Janet Chen

Professor of History and East Asian Studies
Office Phone
302 Dickinson Hall
Office Hours

On Leave 2023-2024



Janet Chen is a historian of modern China, specializing in the twentieth century. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University and a B.A. from Williams College. She joined the faculty of the Princeton History Department in 2006, and she is also a member of the East Asian Studies Department.

Professor Chen’s first book, Guilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China, 1900-1953 (Princeton University Press, 2012), is a study of the destitute homeless during a time of war and revolution. Focusing on Beijing and Shanghai, the book considers how the advent of workhouses and poorhouses in the early twentieth century represented a fundamental reordering of the relationship between the state, private charity, and the neediest members of society. It draws on local archival research to place “the poor,” rather than their benefactors and custodians, at the center of inquiry.

Chen's second book, The Sounds of Mandarin: Learning to Speak a National Language in China and Taiwan, 1913-1960 (Columbia University Press, 2023) is a social history of how people learned to speak Mandarin. It traces the creation of a national language in the early Republic, the fraught process of linguistic change against the backdrop of war and revolution, its journey to postwar Taiwan, and its reconfiguration as the common language of the People’s Republic after 1949.

Current Research

The Search for Modern China (W.W. Norton, 4th edition, forthcoming 2024).


HIS325/EAS325 China, 1850-present
HIS208/EAS208 East Asia since 1800
HIS439/EAS439 China's Frontiers
HIS530/EAS520 Modern China: The Twentieth Century

Area of Interest
(In alphabetical order)
Social History
Urban History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
East Asian Studies
20th Century