Denis C. Twitchett

Denis C. Twitchett joined our faculty as the first Gordon Wu ’58 Professor of Chinese Studies in the Department of East Asian Studies in 1980. He previously held the chair of Chinese at Cambridge University for 12 years, and before that he had been the Professorial Chair of Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. In 1967 he was elected a fellow of the British Academy.

Born in London, Twitchett served during World War II as an officer in the Naval Intelligence Division of the Royal Navy. He then completed his undergraduate education at Cambridge, where he won first place in the Oriental Languages Tripos in Chinese. He studied Chinese legal history as a research student at the Toyobunka in Tokyo under the eminent Niida Noboru and presented his Ph.D. dissertation to Cambridge University in 1955. This led to his first major book, Financial Administration under the T’ang Dynasty (1963; second edition 1970), which remains a monumental contribution to medieval Chinese history. His research interests have also been broad. His publications have touched on many facets of Chinese history, including their legal, economic, and social history and the history of printing, clan organization, official historiography, foreign relations, music, geography, and biography. Professor Twitchett is the author and editor of at least a dozen books and numerous articles and reviews. He was the main impetus behind the creation of the prestigious journal Asia Major, in publication since 1964, and has sponsored the publication of monographs on Chinese history and literature by young scholars from many parts of the world. He conceived and continues to direct as the general editor (even after his retirement) the publication of the Cambridge History of China, a fifteen-volume history.

Throughout his career at London, Cambridge, and Princeton, Professor Twitchett has been an effective administrator for many kinds of projects. He has been a demanding teacher and dissertation supervisor and an admired colleague, offering wise counsel and having a ready wit.

For more than two decades, Professor Twitchett has been the recognized authority in the Western world on the history of the medieval period in China and a leader in the field of Chinese studies in general.