Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Irvine, where he also holds courtesy affiliations in Law and Literary Journalism. Holder of a B.A. from UC Santa Cruz, a master’s from Harvard, and a doctorate from Berkeley, he has written, coauthored, edited or coedited more than ten books. His most recent books are: Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink (2020) and China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know, updated third edition coauthored with Maura Elizabeth Cunningham (Oxford, 2018). In addition to writing for academic journals, Wasserstrom has contributed to many general interest venues, e.g., the New York Times, the TLS, and the Wall Street Journal. He is an advising editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and an academic editor of its associated China Channel. He served as a consultant for two prize-winning Long Bow Film Group documentary, was interviewed on camera for the film “Joshua; Teenager vs. Superpower,” is an adviser to the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, and is a former member of the Board of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. In the spring of 2020, he was to be a Leverhulme Visiting Professor of Birkbeck College, University of London, but taking up that post has been delayed due to COVID-19
Areas of Expertise (5)
Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (professional)
2014-2015 Academic Year
Visiting Research Fellow (professional)
June-July 2014 Merton College, Oxford
W. Bruce Lincolm Memorial Lecturer (Northern Illinois) (professional)
University of California, Berkeley: PhD, History 1989
Harvard University: MA, East Asian Studies 1984
University of California, Santa Cruz: BA, History 1982
- American Historical Association
- Association for Asian Studies
Media Appearances (10)
How Repression (and Protest) Gets Repeated
Journal of Democracy online
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, UCI professor of history and Wichuta Teeratanabodee write, “When you place the cases of Hong Kong and Thailand side by side, an extraordinary degree of overlap—for autocrats and activists alike—is revealed, and underscores how the paths to democracy are never linear, straightforward, or a foregone conclusion. Just as the National Security Law has spurred activists and scholars to leave Hong Kong, the May 2014 military coup in Thailand set off a similar exodus from Bangkok. In their wake, each regime remade the fundamental rules for political participation.”
Why the U.S.-China Relationship Isn’t as Predictable as It Sometimes Seems
The Wall Street Journal online
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, UCI Chancellor’s Professor of History writes, “Even in the chilliest times, there are still many factors that make the relationship between Beijing and Washington markedly different from that between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War. … Placing 2001 and 2023 side by side reminds us of an enduring feature of the U.S.-China relationship: Unexpected events tangentially related, or not related at all, to that relationship can always affect it. It’s easy to fall prey to the idea that the only thing that matters is how powerful people in each capital see each other, and that incidents that involve just the two countries are still all that matters. But it isn’t true.”
The Best China Books of 2023
Five Books online
The rise of China has led to an ever broader range of books about the country becoming available in English. There’s also a greater focus on its diversity, which the country’s Communist leadership likes to downplay. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of Chinese history at UC Irvine, talks us through his favourite books of 2023, from painful historical episodes to the harsh policies targeting a largely Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang today—by way of two lighter books that focus on food and cooking.
Matthew Longo’s ‘The Picnic’ tells the story of a forgotten Pan-European gathering on the border between Hungary and Austria in 1989
The Boston Globe online
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, UCI Chancellor’s Professor of history writes, “’The Picnic’ illuminates the curious alchemy through which structural forces, personalities, contingency, minor miscalculations, and lucky little choices can combine to lead to unusual results. … And yet, by zooming in and then zooming out to register the larger picture, he provides food for thought relating to both timeless questions of struggle and agency, and topics in the headlines today.”
She studies 'sensitive topics' in Chinese history. Hong Kong denied her work visa
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, [Chancellor’s Professor of history] at the University of California, Irvine, says …. “It used to be that people who were really top scholars in institutions in other places doing cutting-edge work on sensitive subjects related to China would take up jobs at Hong Kong universities”. … But Wasserstrom says [there is] a gradual process by the Communist Party and its stewards in Hong Kong to rid the city's universities of critics.
China Buries Former Premier Li Keqiang Following Restrained Funeral
Voice of America online
Some analysts say the lack of information about how the Chinese government might handle Li’s passing fits how Beijing handles sensitive events like the passing of a former top official. "This fits into a pattern of not giving out much information, if we think about how little information has been given out about top officials who have been stripped of their power," Jeff Wasserstrom, a historian of modern China [and Chancellor’s Professor] at the University of California, Irvine, told VOA in a phone interview.
China Struggles to Convince Li Mourners of Reason for Death
As China prepared to cremate former Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday, skepticism among some residents of his hometown over the official account of his death showed a lack of trust in the ruling Communist Party. … “There is no neat way to separate out the degree to which the commemorating is out of respect or appreciation of Li’s behavior, versus being about taking an opportunity to make points about [President] Xi,” said Jeff Wasserstrom, a chancellor’s professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. “It is bound to be a mix.”
China seeks to stifle public grief for former premier Li Keqiang
The Guardian online
The CCP is particularly fearful about reaction to deaths of senior officials or public figures. … More recently, the deaths of Covid whistleblower Li Wenliang in 2020 and people in an apartment fire in Xinjiang in 2022 triggered expressions of public grief – with the latter becoming the “white paper” protests that spread across several cities at the end of last year. The CCP leaders are “haunted” by these memories, said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a [Chancellor’s] professor of … history at the University of California, Irvine.
Mao film to distract Chinese youth from economic gloom
The Times online
However, with China facing a range of domestic and external challenges, Jeff Wasserstrom [Chancellor's Professor of history], an expert on Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine believes that patriotic films about Mao could be a hard sell to the country’s young people. “If [Chinese authorities] can make the films into inspiring stories about young people in difficult times bending together for the good of the nation, I can see why they want to keep trying to tell those stories,” he said. “This can be a distraction from problems of the present, by reminding young people in China how bad things were in earlier periods when China was weaker.”
China's foreign minister removed from post
The World radio
Exactly one month after Qin Gang disappeared from public view, on Tuesday, his removal and his successor was announced in Chinese state media. No explanation was given. The sometimes outspoken foreign minister was last seen in public on June 25. The World's Marco Werman speaks to Jeff Wasserstrom, [Chancellor's] professor of history at UC Irvine to learn more about Gang's mysterious removal.
Don’t let them call the tune: A professor debates the moral questions about speaking at events sponsored by an organisation with links to the Chinese governmentIndex on Censorship
2020 ABOUT A DECADE ago, a China specialist at a US university invited me to speak on his campus, but he left out one important detail. The sponsor of my talk would be the local Confucius Institute. Confucius Institutes are educational organisations, which are designed …
Ghost writers: The author and China expert imagines a fictional futuristic lecture he’s going to give in 2049, the centenary of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-FourIndex on Censorship
2019 HISTORY IS SOMETHING that academic Jeffrey Wasserstrom regularly reviews, the future less so. However, for his new short story for this magazine, California-based Wasserstrom takes an academic lecture of the future as his inspiration.
History, Myth, and the Tales of TiananmenPopular Protest And Political Culture In Modern China
Jeffrey Ν. Wasserstrom
2018 During the emotional days that followed June 4, 1989, it seemed as though there were only two ways to tell the story of the Chinese protests and the crackdown that ended them. One could follow the CCP authorities and denigrate the protests as "counterrevolutionary riots," deny that a massacre had taken place, and claim that soldiers were the only martyrs worthy of the name.
Did China Have a 1968?The American Historical Review
2018 MY MAIN THESIS HERE ABOUT CHINA and “1968” is simple. It is best to conclude that one of three things happened: China did not have a “1968”; it had one, but one that jumped the gun chronologically by taking place in 1966; or it had one, but one that came very late and did not begin until just over two decades after the end of the eponymous year. I also have a secondary point to make, which I will focus on at the end in some comments that explain my choice of epigraphs, both of which, in one case obviously and in the other surprisingly, have direct ties to 1968.
Airbrushing history: With China’s Communist Party still in power, the way 1917 is remembered must follow the party line. One man learnt the hard wayIndex on Censorship
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Yidi Wu
2017 CHINESE INTELLECTUALS LI Dazhao and Cao Dafu could not have had more different takes on Soviet Russia and it was these differences that led to the demise of one and the celebration of another. Unlike the Russian centenary, it is not easy today, with Mao’s heirs still in power, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of a 1957 campaign that led to the purge of many intellectuals, including Cao.