Fairbank, John King, 1907-1991

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1907-05-24
Death 1991-09-14
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

John King Fairbank (1907-1991) was Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and Director of the East Asian Research Center at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of John K. Fairbank, 1933-1991 (inclusive), 1947-1991 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973292

John King Fairbank (1907-1991) was a a leading scholar in modern and contemporary China studies. Fairbank was the Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History at Harvard University and Director of its East Asian Research Center. He was married to Wilma Cannon Fairbank, the author of numerous scholarly books on Chinese archeology and architecture.

From the description of Papers of John K. Fairbank, 1933-1991. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228506794

From the description of Papers of John K. Fairbank, 1933-1991. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77719610

Far Eastern specialist.

From the description of Reminiscences of John King Fairbank : oral history, 1970. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122440944

John King Fairbank (1907-1991) was a a leading scholar in modern and contemporary China studies. Fairbank was the Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History at Harvard Univeristy and Director of its East Asian Research Center, which was later renamed the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research in his honor. He was married to Wilma Cannon Fairbank, the author of numerous scholarly books on Chinese archeology and architecture.

John King Fairbank was born in Huron, South Dakota. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, he spent two years at the University of Wisconsin, then transferred to Harvard, where he completed his undergraduate studies (A.B., 1929). A Rhodes Scholar, he attended Oxford University and pursued a growing interest in Chinese history.

From 1932 to 1936, he and his wife Wilma Cannon Fairbank lived in Peiping (now Beijing). They learned Chinese, traveled extensively, and worked on their respective research projects. His topic was the foreign relations of the Qing dynasty . Her subjects were Chinese art and architecture .

After the completion of his doctorate in 1936, Fairbank returned to the United States and a position in Harvard's History Department. His academic career was interrupted by service during World War II. He served in the Office of Strategic Services and in the Office of War Information. He spent two years in China, first as Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador, then as Director of the United States Information Service.

Resuming his academic career after the war, he returned to Harvard, where he embarked on an active program of teaching and research and he began to establish himself as a leading interpreter of China to the American public. At first his scholarship was an extension of his doctoral research; it focussed on China's relations with the West in the 19th century. Increasingly he joined with collaborators in compiling bibliographies and research guides to assist fellow scholars in their work.

Politics briefly inconvenienced Fairbank's academic career. Partly because of his growing prominence, he was singled out in the McCarthy era as one of the Asia scholars and State Department officials responsible for the "loss of China" to the communists . He emerged relatively unscathed from his confrontation with the McCarran Committee, but he was forced to delay for one year a sabbatical in Japan (1951-1952) while the Military Review Board investigated his political affiliations.

Fairbank's influence on East Asian studies was considerable. During his career, Fairbank trained a generation of China specialists, played a key role in building the infrastructure of East Asian area studies, and published texts that introduced China to a broad readership. He undertook ambitious tasks of synthesis in the writing of general histories that could serve as texts for introductory courses in East Asian civilization. His major works include: The United States and China, 1948, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast, 1953, and East Asia: Tradition and Transformation, 1973. He also served as editor of the monumental Cambridge History of China, and collaborated on three volumes about Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service.

Fairbank's professional commitments and obligations grew apace with his academic responsibilities and scholarly achievements. At Harvard, he became Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History in 1959. From 1955-1973 he served as director of the East Asian Research Center, a total of 18 years. From 1973 to 1977, he was chairman of the Council on East Asian Studies . He served on the committees of numerous associations dedicated to fostering a richer knowledge of East Asia. He was trustee of the Institute of Pacific Relations from 1946 to 1956, he became president of the Association for Asian Studies in 1959, and he became president of the American Historical Association in 1968. Fairbank received numerous honorary degrees, including ones from Swarthmore, Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins. In 1986 he received the Harvard Medal for service to the university.

John King Fairbank died September 14, 1991 at the age of 84, two days after delivering his final manuscript to the Harvard Press. Wilma Fairbank died April 4, 2002 at the age of 92.

From the guide to the Papers of John K. Fairbank, 1933-1991, (Harvard University Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Negotiation
  • International relations
  • Sinologists
  • Arbitration (International law)
  • China
  • Communism
  • Sinologists--Interviews

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • China (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)