History of Department

East Asian Studies at Princeton traces its roots to the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures, founded in 1927.  However, that institutional ancestor is a distant relation indeed, insofar as it was entirely lacking an East Asian component.  Rather, it was a department of old-school Orientalists—that is, specialists in the philology of Semitic and Indo-European Languages.  However, as early as the 1920s and ’30s the University faculty included a few scholars of East Asian culture and society, including such luminaries as George Rowley in Chinese art and Robert K. Reischauer and David Rowe in East Asian politics.  In the early postwar years a new group of specialists, including William W. Lockwood in political economy and Marion J. Levy, Jr., in sociology, joined the faculty.

The first East Asianist in Oriental Studies (as our forebear came to be known) was Frederick Mote, who joined the faculty in 1956.  Mote, with the assistance of T. T. Ch’en, who arrived in 1959, initially focused on the teaching of the Chinese language; he was not able to teach much in his disciplinary specialty of history until 1963, when the literary scholar Yu-Kung Kao joined the faculty.  Marius Jansen, who came to Princeton in 1959, was the first Japan scholar to join the Department.  The Japanese language was first offered in 1960.  The East Asian section of Oriental Studies grew steadily during the 1960s, primarily in the areas that would remain at the core of the future Department of East Asian Studies: Chinese and Japanese language, history, and literature.  The Department of Oriental Studies split in 1969 into East Asian Studies and Near Eastern Studies.  The two departments continue to share Jones Hall and part of the Frist Campus Center, and they share the distinction of being the University’s only two regional studies departments.


From the beginning, East Asian Studies has always emphasized the importance of language study as the foundation of all further work, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  We take pride in our excellent and popular language programs and our long history of support for language training in East Asia and elsewhere.  Mote and Jansen worked with their colleagues at other universities in establishing Inter-University Programs in Japan and Taiwan in the early 1960s.  In 1963, the Critical Language Program brought undergraduates from other universities to spend a “junior year abroad in Princeton,” working on East Asian and other languages.  Women in that program were the first female undergraduates on campus.   In 1966 a summer school, initially in Chinese, after 1970 also in Japanese, was established at Middlebury College with Princeton direction and cooperation.  The Inter-University Programs (now in Yokohama and Beijing) and Middlebury summer schools continue to thrive.  In addition, East Asian Studies currently sponsors two summer programs, Princeton in Beijing and Princeton in Ishikawa, which attract students from around the country.

See also: Faculty profiles (in memoriam)