Updated: May 10, 2021
Chen Family Professor of China Studies and Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Brown University
Cynthia is a historian of early modern China, specializing in social history and the history of the book. After graduating from Wellesley, she earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University. A specialist in late imperial Chinese history (ca. 1400 - 1900), she taught at Vanderbilt University, the University of Oregon, and the Ohio State University prior to settling at Brown in 2009. She is the author of The Ledgers of Merit and Demerit: Social Change and Moral Order in Late Imperial China (Princeton University Press, 1991), a study of the intersection between popular religious beliefs and social ideologies in the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Her second book, Commerce in Culture: The Sibao Book Trade in the Qing and Republican Periods (Harvard University Asia Center, 2007) draws on extensive field and archival work in southeastern China to reconstruct the development of a rural book-publishing industry active in producing and disseminating popular texts throughout south China from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries. She has also co-edited several essay collections and one online journal issue on book history: Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China (University of California Press, 2005), with Kai-wing Chow; From Woodblocks to the Internet: Chinese Publishing and Print Culture in Transition, circa 1800 to 2008 (Brill, 2010), with Christopher Reed; The History of the Book in East Asia (Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013), with Peter Kornicki; and "Publishing for Daily Life in Early Modern East Asia," Lingua Franca 6 (2020), with Joan Judge. Her current projects include a study of elite reading practices and their impact on political discourse in the nineteenth century; and ongoing research on the expansion of commercial publishing and a popular book market in the Qing.