Dr Michael Loewe


The history of early imperial China

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Research interests:

Michael Loewe, Official Fellow 1968-90, Emeritus Fellow since 1990, has concentrated his research on the history of China's early empires, which date from 221 BCE to 220 CE. The task involves a study of the textual history of the basic sources of information with the voluminous comments appended by traditional scholars of China and Japan. It has also been necessary to interpret and assess the value of the large number of manuscripts that have been discovered in recent years. The major questions that lie behind such research concern the problems and controversies that arose in the times in question, the rise and fall of religious, intellectual and political movements and the place taken by a few prominent persons in leading them.

From the 1960s onwards Loewe has made a point of calling on both literary and material evidence to examine elements that are inseparable in the growth and decay of China's early empires. These include dynastic and political history; the institutions and practice of imperial government; economic and social theory and practice; relations with other communities; religious beliefs and rituals; the development of major modes of thought; the growth of different genres of literature; and the significance of artistic symbolism.

Loewe has published detailed presentations of his work that are designed for the eyes of fellow specialists. Believing firmly that the duty of the academic lies beyond the production of such scholarly monographs, he has also written books that are intended for other levels of readers, such as colleagues working in disciplines other than Chinese studies, and that unnamed multitude who gaze upon the treasures of a museum and both seek and deserve some guidance about their significance and context.

Selected publications and awards:


  • Records of Han Administration, 1967
  • Crisis and Conflict in Han China, 1974
  • Ways to Paradise: The Chinese Quest for Immortality, 1978
  • Divination, Mythology and Monarchy in Han China, 1994
  • A Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin Dynasties, 2000
  • The Men who Governed Han China, 2004
  • Dong Zhongshu, a ‘Confucian’ heritage and the Chunqiu fanlu, 2011


  • Honorary Member American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2002)
  • LittD (honoris causa) University of East Anglia (2012)