CEAS History

The History of East Asian Studies at Stanford

Yamato Ichihashi
Yamato Ichihashi

Stanford University has a long and enduring tradition of research and teaching on East Asia. Yamato Ichihashi (1878—1963) began teaching courses about Japan here in 1913, and was appointed to Stanford's first endowed professorship in 1920, continuing to teach here, except during his WWII internment, until the 1950s.

In 1938, Shau Wing Chan (1907—1986) was appointed Instructor of Chinese and Literature for a program established by the School of Letters. Chan graduated with a B.A. in English from Lingnan University in Canton in 1927 and then taught English in China for several years until he saved enough money for graduate study abroad. He chose to come to Stanford (rather than Sorbonne), where he completed his M.A. (1932) and Ph.D. (1937) in English.

With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War preventing him from accepting a professorship in China, Chan returned to California to teach. In 1939-1940, Chan was promoted to Assistant Professor of Chinese and English and, after the United States' entry into WWII, was tapped by the government to organize one of the largest of America's wartime training programs in Chinese here on campus. The Army Special Training Program was temporary (1942-46), but it served to establish an institutional base for Stanford's future rise to eminence in East Asian languages and area studies programs, providing training in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages.

Shau Wing Chan
Shau Wing Chan

Concurrent with the growth of the Asian Languages Department, interest in East Asia as a specialty was growing in several other areas, most notably political science/international relations. Recognizing the growing interest in non-literature-based research, the Committee on East Asian Research was formed in 1957, graduating its first Master’s degree student in 1967. The Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) was formally established the following year in 1968, and has been the home of the East Asian Studies M.A. degree ever since.  In 1976, further responding to this trend, the undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies was added under CEAS, to enable students with a serious interest in East Asia to pursue a program combining language training and interdisciplinary coursework outside of the traditional language/literature coursework offered by the Asian Languages Department.  Five students joined that inaugral cohort, and the first EAS B.A. degree was awarded the next year in 1977.

In 1978, Stanford was the first U.S. university to accept students from post-revolutionary China, and Stanford students were among the first U.S. visitors to Peking University one year later.

In 1983, the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein-APARC) was formed to foster interdisciplinary social-science research on contemporary Asia, particularly in the policy and international relations realms, and to create ties between the public, private, and government sectors and academia—serving as a bridge between scholars and officials in Asia and their U.S. counterparts.

Stanford Center at Peking University

Stanford has also established several new programs and centers devoted to the study of China to meet the growing need for research and teaching on this rising power. The Stanford China Program (SCP) is a university-wide initiative to facilitate multidisciplinary, social science-oriented research on contemporary China, with a dual emphasis on basic and policy-relevant research; and the new Stanford Center at Peking University (SCPKU), the first free-standing research center in East Asia built by a major U.S. university, enables Stanford faculty and students to study and conduct research in China side-by-side with Chinese counterparts.  The most recent addition is the Stanford Center on China's Economy and Institutions (SCCEI), a home for empirical, multidisciplinary research on China’s economy that aims to foster path-breaking research and create transformative student experiences, while advancing public understanding of China’s economy and its impact on the world.


Scholars who were present as students at the inception of CEAS in 1968 share their stories of how the program started.