Knowledge Exchange


Second Century Lecture Series
Inaugural Lecture by Professor Jonathan Spence

Below the State: The Many Lives of Those Contesting Authority in Eighteenth Century China

Jonathan Spence

This public lecture examines how early Chinese sources from three hundred years ago guide us into the worlds where the ordinary bureaucrats lost their way. It looks at the universe of peddlers and doctors, exiles and wanderers, exam candidates and temple guardians, forgers and inn-keepers, fortune tellers, mountain dwellers and travelling salesmen.

About Professor Spence:
Jonathan Spence holds the title of Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and has long been regarded as one of the most influential historians of Chinese history.

Spence’s writings over the years have ranged from the life and missionary career of Matteo Ricci to works on the Taiping Rebellion, the Chinese Revolution, and Mao Zedong. Spence’s magnum opus, "The Search for Modern China," took shape in the lecture hall at Yale. This book remains one of the most important introductions to Chinese history, well-loved by readers, scholars and students.

Spence has received numerous accolades in his long career. He won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1979, received the Harold D Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983, and a MacArthur fellowship in 1988, the same year he was appointed to the Council of Scholars for the Library of Congress. In 1993, Yale named him a Sterling Professor of History. He has received honorary degrees, from, among others, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Oxford University. Spence was made a corresponding member of the British Academy in 1997, and Queen Elizabeth II named him, in 2001, a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. In 2003, he received the Sidney Hook Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In 2004 and 2005, he served as president of the American Historical Association. In 2008, he gave the 60th Anniversary Reith Lectures, broadcast on BBC Radio, and in 2010, he delivered the annual Jefferson Lecture at the Library of Congress, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.

About the Second Century Lecture Series:
The Second Century Lecture Series aims to maintain the momentum of the University’s Centenary celebrations by bringing the most distinguished scholars in their field to share their experience and world-class expertise with the University and the public.

The inaugural Second Century Lecture is organised by the Faculty of Arts and supported by the Faculty of Social Sciences, The Hong Kong International Literary Festival, United Airlines and The Peninsula Hong Kong.

Full lecture video: