Paul Ropp in China 2007

Paul S. Ropp teaches courses in Asian history, including Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism in China, modern Asia, Chinese civilization, modern China, modern Japan, Chinese women in literature and society, and the People's Republic of China.  His research deals primarily with Chinese social and cultural history in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Currently, Professor Ropp is doing research on the traditions of political dissent in Chinese history, from the 4th century BCE to the present.  Planned as a series of biographies of famous and/or influential dissenters in China, this study will reveal striking continuities and discontinuities in the exercise of political power in China, in traditions of modes of political dissent, and in the commemoration of great dissenters in cultural memory through China's long history.  Professor Ropp is also writing a one-volume history of China, from earliest times to the present, for a World History series edited by Bonnie Smith and Anand Yang, to be published by Oxford University Press.


Paul Ropp grew up on a small Mennonite family farm near Normal, Illinois in the 1950s. He devoted his youth to farm work, raising Jersey cows, church work, 4-H activities, music and sports. He went to Bluffton College in 1962, planning to go into the Mennonite ministry. At Bluffton he was inspired to read books for the first time in his life. At the beginning of his junior year, he quit the football team and decided to major in History. He married Marjorie Liechty of Berne, Indiana, in 1965, just after she graduated from Bluffton with a BA in Biochemistry. Because she planned to attend graduate school in Biochemistry, Paul decided, during his senior year, to apply to graduate schools in European History.

Graduate School: University of Michigan, 1966-73

He and Marjorie went to the University of Michigan in 1966, she in Biochemistry and he in European history. (She had a full scholarship and he tagged along!) Because of the Vietnam War, which was allegedly being waged to "contain China," and because of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which began in the summer of 1966, Paul decided to sample two courses on China during his first semester of grad school. By the second week of the semester, he decided to abandon European history and specialize in Chinese and Japanese history. He began studying intensive Chinese at Michigan in the summer of 1967, finished his MA in 1968, and went to Taiwan for a year of intensive Chinese study at the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies in Taipei.

Back at Michigan in 1969, he began intensive Japanese while preparing for his general examinations in Chinese history, Japanese history, and the history of science. After passing his qualifying exams in the spring of 1971, he received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to work on his dissertation in Kyoto, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan. He became interested in Chinese literature in graduate school and chose to do his dissertation on the 18th century satirical novel, Rulin waishi (known in the West as The Scholars).

Paul and Marjorie's first son, Andrew was born in January, 1967, so Marjorie dropped out of the Biochemistry program after one semester. They had a second son, Benjamin, born in Ann Arbor in November, 1969. While working on his dissertation in Taiwan in the spring of 1972, through their Mennonite contacts in Taiwan, they adopted a Taiwanese girl, Amy Su-lin.

Early Teaching Career: Arkansas, Montreal, Memphis

In 1973, the Ropp family moved to Conway, Arkansas where Paul began his teaching career at State College of Arkansas (now the University of Central Arkansas). Although they made several very close friends in Arkansas, they decided Paul would accept a one-year position at McGill University in Montreal in 1974, after which he took a tenure-line position at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in Memphis, Tennessee.

1976 China Trip

Paul Ropp 1976

Through the Memphis Council for International Friendship, Paul was able to lead a tour of twenty people from Memphis to China in October, 1976. Mao Zedong died just before this trip, and the group arrived in Shanghai the night before it was announced through wall posters there that the "Gang of Four," Mao's wife Jiang Qing and three of her close collaborators, all from Shanghai, had fallen from power. Ten days later, the group arrived in Beijing just in time to be able to attend a rally of one million people in Tiananmen Square to celebrate the "smashing of the Gang of Four."

Paul was able to spend three weeks in China in the middle of the fall semester by video taping lectures for all three of his courses for those three weeks. Through his History Department colleague, Jack Hurley, who provided black and white film and dark-room work, Paul was able to take hundreds of black and white photos as well as color slides of the posters and demonstrations in Shanghai and the rally in Beijing. A sampling of these pictures is posted on the website.

Dissent in Early Modern China

In 1979-80 the Ropp family returned to Ann Arbor where Paul had a Mellon Fellowship back at the University of Michigan. That year he finished his first book, Dissent in Early Modern China: 'Ju-lin wai shih' and Ch'ing Social Criticism (published in 1981 by the University of Michigan Press) and audited classes and did research on Chinese fiction, with particular emphasis on women's lives and gender issues in 18th century fiction. In 1979, he led a US-Chinese People's Friendship Association Tour to Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Datong, and Guangzhou; and in 1984, he led a Smithsonian tour to Beijing, Xi'an, Luoyang, Chengdu, Kunming, Guilin and Guangzhou.

Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization

In 1984 Paul received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to hold a public conference on Chinese civilization at Memphis State University. That conference occurred in the fall of 1984, and eventually resulted in an anthology for courses on Chinese civilization, entitled Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization (University of California Press, 1990). Featuring articles by specialists in a variety of different fields (archaeology, intellectual history, literary history, economic history, social history, art history, history of science, religious history), this anthology is still used today in a variety of courses on Chinese civilization.

Clark University: 1985 to the present

In 1985, the Ropp family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where Paul had accepted a position as Chair of the Department of History at Clark University. At Clark he served for 10 years as Chair of History, and served also one year as Associate Dean of the College and one year as Dean of the College. He started the Asian Studies Concentration and received a Japan Foundation Staff Expansion Grant to bring a full-time tenure-line professor of Japanese language and literature to Clark. A few years later, he initiated the offering of Chinese language instruction at Clark.

Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China's Peasant Woman Poet

He and Marjorie spent the 1990-91 academic year in Taiwan where Paul received fellowships from the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies in Taipei and from the Center for Chinese Studies at the National Central Library. During the year, he studied Chinese poetry, especially by women, in the late Ming and the Qing periods. During this year, he became particularly interested in an 18th-century memoir by Shi Zhenlin who claimed in the early 1730s to have discovered a brilliant and beautiful peasant woman poet named Shuangqing.

He gave a paper at Harvard on this memoir and the peasant woman poet, which stimulated a Chinese pioneer in Women's Studies, Du Fangqin, to write a book on Shi Zhenlin and Shuangqing in 1993. In 1997, Paul and Professor Du, with the help of Professor Zhang Hongsheng of Nanjing University, went together to Jintan, in Jiangsu province, to explore the area where Shi Zhenlin claimed to have discovered the beautiful peasant woman poet in the 1730s. Paul recounted their experiences on this trip in his book, Banished Immortal: Searching for Shuangqing, China's Peasant Woman Poet (University of Michigan Press, 2001). Part scholarly discussion of Shi Zhenlin's memoir, and part memoir of his own research and discussions with friends and colleagues, Banished Immortal tries to convey some of the pleasures of Chinese historical research to a general audience of non-specialists.

Editorial Work

In 1997, at the invitation of Professor Harriet Zurndorfer of Leiden University, Paul joined the founding Editorial Board of NanNü: Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China. Having worked as early as the 1970s on male protests against widow suicide in late imperial China, he co-edited, with Harriet Zurndorfer and Paola Zamperini, an issue of NanNü, also published as a monograph, entitled Passionate Women: Female Suicide in Late Imperial China (Brill, 1991).

In 2001, Paul accepted the invitation of Professor Bonnie Smith of Rutgers University, to serve as one of the editors of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. He was responsible for scope descriptions, recruiting authors, and editing 146 entries on East and Southeast Asia as well as a number of entries on more general topics. The four-volume Encyclopedia is due for publication in late 2007.

Current Research

In 2005, he received a research fellowship from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center at Nanjing University, to begin research on his next project, a book-length study of political dissent in China. Tentatively entitled Spitting in the Emperor's Soup: Political Dissent in Chinese History, this book will include a series of biographies of notable dissenters in Chinese history, from Qu Yuan in the 4th century BCE to Wei Jingsheng and Liu Binyan in the late 20th century. He hopes to show the long and respected tradition of speaking truth to power in China as well as the inevitable risks posed to anyone who dared to do so.

He is also currently working on a one-volume history of China in the context of world history, from early civilization in China to the present. This is tentatively entitled Chinese Choices: History of a People and a Culture, due to be published by Oxford University Press in a World History series under the general editorship of Bonnie Smith of Rutgers and Anand Yang of the University of Washington.

Andrea B. and Peter D. '64 Klein Distinguished Professorship

In 2006, Paul received a four-year appointment to a rotating endowed chair at Clark. This is the Andrea B. and Peter D. '64 Klein Distinguished Professorship, to recognize outstanding faculty contributions to Clark in the fields of scholarship, teaching and service. Since his arrival at Clark in 1985, Paul has been an Associate in Research at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies (now the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies) at Harvard University. He also serves on the advisory board for the Warring States Project of E. Bruce and Taeko Brooks at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


Paul lives in Worcester with his wife, Marjorie, who has worked in Information Technology for the past 25 years. She is currently a database manager for Abby's House, a shelter for homeless and battered women and children. Paul and Marjorie are both active in the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, and in a support group for a number of Sudanese refugees (the so-called "Lost Boys of Sudan") in the New England Area. Their son Andrew is a Family Practice physician in Santa Fe, New Mexico where his wife, Rachel Mend Ropp, is studying acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine and they are raising two children, Simone and Silas. Paul and Marjorie's second son Ben is a reference librarian in Albany, NY. Their daughter Amy is studying toward a nursing degree and working in Worcester, where she and her husband Todd are raising a son, Christopher (CJ).

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