Patricia Ebrey

  • Professor
  • Williams Family Endowed Professor in History

Ph.D. Columbia University, 1975

Fields: Early Imperial China, Song Dynasty
Phone: 206-685-1528
Office: SMI 112A | Office Hours: Hours: W 1:30-3:30
Website: Patricia Ebrey

I began to study Chinese language and history as an undergraduate in the late 1960s, in the era when Americans could not go to China. It was not until several years after I got my PhD that I visited China for the first time. It has been amazing to watch the changes that have occurred in China since my first visits in 1978 and 1980. There can be few transformations in history that have occurred so rapidly. Perhaps as a result, my interest in China and its history has never flagged.

In the forty years since I started working on my dissertation, I have shifted from one set of questions to another several times. I started out thinking of myself as a social historian; I wanted to see if I could do research not just on the most famous intellectuals or political figures, but the broader elite stratum, at least. I began studying the early imperial period, the Han through Tang dynasties, but by about 1980 was moving into the Song period. At that point I was also shifting to family history, including issues of property and ritual. By 1990 I was also turning toward women’s history. In the 1980s and early 1990s I was particularly attracted to the work of anthropologists and tried to find ways to pursue the questions they asked from the primary sources available for Song China. In the mid 1990s my interest turned toward the visual side of culture. By the end of the 1990s I was focusing on the Song emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1125), who was himself an artist, patron of artists, and art collector on a large scale.

Besides studies aimed at other scholars of Chinese history, I have regularly tried to write for broader audiences, especially university students. My first effort was to compile a sourcebook of translations of Chinese texts that I thought would make lively reading in Chinese history classes. Later I was asked to write a history of China for the general public, which, while not originally intended for classroom use, is now quite commonly used in survey courses. That led to an invitation to join a team writing a world history textbook, and after that to develop a new history of East Asia. Although I have not lost my love of nitty-gritty research in original sources, I enjoy knowing that a lot of students are reading things I have written.

What will I work on next? With my biography of Huizong now in press, I am ready to move on to something different. My current thought is to pose the question of why China has been the largest country in the world for much of its history and try to answer it by looking at the Sui-Tang-Song period.

In terms of training graduate students, I can offer the most help on the Tang-Song period, but am open to a wide range of questions and approaches.

A list of publications is available on my homepage, as are many syllabi.

Courses taught:

HSTAS 452 Chinese History from Earliest Times to 1276

HIST 406/506 Issues in World History to 1500

HSTAS 551 Field Course in Chinese History

HSTAS 552 Seminar in Chinese History

HSTAS 555556 Core Research Seminar in Chinese History


Emperor Huizong. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Accumulating Culture: The Collections of Emperor Huizong. Forthcoming: University of Washington Press, 2008.

Emperor Huizong and Late Northern Song China: The Politics of Culture and the Culture of Politics.Coedited with Maggie Bickford. Cambridge: Harvard Asia Center, 2006. In it, “Introduction” and “Huizong’s Stone Inscriptions” pp. 1-27 and 230-274.

"Succession to High Office: The Chinese Case," in Culture, technology and history: Implications of the anthropological work of Jack Goody, ed. David R. Olson and Michael Cole. Erlbaum, 2006. pp. 49-71.

Women and the Family in Chinese History. Routledge, 2003. 291 pp. In series, Critical Asian Scholarship.

Culture and Power in the Reconstitution of the Chinese Realm, 200-600. Coedited with Scott Pearce and Audrey Spiro. Harvard University East Asia Center. 359 pp. Also co-edited introduction, pp. 1-32.

"Taoism and Art at the Court of Song Huizong," in Taoism and the Arts of China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. p. 94-111.

“Taking Out the Grand Carriage: Imperial Spectacle and the Visual Culture of Northern Song Kaifeng,”Asia Major 12.1 (1999), 33-65.

The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period. University of California Press, 1993.

Religion and Society in T'ang and Sung China, coedited with Peter S. Gregory. University of Hawaii Press, 1993. In it, "Historical and Religious Landscape," with Peter S. Gregory, pp. 1-44, and "The State Response to Popular Funeral Practices in the Sung," pp. 209-40

Confucianism and Family Rituals in Imperial China: A Social History of Writing about Rites. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

“Cremation in Sung China,” American HistoricaI Review 95 (1990), 406-28.

The Aristocratic Families of Early Imperial China: A Case Study of the Poling Ts'ui Family. Cambridge University Press, 1978.

For a fuller list of publications, see my webpage: