Introduction to EAS

Chart shaped like a tree, featuring "branches" that correspond to possible careers in EAS.

East Asian Studies at Harvard is dedicated to the study of East Asia, both as a vital part of the world today and as one of the great civilizations of human history. To study East Asia is to be exposed to a world with different forms of political activity and social relations, religious traditions of great depth and philosophical schools with enduring insights, and literatures of unusual range and power. It is also to study a world that since the 19th century has come to share in the dilemmas of modernity that we all confront. For some this inquiry provides a challenging and satisfying addition to a liberal arts education. For some it is an opportunity to restore connections to an ancestral past. For others it leads to graduate studies. And for many others it is the beginning of a professional career with an East Asian component.

During the last century East Asia established an extraordinary record of economic growth and cultural change. As the new century begins, economic crises and dramatic political realignments have both cooled simplistic boosterism of the "East Asian miracle" and at the same time reaffirmed the critical importance of developments in East Asia to all of our futures.

We can expect the countries of East Asia to play an even greater role in world-wide processes of economic, political, and cultural change in decades to come. The achievements of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam should come as no surprise when we recognize that the sophisticated, evolving patterns of political and social organization, literary accomplishment, and economic development of East Asia grow out of a civilization with a history of at least three thousand years. The mixed record of dealing with the problems of modernity is also part of a global story, reminding us of comparable traumas of modern history in the West and around the world, but the East Asian experience may offer valuable and thought-provoking lessons.

Two professors and four students smile at the camera, seated around a restaurant table.
2018 EAS Senior Dinner with Professors Ryuichi Abe and Michael Puett


Harvard has been at the forefront of teaching and research in East Asian studies for over fifty years. Its world-renowned faculty and impressive library holdings have made it a center for scholarship, and its museum collections have attracted constant interest. Faculty members with specializations relating to China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Inner Asia have a high-profile presence throughout the University. There are also a variety of interdisciplinary research institutes: the Asia Center, the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, the Korea Institute, the John K. Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, the East Asian Legal Studies Program at the Harvard Law School, and the Harvard-Yenching Institute. A wealth of opportunities reflecting the range of Harvard's East Asia faculty, a flexibility born of the diversity of the field, a commitment to faculty-student interaction and regular advising, and strong support for study abroad and summer internships in East Asia combine to ensure that students will be able to pursue their personal interests in depth whether their primary focus is the humanities, the social sciences, or even the natural sciences.

Faculty in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations teach Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Manchu, Mongolian, and Vietnamese languages and history, religion, philosophy and literature. The faculty who teach East Asia related courses in other departments, such as Anthropology, Economics, Fine Arts, Government, History, and Sociology, also play an active role in the East Asian Studies tutorial program. Faculty with East Asian specializations in other parts of the University, including the Law School, Business School, and School of Public Health, also advise EAS concentrators. Concentrators interested in Japan can draw on Harvard's strengths in Japanese art, Buddhism, classical poetry and literature, traditional and modern fiction, early modern and modern history, economics, politics, sociology, and linguistics. There are also growing programs in Korean history, literature, and social sciences, and in traditional and modern Vietnamese history. For those interested in China Harvard is particularly strong in the areas of anthropology, fine arts, the intellectual and religious traditions of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, traditional poetry, literature and aesthetics, music, later imperial and modern history, and politics, economics, and sociology.

The languages, literatures, art, history, philosophies, and religions of East Asia, as well as its social, political, and economic structures differ markedly from those in the West. These differences offer students the opportunity to examine the values we assume to be given. In intellectual terms this inevitably leads to greater self-awareness and appreciation of the diversity and richness of human behavior and experience. Furthermore, the economic development of East Asian countries and the increasingly important role they have come to play in the world today suggests practical reasons for seeking rigorous training in East Asian Studies.


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