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John William Chaffee

Distinguished Service Professor of History and Asian and Asian American Studies
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Office: LT 608
Phone: (607) 777-4168

I am a Chinese historian with a research focus on the social and institutional history of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE). My undergraduate courses include a survey of East Asia, a year-long history of China , and a history of Sino-European interactions from 1200 to 1945. My graduate seminars (often cross-listed as senior seminars) deal with maritime Asia, East Asian imperialism, and the history of Chinese women, and I work individually with graduate students in Chinese history on their own research areas. My past research undertakings have focused upon the educational and examination systems of the Song, and the Song imperial clan. My current projects concern the Muslim trade diasporas in Guangzhou and Quanzhou from the Tang to Ming dynasties. I am also co-editing the topical Song volume of the Cambridge History of China.

Recent or current undergraduate courses:

  • Modern China
  • Chinese Civilization
  • East Asian Civilizations
  • China and the West
  • China to 1644

Recent or current graduate courses:

  • Maritime Asia*
  • Imperialism in East Asia *
  • Chinese Women and the Family *
  • Modern China Colloquium
* Courses with an asterisk are also open to undergraduates.

Significant Publications


  • Tianheng guizhou : Songdai zongshi shi [Chinese translation of The Branches of Heaven], Zhao Dongmei, trans. (Nanjing : Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, 2006).
  • Paeumui Kasipat'kil: Songtae Chungkukinui Kwak saenghwal (Korean translation of The Thorny Gates), Chong Kuk Yang, trans. Seoul, 2000.
  • The Branches of Heaven: A History of the Sung Imperial Clan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).
  • The Thorny Gates of Learning in Sung China: A Social History of Examinations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985; second edition with a new preface, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).
  • Sung-tai K'o-chü [Chinese translation of The Thorny Gates]. (Taipei: San Min Book Company) 1995.
  • Neo-Confucian Education: The Formative Stage, coedited with Wm. Theodore de Bary. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989). Within the volume: "Chu Hsi in Nan-k'ang: Tao-hsueh and the Politics of Education," and the Introduction coauthored with Professor de Bary.

Recent Articles:

  • “Songdai yu Dong Ya de duoguo xiti ji maoyi shijie” (Song China and the multi-state and commercial world of East Asia), Beida xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) (Journal of Peking University – Philosophy and Social Sciences), 46.2: 99-108.
  • “Muslim Merchants and Quanzhou in the Late Yuan-Early Ming: Conjectures on the Ending of the Medieval Muslim Trade Diaspora,” in Angela Schottenhammer, ed., The East Asian >Mediterranean<: Maritime Crossroads of Culture, Commerce, and Human Migration (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008), pp. 115-132.
  • “At the Intersection of Empire and World Trade: The Chinese Port City of Quanzhou (Zaitun), Eleventh-Fifteenth Centuries,” in Kenneth R. Hall, ed., Secondary Cities and Urban Networking in the Indian Ocean Realm, c. 1400-1800 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008), pp. 99-122.
  • “Examinations During Dynastic Crisis: the Case of the Early Southern Song,” Journal of Song Yuan Studies 37 (2007): 135-160.
  • “Diasporic Identities in the Historical Development of the Maritime Muslim Communities of Song-Yuan China,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49.4 (2006):395-420.
  • “Examinations During Dynastic Crisis: the Case of the Early Southern Song” (in Chinese), End of the Imperial Examination System and the Rise of the Study of the Imperial Examination, edited by Liu Haifeng (Wuhan: Huazhong Normal University Press, 2006), 125-134.
  • “Huizong, Cai Jin, and the Politics of Reform,” in Emperor Huizong and Late Northern Song China: The Politics of Culture and the Culture of Politics (Cambridge : Center for East Asian Studies, Harvard University , 2006), 31-77.
  • “Diasporic Identities in the Historical Development of the Maritime Muslim Communities of Song-Yuan China ,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49.4 (2006):395-420. “Diasporic Identities in the Historical Development of the Maritime Muslim Communities of Song-Yuan China ,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49.4 (2006):395-420.
  • "Sung Discourse on the History of Chinese Imperial Kin and Clans," in Thomas H. C. Lee, ed., The New and the Multiple: Sung Senses of the Past (Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2004), pp. 349-373.
  • “Chinese Society and the Civil Service Examinations: Trends in Western Scholarship” (in Japanese), Chûgoku: Shakai to Bunka (China: Society and Culture), No. 17 (June 2002):174-185.
  • "The Rise and Regency of Empress Liu (969-1033)," The Journal of Sung Yuan Studies 31 (2002):1-25.
  • "Empress-Regents Under the Song: Power, Authority and the Feminine," Transactions of the International Conference of Eastern Studies No. XLVI (2001): pp. 24-35.
  • "The Impact of the Song Imperial Clan on the Overseas Trade of Quanzhou," in Angela Schottenhammer, ed., the Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000-1400 (Leiden: Brill, 2001): pp. 13-46.
  • "Cong wu dao wen: Songdai zongshi di hunyin guanxi" (From the military to the civil: the marriage relations of the Sung imperial clan), Qingzhu Deng Guangming jiaoshou jiushi nian yanlun wenji (Baoding: Hebei Jiaoyu chubanshe, 1997): 298-305. Invited article for a festschrift volume in honor of Professor Deng Guangming of Peking University.
  • Sung Dynasty Bibliography, in Mary Beth Norton, ed., The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature, 3rd edition (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995): 1:301-3.
  • Biography of Li Hsin-ch'uan (1167-1244), Sung Biographies Supplementary Biographies No. 2, Journal of Sung Yuan Studies 24 (1994): 205-15.
  • "Two Sung Imperial Clan Genealogies: Preliminary Findings and Questions," Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies 23 (1993): 99-109.
  • "The Historian As Critic: Li Hsin-ch'uan and the Dilemmas of Statecraft in Southern Sung China," in Conrad Schirokauer and Robert Hymes, eds., Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993): 310-35.
  • "Two Sung Imperial Clan Genealogies: Preliminary Findings and Questions," Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies 23 (1993): 99-109.
  • "Songchao zongshi di lishi yiyi" (The Historical Significance of the Sung Imperial Clan), in Guoji Songshi yantaohui lunwen xuanji (Selected Papers from the International Symposium on Song History), Deng Guangming and Qi Xia, eds. (Baoding, Hebei: Hebei University Press, 1993): 505-513.
  • "Chao Ju-yü, Spurious Learning, and Southern Sung Political Culture." Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies 22 (1990-92): 23-61.
  • "The Marriage of Clanswomen in the Sung Imperial Clan," in Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991): 133-169.

Recent Grants and Fellowships

  • University Award for Excellence in International Education, Binghamton University, 2004.
  • Freeman Foundation Grant (project director), 2002-6
  • American Philosophical Society, 1996
  • U.S. Department of Education Grant (project director), 1987-9
  • Japan Foundation Grant (project director), 1987-1990
  • American Council of Learned Societies, 1986-7
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, 1985

Professional Activities

  • Department chair, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, 2008-9.
  • Director, Asian and Asian American Studies Program, 2000-8.
  • Board member, Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University, 2009-
  • Program Chair, Workshop on “Eurasian Influences on Yuan China,” Binghamton University, November 2009.
  • Program Chair, Conference on “The Problem of Asia in Russia and Turkey,” April 2009.
  • Steering Committee Chair, annual meetings of the New York Conference on Asian Studies, Binghamton , October 26-27, 2007.
  • Program Chair, Asian Migrations Conference, Binghamton , March 20-21, 2006.
  • Program Chair, Paradigms in History: Global Studies and World History. A Conversation in the Discipline of the State University of New York at Binghamton University , March 3-4, 2000.
  • Elected member, Council on Conferences, Association for Asian Studies, 1999-2002, Chair, 2001-2.
  • Member, Executive Board, Association for Asian Studies, 2001-2.
  • President, New York Conference on Asian Studies, 2001-4; Executive Board, 1998-2001, 2005-2007.
  • Executive Editor, Consortium for Bilingual Texts in Chinese: History, Literature, Philosophy, and Religion, 1996-present.
  • Program Chair, New York Conference on Asian Studies annual meetings in Binghamton , fall 1997.
  • Editor, Bulletin of Sung-Yuan Studies, 1987-91.
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies, 1991-.
  • Editorial Board, State University of New York Press, 1991-94.
  • Columbia University Seminar on Traditional China, 1980-present.
  • Associate in Research, Cornell University East Asian Program, 1988-.
The Branches of Heaven Book Branches of Heaven The Thorny Gates of Learning in Sung China Sung-tai K'o-chü Neo-Confucian Education

Last Updated: 8/12/16