1930-31, Spring

Professor DeVargas visits from Yenching University and teaches one half-course: “Chinese 12: The Cultural Renaissance in China.”

1931, Oct. 30

HYI Trustees agree to invite Professor Serge Elisséeff to Harvard for visiting lectureships in the year 1932-33.


First course in the Japanese language taught at Harvard. The year-long class is taught by Hideo Kishimoto and entitled “Japanese 1: Elementary Japanese.” Five students – three undergraduates and two graduates – enroll. In the same year, Kishimoto inaugurates a graduate research class to match the one offered on the China side. It is entitled “Japanese 20: Reading and Research.”

1931-32, Fall

Professor Lucius Porter of Yenching University returns to Harvard as a visiting professor on behalf of the Harvard-Yenching Institute. He teaches two half-courses, an undergraduate class “Chinese 12: Survey of Chinese Thought” and a graduate course “Chinese 22: Mencius on Human Nature and Political Philosophy.”

James Ware, a graduate student in Chinese, co-teaches Chinese 1 with Mei.

Early 1930s

Substantial cutbacks in HYI funding for Asian studies at Harvard and in China, resulting from reduced dividends on endowment investments.

Graduate students supported by HYI and affiliated with Harvard during this period include John Fairbank and Edwin Reischauer.


James Ware receives the first Ph.D. degree in Chinese studies to be granted by Harvard. A specialist in Pre-Tang Chinese Buddhism, his dissertation is entitled “Wei Shou on Chinese Buddhism.” A portion of this dissertation is published in T’oung-pao 29 (1933).

July 6 - Aug. 16

First Summer Seminar in Far Eastern Studies held at Harvard University.


James Ware, having received his doctorate, fills in for Mei (who is on leave) as Instructor of Chinese. In addition to Chinese 1 and 2, he teaches a half-course in the spring entitled “Chinese 10: The Historical and Intellectual Background of Chinese Literature.”

Serge Elisséeff teaches at Harvard for the first time. He teaches two classes – “Chinese 10: Explanation of a Chinese Historical Text” which focuses on Ssu-ma Ch’ien, and “Japanese 2: History of Japanese Civilization before 1800.”


HYI receives gift of the two stone lions that presently stand on the lawn in front of 2 Divinity Avenue.

1933, Nov. 13

HYI Trustees appoint Elisséeff Director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute on a lifetime basis and nominate him Professor of Far Eastern Languages of Harvard University, effective September 1, 1934.


Elisséeff is sent to China by the HYI to learn colloquial Chinese and consult with the Yenching side of HYI’s operations. Kishimoto remains as the sole Japanese instructor. In addition to language classes, he teaches two half-courses, one each semester: “Japanese 10a: The Historical Background of Japanese Civilization” and “Japanese 10b: History of Japanese Religions.”

Mei returns and co-teaches Chinese language classes with James Ware. They are joined by Charles Gardner, a graduate student in the History Department, who teaches “Chinese 20: The History of China.” This is the first course offered in the Chinese curriculum to be cross-listed with the History department, as “History 20L.”


Elisséeff returns from China to assume day-to-day directorship of the Harvard-Yenching Institute. He also resumes teaching classes on Japanese language, early Japanese history, and Chinese classics. Kishimoto leaves.

Graduate course offerings in Chinese are expanded to encompass more methodological and theoretical themes. Mei teaches “Chinese 5: Chinese Theories of Literature and History,” while Gardner teaches “Chinese 12: Historical Method in the Study of Chinese History.” A total of three students enroll in the two courses, one in the former and two in the latter.

This is Mei Guangdi’s final year at Harvard.


Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series initiated. The first title is Albert Herrmann, Historical and Commercial Atlas of China. It is published by Harvard University Press. Charles Sidney Gardner receives his Ph.D. in history with a dissertation entitled “A Chapter from the Basic Annals of the Draft Tsing History.” He assumes a position as Instructor in Chinese.


Teaching staff in Chinese and Japanese is limited to James Ware, Charles Gardner, and Serge Elisséeff. Ware continues to offer the three-year course in Chinese. Elisséeff expands the Japanese language program into a two-year course (elementary and intermediate). Charles Gardner offers a new year-long survey of Chinese history entitled “Chinese 11: History of China. Evolution of Chinese Culture from Antiquity to the Present.”

There are only three Harvard graduate students in Chinese (none in Japanese) at this time.


Inaugural issue of the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies published.


John Fairbank joins the faculty of the History department and teaches his first course at Harvard. It is titled “History 83b: History of the Far East since 1793.” The course is immediately popular, attracting a total of 43 students.

Gardner’s survey of Chinese history is relisted as “History 85: History of China – Political, Institutional and Cultural Evolution from Antiquity to the Present” and cross-listed with the Chinese language program. Elisséeff’s Japanese history course is also cross-listed with the History department for the first time.

Three teachers, one Japanese and two Chinese (Mr. Wang, Weng, and Dr. Shimoyama), join the language teaching staff as assistant instructors.

In anticipation of the formation of FEL, the number of graduate students in Far Eastern Languages increase to 12, a 300% increase over the previous year.

1937, Feb. 9

Creation of the Division of Far Eastern Languages

Division of Far Eastern Languages formally founded by vote of the Harvard Faculty. Elisséeff appointed first chair. FEL as a “Department” can be found in the minutes of faculty meetings, and the term “Division” ceases to appear after the late 1930s.


First A.M. degree granted in Far Eastern Languages.


Elisséeff offers a new year-long, mixed level course entitled “Japanese 15: History of Japanese Literature.” This is the first course dedicated to subject of Japanese literature to be taught at Harvard.

First undergraduate concentrator in Far Eastern Languages.

1937, October 5

Appointment of Elisséeff as first Chairman of the Division of Far Eastern Languages is announced at the Harvard faculty meeting.

1938, March 22

Faculty votes to change primary administrative subdivision of the Faculty from Division to Department. “Two or more Departments may, at their discretion, organize themselves into a Division and delegate to that Division such authority as they may desire.” This change takes effect as of the 1939-40 academic year. Hereafter FEL is known exclusively as a Department.


First Ph.D. in Far Eastern Studies awarded to Tu-chien Weng, a specialist in Mongol history, for a dissertation entitled “The Life of Ai-hsieh.” Weng received his B.A. and M.A. from Yenching University, and is evidence that the close relationship between Harvard and Yenching fostered by the Harvard-Yenching Institute affected not just faculty appointments, but also graduate student admissions. After receiving his degree, Weng assumes a traveling fellowship in Paris under the auspices of the Harvard-Yenching Institute.


Japanese and Chinese are grouped together for the first time in the Reports of the President of Harvard College and the Harvard Course Catalogue under the rubric “Far Eastern Languages.”

Elisséeff adds a third, advanced year to the Japanese language curriculum.

In his final graduate year, Edwin O. Reischauer joins the FEL faculty as an instructor. He teaches beginning and intermediate Chinese.

Undergraduate concentrators in Far Eastern Languages increase to a total of three students.


Reischauer receives his Ph.D. in Chinese Studies from Harvard with a special field in Japanese history. His dissertation is titled "Ennin's Diary of his Travels in T'ang China, 838-847." He assumes the post of Instructor in Far Eastern Languages.


Fairbank and Reischauer inaugurate what will come to be popularly known as the “Rice Paddies” course. In their first years, the two semesters of the course are taught as “Chinese 10a: Survey of the History of Eastern Asia from Early Times to 1500” and “History 83b: Survey of the History of Eastern Asia from 1500 to the Present Time.” The first semester is co-taught by Reischauer and Fairbank. The second semester is taught by Fairbank alone. In latter parlance, the class is most typically referred to as the “History of East Asian Civilization.”

Fairbank initiates Harvard’s broader academic community outreach efforts in the field of East Asian studies by organizing the Far Eastern Institute, which is sponsored by the Committees on Chinese and Japanese Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies, and further supported by Harvard-Yenching Institute. The primary goal of the Institute is to “meet the needs of college and secondary-school teachers who desired a fundamental background in the cultures of the Far East” by offering instruction in the history and art of China and Japan.