Theiss, Janet M. 1964-

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Theiss, Janet M. 1964-


Born November 10, 1964. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A., 1986; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1998.


Office—Department of History, University of Utah, 380 S. 1400 E., Rm. 211, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. E-mail—[email protected].


Academic and historian. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, assistant professor of history, 1997-2004, associate professor of history, 2004—, director of the Asian Studies Program, 2005—, director of the Asia Center, 2007—. Foreign language and area studies fellow, University of Michigan, 1986-87; Katherine Taylor fellow for study in China, University of Michigan, 1987-89; Regents fellow, University of California, 1993-94; Fulbright doctoral dissertation research abroad fellow, 1994-95; Mabelle McLeod Lewis dissertation fellow, 1995-96; Dean's dissertation fellow, University of California, 1996-97; Lowell Durham postdoctoral fellow, Tanner Humanities Center, University of Utah, 2001-02; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 2005-06.


Association for Asian Studies.


Faculty fellow award, University of Utah, 2001; Ramona Cannon teaching award, College of Humanities, University of Utah, 2004.


Disgraceful Matters: The Politics of Chastity in Eighteenth-Century China, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals and academic journals, including Journal of Song Yuan Studies, Journal of Asian Studies, and Gender & History.


Janet M. Theiss is an academic and historian. She completed her undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College and in 1998 earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She began working as an assistant professor of history at Salt Lake City's University of Utah in 1997 and was promoted to associate professor of history in 2004. Theiss has served as the director of the Asian Studies Program since 2005 and in 2007 was named as the director of the university's Asia Center. Her research interests include the history of late Imperial China, comparative gender history, and Chinese legal history.

Theiss published her first book, Disgraceful Matters: The Politics of Chastity in Eighteenth-Century China, in 2004. The book covers the issue of female chastity during the Chinese Qing period (1644-1911) and incorporates a number of legal and bureaucratic documents that previous accounts on the topic do not largely address. Robert E. Hegel, writing in China Review International, commented that the book "significantly complicates all earlier readings. This is largely because of the rich diversity of her primary materials, especially the 866 criminal case reports she surveyed in the First Historical Archives in Beijing. But along with insights from the best of recent scholarship, she supplemented them with a rich sampling of jurisprudential advice from bureaucrats, guides to magistrates, and imperial edicts…. Consequently her study will be widely influential." Hegel noted that "as with all good scholarship, Janet Theiss' findings raise as many questions as they answer. Significantly, she opens a range of concerns about her primary materials and how one should read them," adding that "as a student of literature I am drawn to the conventionality in the documents at the core of Theiss' study: what is their relationship to the reality that they profess to represent?" Kenneth J. Hammond, reviewing the book in the Historian, concluded that "Theiss's research is exemplary, and her analysis is subtle and nuanced. This book should serve as a model of what archival research can yield. The writing is clear and accessible, even for nonspecialists. This is a welcome contribution to the literature of the field."

Evelyn S. Rawski, writing in the Journal of Social History, remarked that "Theiss' monograph joins some recent publications that throw new light on the varied sexual mores existing in Qing society…. She explores the juncture between state policy and the lives of individual subjects to advance our understanding of the historical context of state intervention into the private realm of female sexuality. Her analysis of the chastity cult highlights female agency in what has traditionally been considered to be a normative ideal foisted by males on helpless women." Yuen Ting Lee, reviewing the book in the Canadian Journal of History, found that the author's "high-quality mastery of an impressive range of archives … makes this book particularly rewarding for historians. However, while these documents focus on the lives of non-elite and non-literate women, it would have been helpful if Theiss had made a comparison of the lives of ordinary women and aristocrats. Although the book may be somewhat difficult for first-year undergraduates, it is well-researched, well-structured, and well-argued. Historians and scholars of the Chinese gender history field will benefit a great deal from reading Disgraceful Matters."



Asian Affairs, November 1, 2005, Anne Gerritsen, review of Disgraceful Matters: The Politics of Chastity in Eighteenth-Century China, p. 420.

Canadian Journal of History, winter, 2006, Yuen Ting Lee, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 612.

China Review International, fall, 2005, Robert E. Hegel, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 307.

Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, December 1, 2005, Susan Mann, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 522.

Historian, summer, 2006, Kenneth J. Hammond, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 373.

History: The Journal of the Historical Association, July 1, 2006, Paul Bailey, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 434.

Journal of Asian Studies, February 1, 2006, Paul S. Ropp, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 177.

Journal of Social History, summer, 2006, Evelyn S. Rawski, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 1200.

Law Society Journal, August 1, 2005, Sandra Berns, review of Disgraceful Matters, p. 94.


Department of History, University of Utah Web site, (May 18, 2008), author profile.