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Melissa Macauley


Ph.D., Berkeley, 1993
Curriculum Vitae


Geographic Field(s):  Global History; Asian History

Thematic Field(s):  Economic and Labor History; Legal and Criminal History; War and Empire in History

Principal Research Interest(s):  Late Imperial and Modern Chinese History; Chinese International History; Sino-Southeast Asian Relations; Social History and Legal Culture; maritime history; migration


Melissa Macauley (Ph.D. Berkeley, 1993) specializes in late imperial and modern Chinese history, 1500 to 1958. Her research focuses on such topics as the interrelated history of southeastern China and Southeast Asia; colonialism and imperialism in East and Southeast Asia; and legal culture in Chinese social history. Her recent book, Distant Shores: Colonial Encounters on China’s Maritime Frontier, was published by Princeton University Press in 2021 and received the Bentley Book Prize from the World History Association in 2022 (the China Times Publishing Co. will publish a Chinese translation in 2023). Her first book, Social Power and Legal Culture: Litigation Masters in Late Imperial China, was published by Stanford University Press in 1998 (a Chinese-language version was published by Beijing University Press in 2012). She currently is writing a comprehensive history of the South China Sea, tentatively titled A People’s History of the South China Sea. As part of that larger project, she is focusing on a shorter monograph on how Sino-American relations were shaped by the historical experiences of the two countries in Southeast Asia.

Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education (Fulbright-Hays), the Institute of International Education (Fulbright fellowship) and the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, among others. She has served as the An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Studies at Harvard University, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ), a Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Qing History at Renmin University (Beijing), and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. She was awarded a WCAS Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999 and named a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in 2004.

 Affiliated Programs

Publications (selected) 

  • “Submerged Hostilities: Hydrological Flux and Social Disputation in Southeastern China, 1669-1912.” Journal of Asian Studies3, forthcoming 2023.
  • Distant Shores: Colonial Encounters on China’s Maritime Frontier. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021; paperback, 2023.
  • “Entangled States: The Translocal Repercussions of Rural Pacification in China, 1869-1873.”American Historical Review3 (June 2016). 
  • Shehui quanli he falü wenhua: Zhonghua diguo wanqi de songshi[Translation of Social Power and Legal Culture]. Tr. Ming Hui.  Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2012 (with new preface).
  • “Small Time Crooks: Opium, Migrants, and the War on Drugs in China, 1819-1860.” Late Imperial China, 30.1 (June 2009): 1-47.
  • “The Disputation of the Body-Snatchers: Scandal in Chinese Legal Culture.” In Joseph W. Esherick, Wen-hsin Yeh, and Madeleine Zelin, eds. Empire, Nation, and Beyond: Chinese History in Late Imperial and Modern Times—A Festschrift in Honor of Frederic Wakeman. Berkeley: Institute for East Asian Studies, 2006, pp. 58-77.
  • “Tiaozhan quanwei: Qingdai fashang de guafu he songshi” [Contesting authority: Qing widows and their litigation masters at law].  In Meiguo xuezhe lun Zhongguo falü chuantong[American scholarship on Chinese legal traditions], revised edition.  Ed. Gao Daoyun [Karen Turner], Gao Hongjun, and He Weifang. Beijing: Qinghua daxue chubanshe [Tsinghua University Press], 2004, pp. 552-78.
  • “A World Made Simple: Law and Property in the Ottoman and Qing Empires.” Journal of Early Modern History4 (December 2001): 331-52.  *Reprinted in Huricihan Islamoglu and Peter Perdue, eds. Shared Histories of Modernity in China, India, and the Ottoman Empire. London and New Delhi: Routledge, 2009, pp. 273-98.  *Translated as “Gouzhu yige jianyue de shijie: Aosiman diguo he Qing diguo de falü ji caichan.” In Zhang Shimin, Bu Dewei, and Na Haoya, eds.  Shijie xuezhe lun Zhongguo chuantong falü wenhua [International Scholarship on Traditional Chinese Law].  Beijing: Falü chubanshe, 2010, pp. 299-326.  
  • Social Power and Legal Culture: Litigation Masters in Late Imperial China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.   
  • "Civil and Uncivil Disputes in Southeast Coastal China, 1723-1820." In Kathryn Bernhardt and Philip C.C. Huang, eds. Civil Law in Qing and Republican China.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994, pp. 85-121.  

 Public Media:

Teaching Interests 

  • Melissa Macauley is an award-winning instructor who teaches a wide array of courses on Chinese, global, and comparative history at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Graduate Courses (selected):

  • History 481-1: “Field Seminar: Early Modern Chinese History and Culture, 1500-1912.”
  • History 492: “Global China”
  • History 492: “Sino-Southeast Asian Relations”
  • History 492: “Sino-American Relations in the Modern World”
  • History 590: “Historical Pedagogy”

Undergraduate Courses (selected): 

  • History 103, "China in the American Imagination” (First-year seminar)
  • History 281, "Chinese Civilization” (Lecture)
  • History 282, “Sino-American Relations in the Modern World” (Lecture)
  • History 381-1, "Late Imperial China” (Lecture)
  • History 381-2, "Twentieth-Century China” (Lecture)
  • History 392, “Chinese Women in Modern Transformation” (Colloquium)
  • History 393, “China and the West” (Colloquium)
  • History 395, “Imperialism in Asia” (Research Seminar).

Recent Awards and Honors (Since 2000, selected)

  • Bentley Book Prize, World History Association, 2022
  • Fulbright Fellowship, Senior Scholar, Taiwan, 2020.
  • WCAS Research Innovation Grant, Northwestern University, 2018
  • Fellow, Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern University, 2014
  • Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2012
  • Appointed Gerald F. and Marjorie G. Fitzgerald Chair in Economic History, 2012.
  • Member, Institute for Advanced Study, 2008
  • Appointed Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, 2004.
  • Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2004.
  • Fellowship, Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad, 2004.
  • Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies/National Endowment for the Humanities, National Program for Advanced Study and Research in China, 2000.
  • Fellowship, Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad, 2000.