Michael Nylan


Jane K. Sather History Chair

Michael Nylan 戴梅可generally writes in three disciplines: the early empires in China, philosophy, and art and archaeology.  Her current projects include a reconstruction of a Han-era Documents classic (submitted to press; under review); a general-interest study of the "Four Fathers of History" (Herodotus, Thucydides, Sima Qian, and Ban Gu), which is nearly done, and a study of the politics of the common good in early China tentatively entitled The Air We Breathe.  Recent published books include Chang'an 26 BCE: an Augustan age in China, with substantive comparisons to Rome and the Roman empire; The Chinese Pleasure Book; and two translations, of Yang Xiong's Fayan and The Art of War.

Research Interests

Early China and its modern reception: Seven centuries of Warring States through Eastern Han (475 BC–AD 220), with an emphasis on sociopolitical context; aesthetic theories and material culture; and cosmological belief; gender history and the history of such emotions as "daring" and "salutary fear" (aka prudential caution).

New Research

My new research is on the Four Fathers of History (Herodotus, Thucydides, Sima Qian, and Ban Gu); on the distinctive sociopolitical and culture conditions for classical learning in the two Han dynasties; and on "the politics of the common good" in early China.

Two book-length translations for the University of Washington Press ("Classics of Chinese Thought") series: (1) The Documents (Shu ching), in collaboration with He Ruyue, Shaanxi Shifan daxue; and (2) Wang Ch'ung's Lun heng.


PhD, Princeton University, 1976-81. East Asian Studies.

MA, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1970-73. History.

BA, University of California at Berkeley, 1968-70. History.

Additional Training:

Cambridge University (Oriental Studies) and the Institute of Archaeology (Beijing)


The Shifting Center: The Original 'Great Plan' and Later Readings (Monumenta Serica Monograph Series 24, 1992).
'The Canon of Supreme Mystery' by Yang Hsiung (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1993). A popular edition of this book has
been published under the separate title of The Elemental Changes.
"The Five 'Confucian' Classics" by Michael Nylan The Five "Confucian" Classics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001); hardbound +paperback.
Festscrift in Honor of Michael Loewe, chief guest editor, two volumes of (Asia Major, 2001).
Recarving China's Past: Art, Archaeology, and Architecture of the "Wu Family Shrines," ed. with Cary Y. Liu and Anthony
Barbieri-Low (Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 2005).
Star Gazing, Fire Phasing, and Healing in China: essays in honor of Nathan Sivin, co-editor with Henry Rosemont and Li Waiyee, two volumes, (Asia Major, 2008).
 A Re-appraisal" co-edited by Michael Nylan China's Early Empires, supplement to The Cambridge History of China, vol. 1, Ch'in and Han, co-edited with Michael Loewe (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
"Lives of Confucius," co-written by Michael Nylan Lives of Confucius, co-authored with Thomas A. Wilson (New York: Random House/Doubleday, 2010). [An authorized translation of this book is under contract in Beijing and also in Hong Kong, under the Chinese University of Hong Kong.]
Yang Xiong and the Pleasures of Reading and Classical Learning in Han China (New Haven: The American Oriental Society, 2011).
"Exemplary Figures," translated by Michael Nylan Exemplary Figures: a complete translation of Yang Xiong's Fayan (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013).
The Norton Critical Edition of the Analects, a collection of essays plus a translation (ed. Michael Nylan) (New York: Norton, 2014).
"Chang'an 26 BCE," co-edited by Michael Nylan Chang'an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China? (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015). This book is the subject of a blog report on "Best Books on China"
The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy, with Stephen Durrant, Li Waiyee, and Hans van Ess (University of Washington Press, 2016). [both hardbound and paperback]
Huanhua zhi long 幻化之龍 (Protean Dragon), with Thomas A. Wilson, trans. Jianye He (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2016). [translation, with emended text, of Lives of Confucius, under the direction of Michael Nylan]
"Blossom on the Run," co-written by Michael Nylan Blossom on the Run, with Robert Litz (children's book set in Han China, published, summer, 2016); a Chinese translation is under preparation.
"The Chinese Pleasure Book" by Michael Nylan

The Chinese Pleasure Book (Zone Books, 2018)

Further reading
Irina Dumitrescu: "Our Debt to Pleasure." The Times Literary Supplement. Jan 14, 2022.
 A New Translation by Michael Nylan The Art of War: A New Translation by Michael Nylan (W. W. Norton & Company, 2020)
The Art of War, translated by Michael Nylan The Art of War (Norton Critical Editions) (W. W. Norton & Company, 2022)

Major Articles

Three essays, on Chia Yi'sHsin shu (New Book), on Ying Shao's Feng su t'ung yi (Comprehensive Meaning of Customs), and on Yang Hsiung's T'ai hsüan ching (Canon of Supreme Mystery), in Early Chinese Texts: a Bibliographical Guide, ed. by Michael Loewe (Early China Special Monograph Series), Univ. of California Press, 1994.

"Style, Patronage, and Confucian Ideals in Han Dynasty Art: Problems of Interpretation," Archives of Asian Art 46 (1993), 93-100; a modified version of this article appears in Early China 18 (Spring 1994), 227-247.

AND Steven G. Salkever, "Comparative Political Philosophy and Liberal Education: 'Looking for Friends in History,'" P.S.: Political Science and Politics 27:2 (June 1994), 238-47.

"The chin wen/ku wen (New Text/Old Text) Controversy in Han,"T'oung pao 80 (1994), 83-145.

"The ku wen Documents in Han Times," T'oung pao 81 (1995), 1-27.

"Confucian Piety and Individualism," Journal of the American Oriental Society 116 (Jan.–March, 1996), 1-27.

"Han classicists writing in dialogue about their own tradition,"Philosophy East and West 47:2 (1996), 133-88.

"A review article: On Wu Hung's Monumentality in Chinese Art (Stanford, 1996)," for Artibus Asiae 57:1-2 (1997), 373-82.

"A review article: On Sarah Queen, From Chronicle to Canon (1996)," for Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 57.2 (Dec., 1997), 629-38.

Four entries for the new International Encyclopedia of Philosophy, on the philosophical masters Zheng Xuan, Dong Zhongshu, Jia Yi, and Yang Xiong (London: Routledge, 1998).

"Calligraphy: The Sacred Test and Text of Culture," Calligraphy and Context, ed. Cary Liu and Dora Ching (Princeton, The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1999), 1-42. An abbreviated version of this appears under the title “The Early Aesthetic Values of Writing and Calligraphy,”Oriental Art46.5 (2000), 19-29, a special edition devoted to calligraphy.

"A Problematic Model: The Han "Orthodox Synthesis," Then and Now," Imagining Boundaries: Changing Confucian Doctrines, Texts, and Hermeneutics, ed. Kai-wing Chow, On-cho Ng, and John B. Henderson (Albany, SUNY Press, 1999), 17-56.

"Golden Spindles and Axes: Elite Women in the Achaemenid and Han Empires,"The Sage and the Second Sex, essays on classicism, Confucian learning, and feminism, ed. Li Chenyang (La Salle, Open Court Press, 2000), 199-222. A version of this appearsEarly China/Ancient Greece: Thinking through Comparisons, ed. Stephen Durrant and Steven Shankman (Albany, SUNY Press, 2001).

"Sima Qian: A True Historian?" Early China 24 (1998) [published 2000]), 1-44. A version of this appears in Studies on Sima Qian’s Shiji (Records of the Historian): Narrative, Authorship, and Historiography, ed. Michael Puett (forthcoming for Harvard University Press).

"Legacies of the Chengdu Plain," in Ancient Sichuan: Treasures from a Lost Civilization, ed. Robert W. Bagley (Seattle and Princeton: Seattle Art Museum and Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 307-328.

"Boundaries of the Body and Body Politic in Early Confucian Thought," Boundaries and Justice, ed. David Miller and Sohail Hashmi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 112-35. Carnegie Council and Ethikon Institute series. This is to be reprinted in a new edition entitled Confucian Political Ethics, ed. Daniel Bell (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

"Textual Authority in pre-Han and Han," Early China 25 (2001), 1-54.

two entries for the Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, 2,500 words on Yang Xiong; 3,000 words on Wang Chong, ed. by Anthony Cua (London: Routledge, 2001).

35 entries for theEncyclopedia of Confucianism, ed. by Dr. Xinzhong Yao (London, Curzon Press, 2001), including the key entries on jia (political orientation, scholastic lineage), Ru (classicist, Confucian), jin wen/gu wen (Modern Script/Archaic Script texts).

with Mark Csikszentmihalyi, "Constructing Lineages and Inventing Traditions through Exemplary Figures in Early China," T'oung pao 89 (2003), 1-41.

"Childhood, Formal Education, and Ideology in China," in Beyond the Century of the Child: Cultural History and Developmental Psychology, ed. Willem Koops and Michael Zuckerman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003, pp. 137-55.

"The Politics of Pleasure," Asia Major, n.s. 14:1 (2001) [actual publication date 2004], 73-124.

"Admonitions by a Later Instructress," First Masterpiece of Chinese Painting: The Admonitions Scroll, ed. Shane McCausland (London: The British Museum Press, 2003-4), pp. 122-25.

"Restoring and Restorying Monuments of the Past," Orientations (March, 2004), 98-103.

"Addicted to Antiquity (nigu 泥古): A Brief History of the Wu Family Shrines, 150-1961 CE," Recarving China's Past: Art, Archaeology, and Architecture of the "Wu Family Shrines," ed. Cary Y. Liu, Michael Nylan, and Anthony Barbieri-Low (Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum, 2005). This essay has been translated into Japanese and it will appear in vol. 34 of Bukkyo daigaku daigakuin kiyo.

"Ordinary Mysteries, as seen from Han Sichuan Artifacts," Journal of East Asian Archaeology 5:1-3 (2003), [actual publication date: spring, 2005], pp. 375-400.

"Empire in the Classical Era in China (323 BC- AD 316)," in Conceiving the Empire: China and Rome Compared, ed. Fritz-Heiner Mutschler and Achim Mittag (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 34-64. An expanded version of this essay appears in Oriens Extremus 46 (2007), 1-36.

entry on Yang Xiong, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd. edition, ed. by Donald Borchert (New York: MacMillan, 2005) (850 words).

"Mencius on Pleasure," with Harrison Huang, Polishing the Chinese Mirror: Essays in Honor of Henry Rosemont, ed. Marthe Chandler and Ronnie Littlejohn (La Salle, Illinois: Association of Chinese Philosophers of America and Open Court, 2007), pp. 1-26.

"Notes on a Case of Illicit Sex Case from Zhangjiashan," Early China 30 (2007), 25-45.

"Constructing Citang in Han," in Reconsidering Recarving, ed. Cary Y. Liu (Princeton University Art Museum, 2008), pp. 196-231.

"Classics without Canonization, reflections on classical learning and authority in Qin (221-210 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220)," Early Chinese Religion, Part One, Shang through Han (1250 BC - AD 220, ed. John Lagerwey and Marc Kalinowski (Leiden: Brill, 2008), pp. 721-77.

"Beliefs about Seeing: Optics and Moral Technologies in Early China," Asia Major 21:1 (2008), 89-132.

"Wandering in the Land of Ruins: the Shuijing zhu 水經注(Water Classic Commentary) revisited" Interpretation and Literature in Early Medieval China, ed. Alan K.C. Chan (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), pp. 63-102.

four chapters in the supplement to The Cambridge History of China to be published by CUP; one on domestic life in early China (Warring States through Six Dynasties period); one on rhetoric in mid-Han (100 BCE-100 CE); one on the physics of qi in relation to cosmological conceptions; and one, co-authored, on the archaeology of the "outlying lands."

"The Many Faces of the Duke of Zhou," Statecraft and Classical Learning: The Rituals of Zhou in East Asian History, eds. Benjamin Elman and Martin Kern (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 94-128.

 "Till Death Do Us Part (Qihuai bisi) in the Classical Era (323 BCE-316 CE)," in The Family Model in China (Princeton University Art Museum).

"Review essay, On Christian de Pee, The Writing of Weddings in Middle-Period China: Text and Ritual Practice in the Eighth through the Fourteenth Centuries" (to be published in Philosophy East and West 60:2 (April, 2010).

"Kongzi 孔子and Mozi 墨子, the Classicists (Ru 儒) and the Mohists 墨, in Classical-Era Thinking," accepted for Oriens Extremus. 2009 [actual date: 2010], 5-20.

"Road Cults and Road Deities in the Han Dynasty," in Highways and Byways eds. . Susan Alcock, John Bodell, and Richard Talbott (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

[in press] "Han Views of the Qin Legacy and the Late Western Han 'Classical Turn'," in Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 79 [next issue, Dec. 2013]. 

[in press]: Logical Connectives in the Huainanzi," Text and Context: New Perspectives on the Huainanzi, ed. Michael Puett and Sarah Queen (Brill, 2011).

[accepted] "Feminist/Confucian: A Search for Dignity," Journal of World Religions (editor David Rounds). [A longer version of this will appear as a book from Open Court, in 2011].

[accepted] "At Table: Readings and Misreadings of Funerary Banquets in Tombs," for a volume edited by Catherine Draycott (Oxford) for the Colloquia Antiqua Series, Peeters Publishers (Leuven).

[accepted] "Beliefs about Social Seeing: hiddenness (wei 微)and visibility in classical-era China," forthcoming in a volume edited by Paula Varsano.

[accepted] "Yang Xiong's 揚雄Final Fayan 法言Chapter, rhetoric to what end and for whom?" for a forthcoming volume to be edited by Garret Olberding [under review at Harvard East Asian Monograph Series].

[accepted]: "Lots of Pleasure, Little Happiness," for a volume edited by Timothy O'Leary (University of Hong Kong), on the good life in classical Greece and early China

[accepted]: "The Classical Master in Yang Xiong's 揚雄 Exemplary Figures (Fayan 法言): An Inquiry and a Speculation," for a volume to be edited by Dirk Meyer and Joachim Gentz on rhetoric in early China.

Recent Media

"The Art of War: Ancient Chinese guide to victory." The Forum. BBC News. Aug 18, 2022.

Additional Resources

Audio Files: Hal Roth and Michael Lowe in Conversation

"The Chinese Pleasure Book" by Michael Nylan


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