore, David (18 October 1981). "The Long Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  11. ^ Pye, Lucian W. (June 1982). "The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and their Revolution, 1895–1980. By Jonathan D. Spence. [New York: The Viking Press1981. 465 pp. $19.95; London: Faber, 1982. £11·50.]". The China Quarterly. 90: 302–304. doi:10.1017/S0305741000000382. ISSN 1468-2648. S2CID 154391752. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  12. ^ a b c Italie, Hillel (27 December 2021). "Jonathan D. Spence, popular China scholar, dead at age 85". AP NEWS. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  13. ^ "Remembering Jonathan D. Spence". Peking University. 29 December 2021. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  14. ^ "Queen's Birthday Honors List Distinguishes Yale Professor Jonathan Spence". YaleNews. Yale University. 20 June 2001. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Professor Jonathan Spence". Clare College, Cambridge. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  16. ^ Earnshaw, Graham (2008). "Reith Lecture: English Lessons". The China Beat.
  17. ^ Hayford, Charles W. (2008). "Jonathan Spence's Third Reith Lecture: Dreams, Paradoxes, and the Uses of History". The China Beat.
  18. ^ Jill Laster, "Eminent China Scholar Will Deliver 2010 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities", Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 March 2010.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b c Hua, Sha (28 December 2021). "China Scholar Jonathan Spence Dies at Age 85". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  21. ^ 藍孝威; 李欣恬 (28 December 2021). "美着名汉学家史景迁逝世 享寿85岁 - 两岸要闻". 中时新闻网 China Times (in Chinese). Retrieved 1 January 2022. 史景遷的博士論文指導教授、中國史專家房兆楹為他取的中文名字「史景遷」,寓意「學史者當景仰司馬遷」。
  22. ^ Skinner, David (2010). Jonathan Spence Biography, National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  23. ^ "Annping Chin, Senior Lecturer Emeritus". Department of History, Yale University. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  24. ^ a b Genzlinger, Neil (27 December 2021). "Jonathan Spence, Noted China Scholar, Dies at 85". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  25. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (2013). The Search for Modern China (Third ed.). New York: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-393-93451-9.
  26. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (1988). Tsʻao Yin and the Kʻang-hsi Emperor: Bondservant and Master – Jonathan D. Spence – Google Boeken. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-04277-1. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  27. ^ Goodrich, L. Carrington (January 1970). "To Change China: Western advisers in China 1620–1960. By Spence Jonathan. [Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1969. 335 pp. $7.95.]". The China Quarterly. 41: 146–148. doi:10.1017/S0305741000034834. ISSN 1468-2648. S2CID 153767635. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  28. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (25 July 2012). Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi – Jonathan D. Spence – Google Boeken. Knopf Doubleday Publishing. ISBN 978-0-307-82306-9. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  29. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (1979). The Death of Woman Wang. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 014005121X.
  30. ^ Robinson, Paul (25 November 1984). "Ming Mnemonics". Book Review Desk. The New York Times. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  31. ^ "The Faith Yes, Europe No : THE QUESTION OF HU by Jonathan D. Spence (Alfred A. Knopf: $18.95;187 pp.; 0-394-57190-8)". Los Angeles Times. 20 November 1988.
  32. ^ Lee, Lily Xiao Hong (1994). "Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture (Review)". China Review International. 1 (2): 262–266. doi:10.1353/cri.1994.0071. S2CID 144067305.
  33. ^ Pye, Lucian W. (1982). "The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and their Revolution, 1895–1980. By Jonathan D. Spence. [New York: The Viking Press1981. 465 pp. $19.95; London: Faber, 1982. £11·50.]". The China Quarterly. 90: 302–304. doi:10.1017/S0305741000000382. S2CID 154391752.
  34. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds by Jonathan D. Spence, Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.5 (279p) ISBN 978-0-393-02747-1". September 1998.
  35. ^ Wu, Qingyun (1997). "Reviewed work: God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan, Jonathan D. Spence". Utopian Studies. 8 (1): 234–236. JSTOR 20719667.
  36. ^ Pyemay/June 2000, Lucian W. (28 January 2009). "Mao: A Life; Mao Zedong". Foreign Affairs.((cite magazine)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  37. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (2006). Treason by the Book. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-102779-7.
  38. ^ Bernstein, Richard (9 March 2001). "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Envy, Imperialism and Intrigue in 18th-Century China". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  39. ^ Spence, Jonathan D. (28 June 2007). "The Dream of Catholic China". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 1 January 2022.