Pat Giersch

Edith Stix Wasserman Professor in Asian Studies and Professor of History

Historian of China/Inner Asia; research on intersection of empire and ethnicity in the 1700s, and on the links between business, state-building, and inequality in the 20th century.

In earlier work, I sought to understand the early modern origins of China's ethnic diversity, a project culminating in Asian Borderlands, a book on conquest, migration, and cultural encounters in China's Southwest. More recently, I have investigated why modern China’s economic development has produced extraordinary geographical and ethnic inequality. Corporate Conquests, published in 2020, answers this question through three interrelated stories. The first is one of village entrepreneurs who struck it rich by building powerful companies that reached deep into Southwest China’s diverse communities. The second is one of Yunnan Province’s interwar technocrats who, influenced by global ideas and local prejudices, created China’s most innovative state-run enterprises, but also managed development as a civilizing mission designed to subjugate minority communities living in the borderlands. The third is one of Yunnan’s ethnic Tai elites who followed transnational anti-colonial movements and conceived an alternative future of inclusive development that empowered local communities. These stories unfolded from the 1870s to the 1950s, and provided China’s Communist Party with options. In the end, the Party chose the civilizing mission, merged the private companies into a powerful state-led network of control over resources and people, and ignored the possibilities for inclusivity and empowerment, especially in the many minority communities across China's vast western regions.

I teach a range of courses designed to help students investigate how historical developments have shaped China, East and Inner Asia, and the globe. These courses include a comparative survey of China, Japan, and Korea; an introduction to China’s business and economic history; and a specialized seminar on the Qing (China’s last dynasty), its empire of conquest, and the empire’s legacies for modern China. The courses emphasize acquisition of crucial skills: knowledge of methods used for reconstructing the past, an understanding of the contingent processes of change, and the ability to think critically about the relationship between past and present.


Corporate Conquests cover

Corporate Conquests: Business, the State, and the Origins of Ethnic Inequality in Southwest China, Stanford University Press, April 2020.

Asian Borderlands cover

Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China's Yunnan Frontier, Harvard University Press, June 2006.


HIST205 The Making of the Modern World Order

HIST274 China, Japan, and Korea in Comparative and Global Perspectives

HIST277 China and America: Evolution of a Troubled Relationship

HIST278 Reform and Revolution in China, 1800 to the Present

HIST280 Topics in Chinese Commerce and Business

HIST 371 Legacies of Conquest: Empires in Chinese & World History


  • B.A., Dartmouth College
  • Ph.D., Yale University

Current and upcoming courses

  • From shattering nineteenth-century rebellions that fragmented the old empire to its emergence as a twenty-first century superpower, few places have experienced tumult and triumph in the same massive measures as modern China. To understand China today, one must come to terms with this turbulent history. This course surveys China's major cultural, political, social, and economic transformations, including failed reforms under the last dynasty; the revolutions of 1911 and 1949; the rise of the Communist Party and Mao's transformation of society and politics; the remarkable market reforms of recent decades; the contentious issue of Taiwan's democratic transition; and China's ongoing effort to define its position within East Asia and the world.