Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
John P. Birkelund Fellow in the Humanities - Class of Spring 2015
Siyen Fei, originally from Taiwan, received her PhD from Stanford University in 2004 and is currently a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Focusing on the political and cultural activism of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Ming dynasty China (1368-1644), her work explores the interplay of social structure and individual agency. Fei examines a range of historical actors—women, urbanites, and border residents—and offers a new paradigm of “defiant late-Ming energy” that re-visions a society formerly considered submissive to an all-powerful imperium. Surveying the topics of gender, urbanization, and empire, she explores how this state-society dynamic drove unprecedented transformations: a patriarchal system subverted by court-promoted control of female sexuality; an idealized rural empire facing surges of urbanization; a self-proclaimed Han-native Chinese polity destabilized by migration and resultant de-Sinicization. In her book Negotiating Urban Space: Nanjing and Late Ming Urbanization (Harvard, 2010), Fei portrays urbanism in late imperial China as defined by the distinct vision of each dynastic empire, showing how Nanjing residents reinvented the place of cities by appropriating institutional and cultural resources designed for rural communities.