Joseph Esherick

Professor Emeritus

Joseph Esherick
  • 9500 Gilman Dr
    Department of History
    Mail Code: 0104
    La Jolla , California 92093

 Joseph W. Esherick received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Harvard in 1964 and his PhD from Berkeley in 1971. Chinese biographies routinely encapsulate this academic pedigree with the formula that he was mentored by three giants of the field: John K. Fairbank at Harvard, and Joseph R. Levenson and Frederic Wakeman, Jr. at Berkeley. His scholarship has focused on the last years of the Qing dynasty and the social and political transformation of modern China.  Esherick taught at the University of Oregon from 1971 to 1990, when he came to UCSD as Professor of History and holder of the Hwei-chih and Julia Hsiu Chair in Chinese Studies. At UCSD, he partnered with Paul Pickowicz and others to build a Ph.D. program in Chinese history whose graduates made UCSD one of the most successful Chinese history doctoral programs in the country.  Esherick was an active proponent of academic collaboration with China, twice heading the University of California’s Education Abroad Program in Beijing.  His own research has relied crucially on archival and field work in China. Retiring in 2012, he now lives in Berkeley, California.


Accidental Holy Land: The Communist Revolution in Northwest China (University of California Press, forthcoming in 2022). Chinese edition: 意外的聖地:陝甘革命的起源 (Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2021).

Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey Through Chinese History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011). Chinese translation: 叶:百年动荡仲的一个中国家庭 (2014).

The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (University of California Press: 1987). Winner of the John K. Fairbank Prize of the American Historical Association and the Joseph R. Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies. Chinese translation: 义和团运动的起源 (1994, 2010).

Reform and Revolution in China: the 1911 Revolution in Hunan and Hubei (University of California Press: 1976; paperback: 1986; second edition with new preface: University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, 1999).  Chinese translation: 改良与革命:辛亥革命在两湖 (1982, 2007).


Edited and co-authored volumes:

1943: China at the Crossroads, edited with Matthew Combs (Cornell East Asia series, 2015).

China: How the Empire Fell, edited with George X. Wei (New York: Routledge, 2013).

Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006), edited with Hasan Kayali and Eric Van Young.

The Cultural Revolution in Historical Perspective, edited with Paul Pickowicz and Andrew Walder (Stanford University Press, 2006).

Remaking the Chinese City: Modernity and National Identity, 1900-1950 (University of Hawaii Press, 2000).

Chinese Archives: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Ye Wa (Berkeley: University of California Institute of East Asian Studies, 1996).

Chinese Local Elites and Patterns of Dominance (University of California Press: 1990). Edited with Mary B. Rankin.

Lost Chance in China: The World War II Despatches of John S. Service (Random House: l974; Vintage paperback: 1975), edited with an introduction and epilogue. (Chinese translation: Beijing: International Culture Press, 1989)

Modern China: The Story of a Revolution, co-authored with Orville Schell (Knopf: 1972)


Major Articles:

“The CCP in the 1930s: The View from Defectors’ Declarations (脱离共党宣言),” The PRC History Review Vol. 2, No. 2 (April 2017).

“Making Revolution in Twentieth-Century China,” in Timothy Cheek, ed. A Critical Introduction to Mao (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

“Reconsidering 1911: Lessons of a ‘Sudden Revolution,’” Journal of Modern Chinese History 6, no. 1 (2012).

“Making Revolution in Twentieth-Century China,” in Timothy Cheek, ed. A Critical Introduction to Mao (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

"Revolution in a Feudal Fortress: Yangjiagou, Mizhi County, Shaanxi, 1937-1948," Modern China 24.4 (October 1998).

"Cherishing Sources from Afar," Modern China 24.2 (April 1998)

"Ten Theses on the Chinese Revolution," Modern China 21.1 (January 1995).

"Deconstructing the Construction of the Party-State: Gulin County in the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region," China Quarterly, No. 140 (December 1994): 1052-1079.

"Acting Out Democracy: Political Theater in Modern China," co-authored with Jeffrey Wasserstrom. Journal of Asian Studies, November 1990.

"Harvard on China: The Apologetics of Imperialism," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 4:4 (December l972).


Many of these articles will be included in a volume forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield in 2022: China in Revolution: History Lessons.