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Elya Zhang

  • Assistant Professor of History

PhD, University of California, San Diego

418 Rush Rhees Library
(585) 275-9358



Global History

Research Overview

My principal research interest is the history of capitalism in China.  My current book project, titled American Money and the Chinese State: A Foreign Loan Story, 1853-1949, aims to survey China's foreign borrowing from the Taiping rebellion to the communist takeover, with a special focus on American loans.  My second book project (dissertation-based), titled Webs of Power: Duanfang and Networking in A Decayed Age, 1900-1913, tells a story of how Manchu statesman Duanfang manipulated his personal connections to tackle immediate crises such as revenue, constitutionalism, Manchuness, and antiquity, and how his all-around curiosity flourished in an ultimately depressing era.

Awards & Grants
  • [2015-17] Working Group Grant, Central New York Humanities Corridor Program, “The Chinese Quest for Modernity.”
  • [2014] American Council of Learned Society, ACLS Fellowship.
  • [2012] Abraham J. Karp Teaching Award, University of Rochester.
  • [2010] Faculty Research Grant, Fordham University.
  • [2009] An Wang Postdoctoral Fellowship, Fairbank Center, Harvard University.

Digital Experiments

I. Visualizing Traditional China
Students create personal “living history” of distant lands and bring it to a new digital audience.

II. Debating Japan
History students confront the present on camera.

III. The “Mapping History” Series (website under construction)
GIS and the Spatial History of Capitalism in China
A. Twelve Chinese Macroregions (Spring 2017)
B. The Yellow and Yangtze Rivers (Fall 2017)
C. The World that Trade Created (Spring 2018)

Graduate Fields

I offer the following fields for the PhD qualifying examination. For explanations of fields, see the "Graduate Overview" page in the Graduate Handbook.

Teaching Field: Asian History

Research Field: Modern China; History of Capitalism

I will not be accepting students for admission in fall 2018.

Courses Offered (subject to change)

  • HIS 140:  Traditional East Asia
  • HIS 142:  Traditional China
  • HIS 145:  Modern Japan
  • HIS 236A:  Digital History: Twelve Chinese Macro Regions
  • HIS 236B:  Digital History: The Yellow and Yangtze Rivers
  • HIS 246:  Digital History: The World That Trade Create
  • HIS 293:  China and the U.S. since 1900
  • HIS 342:  Rich China, Poor China

Selected Publications

  • [Book Review] David Pietz, The Yellow River: The Problem of Water in Modern China, Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 74, Issue 4 (November 2016), pp.1125-1127
  • [Review Essay] “It Never Rains in America?” Essay on Sheldon Garon, Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves, in Reviews in American History 42:4 (December 2014), pp.756-764.
  • [Book Chapter] "Reform is A Bonus: The Networking of Upper-Level Officials in the Last Decade of the Qing Dynasty." In Sherman Cochran and Paul G. Pickowicz eds., China on the Margins (Cornell University Press, 2009), pp. 102-149.
  • [Book Chapter] "To Be Somebody: Li Qinglin, Run-of-the-Mill Cultural Revolution Showstopper." In Joseph W. Esherick and Andrew G. Walder, eds., The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History (Stanford University Press, 2006), pp.211-239.