Perdue, Peter C. 1949–

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Perdue, Peter C. 1949–


Born April 21, 1949. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1970, M.A., 1973, Ph.D., 1981.


Office—Yale University, Department of History, 2682 Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York St., New Haven, CT 06511. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, historian, and educator. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, instructor, 1980-81, assistant professor, 1982-87, associate professor, 1987-94, professor of history, 1994-2008, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations, 2000-08, faculty head, 1990-99, acting head of history faculty, 2002-03, member of humanities department curriculum committee, 1980-81, advisor on Asian studies, 1985—, member of committee on curricula, 1986-89, member of history of science and technology graduate program coordinating committee, 1987—, member of cultural studies committee, 1990-92, member of committee on undergraduate admissions and financial aid, 1995, member of Edgerton Prize committee, 2006; Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of history, 2008—.


Association of Asian Studies (member of New England Conference planning committee, 1985; member of Levenson Prize committee, 1999), American Historical Association (member of Fairbank Prize committee, 2004-05 and 2006-07).


National Defense Education Act Title VI Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, 1971-72; Fulbright Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, 1977-78; Social Science Research Council Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, 1977-79; Whiting Fellowship, 1979-80; Mellon Fellow, Aspen Institute, 1983; travel grant from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), 1987; Metcalfe Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1987-88; Edgerton Award, MIT, 1988; ACLS Fellowship in Chinese Studies, 1990; Levitan Prize, MIT, 1992; National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1993, for work in Russian archives; Qing History Institute Honorary Visiting Professor, China People's University, 1995—; Fulbright Research Fellowship, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, 2006-07.


Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan, 1500-1850, Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1987.

China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

(Contributor and editor, with Ann Laura Stoler and Carole McGranahan) Imperial Formations, School for Advanced Research Press (Santa Fe, NM), 2007.

Contributor to books, including Chinese History in Economic Perspective, edited by Thomas G. Rawski and Lillian M. Li, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1992; Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, edited by Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994; Warfare in Chinese History, edited by Hans van de Ven, Brill (Boston, MA), 2000; Land, Property, and the Environment, edited by John Richards, Institute for Contemporary Studies Press (Oakland, CA), 2002; Warfare in Inner Asian History, edited by Nicola di Cosmo, Brill (Boston, MA), 2002; The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, edited by Joel Mokyr, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003; Constituting Modernity: Private Property in the East and West, edited by Huri Islamoglu, I.B. Tauris Publishers (London, England), 2004; Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History, edited by Bradley J. Parker and Lars Rodseth, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 2005.

Contributor of essays and articles to periodicals, including Journal of Asian Studies, Modern China, Modern Asian Studies, International History Review,Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Education about Asia, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, and the Journal of Early Modern History.


Historian Peter C. Perdue was born on April 21, 1949. His scholarly focus lies within the wide-ranging field of East Asian studies, and he has written and edited three nonfiction texts on the subject titled: Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan, 1500-1850, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia, and Imperial Formations. Perdue graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in history. He then continued his academic career at Harvard earning his M.A. in East Asian studies in 1973 and his Ph.D. in history and East Asian languages in 1981. While a graduate student, Perdue was awarded the Fulbright and Whiting fellowships in addition to the National Defense Education Act fellowship for foreign language and area studies. Perdue acquired a teaching post at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1980 and subsequently earned the titles of assistant and associate professor of history. He also served as head of the MIT history faculty from 1990-99 and as the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations. Beginning in 2008 he is a professor of history at Yale University. His professional accolades include the Edgerton Award (1988), the Levitan Prize (1992), a Fulbright Research Fellowship, as well as an honorary visiting professorship at Qing History Institute, China People's University, in Beijing.

Perdue's first nonfiction book publication, Exhausting the Earth, provides a holistic historical study of the Hunan province, one of China's major economic and agricultural centers, during the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties. His primary objective lies in detailing the growth of the province and its effect on the state over these three centuries. He traces Hunan's economic and social movements, such as construction projects and immigration, which operate simultaneously with government action, and he presents the resulting consequences for both the state and peasantry. Perdue constructs a model for viewing Hunan's development and resource management where commercialization and commerce are catalysts for politics and population movement. The broad timeline covered in the book allows Perdue to trace in factual detail Hunan's progression from a frontier wilderness to an invaluable economic center and the ascension and decline of its governing polity.

Likewise, Perdue's China Marches West, while significantly narrowing the historical scope, explores the successful settlement efforts and incorporation of culturally diverse populations under Qing rule and details the intense competition for land and resources that preceded Qing conquests. According to reviewer Franklin J. Woo in the China Review International, "the three major players he focuses on in this contestation are the Manchu Qing (1644-1911), the Muscovite Russians (1613-1917), and the Mongolian Zunghars (1671-1761)." Taking into account the many elements involved in detailing this particular history, Woo commented that "Perdue is successful in his attempt to be inclusive and multicultural in his approach by giving due credit to the particularity and integrity of all three actors in Central Eurasia" and that he "competently unravels the complexity of the dynamics of Central Eurasia up to the latter part of the eighteenth century with the successful formation of the Qing empire." Diana Lary, in Pacific Affairs, praised Perdue's scholarly efforts and stated, "The book is based on impeccable scholarship; the author has used such a rich range of sources, in seven languages, that the work must be described as definitive." China Marches West incorporates many evidential forms including maps and photographs as well as translated documents from several languages forming, as Jennifer W. Jay, in the Canadian Journal of History, noted, "a conceptual framework of empire building, state formation, and historiography … and a broader Chinese dynastic perspective." Perdue also imbeds alternative narratives into his larger historical framework including an account of the decline of the Zunghar people, and their protracted conflicts with the Qing, placed into the larger context of the Qing's Eurasian expansion and anxieties regarding border security. Historian reviewer Michael Chang wrote, "Perdue begins by outlining ecological barriers confronted by all with ambitions in Central Eurasia, while nicely developing key analytical themes: the logistics of military supply, strategic and military decision making on the frontier, and the ramifications of such decisions on state formation." The economy of warfare, in addition to social themes, is indeed a large part of his central expansion thesis in China Marches West, and Perdue provides many examples of the results of this prolonged development tactic. "Perdue argues that the early Qing empire was comparable to the European states in military expansion, commercial exchange, and technological innovation at least until the mid-eighteenth century," noted Victor Zatsepine in a review for the Journal of East Asian Studies. Perdue uses this implied analogy between East and West enabling a neutral and unbiased telling in which he "avoids many Western scholars' preoccupation with the Chinese maritime frontier as the main field of interaction between a dynamic Europe and a passive and immobilized China," according to Romeyn Taylor in History: Review of New Books. Taylor further remarked, "China Marches West is a theoretically sophisticated and erudite work."

Perdue's approach to historical scholarship is also evidenced in his textual and editorial contributions to Imperial Formations, a 2007 book publication he edited with Ann Laura Stoler and Carole McGranahan. The text breaks with the practice of measuring all forms of imperialism against the European model and seeks to bring attention to the involvement of more marginalized elements in the development of the majority empire. Imperial Formations includes chapters on law and nationality in Russia, race and culturalism in China, Japanese imperialism, and the aftermath of the colonial era in Tibet. Perdue's academic interests also lie in the realm of historical method and the comparative histories of China, Russia, Mongolia, and Japan. His essays and articles have appeared in academic journals such as the Journal of Asian Studies, the International History Review, the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, and the Journal of Early Modern History. Perdue has also taught numerous graduate and undergraduate course offerings at MIT, and he is a member of the Association of Asian Studies.



Agricultural History, January 1, 1989, Lillian M. Li, review of Exhausting the Earth: State and Peasant in Hunan, 1500-1850, p. 95.

American Historical Review, April 1, 2006, Christopher P. Atwood, review of China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia, p. 445.

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September 1, 1988, review of Exhausting the Earth, p. 167.

Asian Affairs, November 1, 2006, Michael Dillon, review of China Marches West, p. 411.

Canadian Journal of History, March 22, 2006, Jennifer W. Jay, review of China Marches West, p. 183.

China Quarterly, December 1, 2005, Pamela Kyle Crossley, review of China Marches West, p. 994.

China Review International, September 22, 2005, Franklin J. Woo, review of China Marches West, p. 538.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March 1, 2006, V.J. Symons, review of China Marches West, p. 1285.

Foreign Affairs, May 1, 2005, Lucian W. Pye, review of China Marches West, p. 149.

Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, December 1, 2006, Mark Elvin, review of China Marches West, p. 539.

Historian, December 22, 2006, Michael Chang, review of China Marches West, p. 857.

History: Review of New Books, June 22, 2005, Romeyn Taylor, review of China Marches West, p. 160.

International History Review, March 1, 2006, John W. Dardess, review of China Marches West, pp. 157-159.

Journal of Asian Studies, August 1, 1988, Yeh-Chien Wang, review of Exhausting the Earth, p. 612; November 1, 2005, Edward Rhoadsn, review of China Marches West, p. 1010.

Journal of East Asian Studies, May 1, 2007, Victor Zatsepine, review of China Marches West, p. 350.

Journal of Military History, October 1, 2005, Edward L. Dreyer, review of China Marches West, p. 1203.

Pacific Affairs, December 22, 2005, Diana Lary, review of China Marches West, p. 650.

Political Science Quarterly, December 22, 2005, Morris Rossabi, review of China Marches West, p. 693.

Technology Review, January 1, 1988, Peter C. Perdue, "The Genius of China," p. 76.

Times Higher Education Supplement, December 1, 2006, L.J. Newby, "The Final Steppe for Qianlong," p. 26.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Web site, (May 24, 2006), faculty profile.