Levenson Prize

Joseph Levenson Prize – Pre-1900 and Post-1900

The Merlin Foundation, established by the late Audrey Sheldon, has provided for the two awards, one for works whose main focus is on China before 1900 and the other for works on post-1900 China. The prizes will be awarded to the English-language books that make the greatest contribution to increasing understanding of the history, culture, society, politics, or economy of China. In keeping with the broad scholarly interests of Joseph Levenson, special consideration will be given to books that, through comparative insights or groundbreaking research, promote the relevance of scholarship on China to the wider world of intellectual discourse


The AAS China and Inner Asia Council will offer two $1,000 Joseph Levenson Prizes for nonfiction scholarly books on China published in 2020.

$1,000 – Pre-1900 prize winner

$1,000 – Post-1900 prize winner

Guidelines for Submission

  • Works in all disciplines and in all periods of Chinese history are eligible, but anthologies, edited works, and pamphlets will not be considered.
  • Only books bearing a copyright date of 2020 will be eligible for the 2022 awards.
  • Publishers must complete the book nomination form. Each press may nominate a maximum of three books per Levenson Prize competition (pre-1900 and post-1900 are separate competitions).
  • Only publishers may nominate books.
  • Upon receipt of a completed nomination form, publishers will be provided with addresses for prize committee members. A copy of each entry, clearly labeled “Joseph Levenson Prize,” must be sent to each member of the appropriate committee.


Nominations must be received by July 15, 2021 to be eligible for the 2022 awards.

Pre-1900 Committee

Patricia Ebrey (Chair)
University of Washington

James Benn
McMaster University

JP Park
University of Oxford

Post-1900 Committee

Fabio Lanza (Chair)
University of Arizona

Chun LIN
London School of Economics

Paola Iovene
University of Chicago

2021 Awards

Pre-1900 Winner and Citation

Stephen Owen, Just a Song: Chinese Lyrics from the Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries. Harvard University Asia Center, 2019.

In Just a Song, Stephen Owen writes a fascinating account of the making of the canon and the history of Chinese song lyric (ci) with a nuanced analysis of the roles of author and gender. Over the eleventh and twelfth centuries, songs were transitioned from party performance pieces to serious literature. In the process, they were moved along a spectrum from romantic songs almost entirely interpreted by female performers to works of poetry on “serious” subjects written by men. Innumerable romantic songs in a female voice were also penned by men. Owen writes a detailed cautionary tale about canon formation, in contradistinction to the trend of establishing a canon of song lyrics furthered by more traditional scholarship. He shows how the history of song lyrics was reconstructed in the twelfth century after many were unmoored from their original authorship. He explores how early editions of song lyrics were transmitted and altered and highlights the importance of female singers in the collection and attribution of songs. With the great Su Shi, song lyrics began to be read as literature, while his followers engaged with issues of sensibility and artfulness. Owen’s unmatched skills as a translator show in the emotional richness he captures and conveys in dozens of his translations of song lyrics.

Pre-1900 Honorable Mentions

Cover of Macabe Keliher, The Board of Rites and the Making of Qing China
Macabe Keliher, The Board of Rites and the Making of Qing China. University of California Press, 2019.
Cover of Charles Sanft, Literate Community in Early Imperial China
Charles Sanft, Literate Community in Early Imperial China: The Northwestern Frontier in Han Times. State University of New York Press, 2019. 

Post-1900 Winner and Citation

Cover of Joel Andreas, Disenfranchised: The Rise and Fall of Industrial Citizenship in China

Joel Andreas, Disenfranchised: The Rise and Fall of Industrial Citizenship in China. Oxford University Press, 2019.

In Disenfranchised: The Rise and Fall of Industrial Citizenship in China, Joel Andreas traces the epic story of workers’ struggles to achieve at least partial control over their labor and their workplace in the last decades of the Mao era. He frames these struggles along the two axes of industrial citizenship (the privileges and rights guaranteed by the work-unit system) and autonomy (the ability to organize and take collective action). Under Mao, industrial citizenship was expanded but workers never reached a level of autonomy that allowed them to place constraints over management. The economic reforms since the 1980s marked the collapse of industrial citizenship, massively curtailing not only workers’ welfare and security, but also their political power. Through a skillful use of oral and archival sources, Andreas tells, in rich details, a tale of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement: the rise and collapse of the political figure of the industrial worker, a tale that has profound resonance in the present, in China and globally.

Post-1900 Honorable Mention