William C Kirby


Professor William C Kirby
Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa (2017)

Professor William C Kirby is a leading historian of modern China.  He is T M Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University and Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Trained as a historian at Dartmouth College, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts, and then at Harvard University where he completed his Master of Arts and PhD, Professor Kirby is more than a historian of China: he is interested in China’s business, economic and political development in an international context.  He has researched and taught on many distinct but related subjects such as the growth of modern companies in China from the Republican Era onward, be these companies private or public, Chinese or foreign; companies’ structure and business relations across Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as China’s relations with the United States and Europe.

Professor Kirby has published extensively on contemporary issues of Chinese society, including China’s relations with Europe, the history of China’s modern capitalism, the history of freedom in China, the international socialist economy of the 1950s, and relations across the Taiwan Strait.

Among Professor Kirby’s numerous publications, the following books must be mentioned: Germany and Republican China published in 1984 and first translated into Chinese and published in China ten years later under the title Chiang Kai-shek and Nazi Germany; State and Economy in Republican China, a two-volume encyclopedia that he co-edited and published in 2001; Realms of Freedom in the Modern Chinese World that he edited and published in 2004; and Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth that he co-authored and published in 2014.

Professor Kirby is not only a talented academic, he is also an experienced and highly dynamic university administrator.  He chaired Harvard’s History Department from 1995 to 2000 and directed the Harvard University Asia Center from 1999 to 2002.  From 2002 to 2006, he was the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University’s largest School with 10,000 students, 1,000 faculty members, 2,500 staff and an annual budget of US$1 billion.  Under his stewardship, the Faculty rapidly expanded and became internationalised, actively promoting liberal, or liberating arts education, as he likes to say, and facilitating studies at home and abroad.  Then, from 2006 to 2013, Professor Kirby was the Director of Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, a prestigious institution created in 1955, striving to advance scholarship in all fields of China and East Asia studies.

Professor Kirby holds other important positions at Harvard University which have contributed a lot to developing relations with China: he serves as Chairman of the Harvard China Fund, Harvard’s academic venture fund for China, and Faculty Chair of the Harvard Center Shanghai, Harvard’s first University-wide center located outside the United States.

Through this rich managerial experience, Professor Kirby has developed innovative ideas about universities’ governance and the important role that they should play in our globalised world.  These ideas have become the central theme of a book on global universities that he is currently working on, The World of Universities in the 21st Century.

Finally, Professor Kirby is no stranger to Hong Kong: he has an in-depth familiarity with the higher education sector in Hong Kong.  He was a member of the University Grants Committee (UGC) of Hong Kong from 2009 to 2015 and Chairperson of the Selection Panel of the UGC Teaching Award from 2010 to 2015.  Professor Kirby’s profound knowledge of and research into modern China, business, entrepreneurship, economics and education can foster cross-disciplinary research in HKBU and open up many potential links for the University to build on.  Professor Kirby’s significant experience and achievements in developing the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard will also provide a model for the development of HKBU as a liberal arts university.

Professor William Kirby has excelled in historical research, teaching and writing, and has been recognized internationally as a remarkable historian of modern China.  He commands solid scholarship, effective leadership and great foresight.  He has given exceptional contributions to the higher education enterprise. Professor Kirby has profoundly influenced and will continue to inspire the promotion of liberal arts education in Hong Kong and around the world.