Navigating Asia: Interdisciplinary Conversations in Honor of Ezra Vogel

This conference was organized to honor and celebrate the late Professor Ezra Vogel’s role as the inaugural Director of the Harvard Asia Center and his commitment to transnational scholarship. 

The two-day conference started at 4:00 pm on Friday, October 14, 2022, and ran from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm on Saturday, October 15, 2022. The event took place in Tsai Auditorium, S010, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA.


Day 1: Friday, October 14, 2022

James Robson (Victor and William Fung Director, Harvard Asia Center; James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)

Opening Remarks:
Neil Rudenstine (President Emeritus, Harvard University, 1991-2001)

“Why America Needs an Ezra Vogel for Southeast Asia” 
Professor Chan Heng Chee (Ambassador-at-Large, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Singaporean Ambassador to the United States 1996-2012; Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute; Chair of Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, Singapore University of Technology and Design)

Reception to follow

Day 2: Saturday, October 15, 2022

Coffee and Continental Breakfast 

Opening Comments by Arthur Kleinman 
(Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology, Professor of Medical Anthropology in Global Health and Social Medicine, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Former Director of the Asia Center, Harvard University)

Panel 1: Governance and Leadership
ModeratorElizabeth J. Perry (Director, Harvard-Yenching Institute; Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government, Former Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University)
Christina L. Davis (Director, Program on US-Japan Relations, Harvard University; Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University)
Cheng Li (Director, John L. Thornton China Center and Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy, Brookings Institute)
Eun Mee Kim (President, Ewha Womans University; Professor, Graduate School of International Studies; former Dean, Graduate School of International Studies; and former Director, Institute for Development and Human Security)
Koichi Nakano (Professor, Sophia University)
Doreen Lee (Professor of Anthropology; Acting Director, Asia and the World Program, Northeastern University)

Coffee Break

Panel 2:
Regional Relations
ModeratorArunabh Ghosh (Associate Professor, Department of History, Harvard University)
Selina Ho (Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore)
Andrew Mertha (Inaugural Director, SAIS China Global Research Center; George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies, John’s Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies)
Kenichiro Hirano (Professor Emeritus Tokyo University and Waseda University; Executive Director, Toyo Bunko)
Tingjiang Li (Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University, Japan; Director, Center for Japanese Studies, Tsinghua University, Beijing)
John D. Ciorciari (Associate Dean for Research and Policy Engagement; Professor of Public Policy; Director, International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center, University of Michigan)
Carter Eckert (Yoon Se Young Professor of Korean History, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)


Panel 3:
Political Economy and Markets

Moderator: Mark Wu (Director of Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; Henry L. Stimson Professor of Law, Harvard University)
William Overholt 
(Senior Research Fellow, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School)

Kristen Looney (Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Government, Georgetown University)
Meg Rithmire (F. Warren MacFarlan Associate Professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit, Harvard Business School)
Steven Vogel (Il Han New Professor of Asian Studies; Professor of Political Science and Political Economy; Director, Political Economy Program, University of California, Berkeley)

Coffee Break 


Panel 4: Asia in a Global Context
Moderator: Sugata Bose (Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs, Harvard University)
Manjari Chatterjee Miller (Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations; Associate Professor of International Relations; Director of the Rising Powers Initiative, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University)
Aniket De (Ph.D. student in History, Harvard University)
Engseng Ho (Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University; Muhammad Alagil Distinguished Visiting Professor in Arabia Asia Studies, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore)
Ambassador Shyam Saran (President of India International Centre; Former Foreign Secretary of India; Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, Nepal, and Indonesia)
Karen L. Thornber (Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Interim Chair, Regional Studies East Asia, Former Director of the Asia Center, Harvard University)

Panel 5: Reflecting on Ezra Vogel and His Legacy
Moderator: James Robson (Victor and William Fung Director, Harvard Asia Center; James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)
Charlotte Ikels (Professor of Anthropology Emerita, Case Western Reserve University)
Richard E.  Dyck (Owner and President, TGK-Japan)
Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good (Professor Emerita of Global Health and Social Medicine, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School)
Mary C. Brinton (Reischauer Institute Professor of Sociology; Director, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University)
Chunli Li (Director, International Center for Chinese Studies; Professor, Faculty of Economics, Aichi University)

Biography of Professor Ezra Vogel

Ezra Vogel (1930-2020) was the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, and the former director of the Asia Center

Below is the Memorial Minute submitted by Mary C. Brinton and Martin K. Whyte on the announcement of Professor Vogel’s passing in 2020.


Harvard University Memorial Minute

Born: July 11, 1930 | Died: December 20, 2020

Ezra Vogel, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences, Emeritus, was one of America’s foremost authorities on East Asia. In a career spanning sixty years, he published groundbreaking works on Japan and China based upon detailed fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and documentary research.

Ezra grew up in the small town of Delaware, Ohio. His father ran a men’s and boys’ clothing store where Ezra often helped out; his mother was a homemaker and part-time bookkeeper at the store. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, and, after serving in the army, he enrolled in the doctoral program in Social Relations at Harvard. He intended to become a family sociologist, completing his Ph.D. in 1958.

Ezra’s transformation into a researcher on Japan, and then on China, occurred as a result of chance conversations and a willingness to take risks (on the part of both Ezra and his wife, Suzanne, a trained social worker, whom he married in 1953). One of his doctoral advisors, Florence Kluckhohn, asked Ezra how he could generalize about American families if he did not have anything with which to compare them. Accepting this challenge, Ezra obtained funding to spend 1958–60 living in Tokyo, where he studied Japanese intensively and then conducted weekly interview sessions with six suburban families over the course of a year. The result was Japan’s New Middle Class (1963).

Ezra returned to a position at Yale. Opening the door to a second transformation, the anthropologist John Pelzel told Ezra that Harvard had received a grant to fund social scientists willing to retool for careers studying contemporary China. Despite having no background on China, Ezra was intrigued by this opportunity, and Pelzel arranged for him to meet with John King Fairbank. With Suzanne’s support, Ezra declared himself willing to transform into a specialist on China as well as Japan, provided he received a three-year post-doctoral fellowship to enable him to learn Chinese and begin research on contemporary China, to be followed by a teaching position in Social Relations. This package was quickly negotiated, and Ezra left Yale in 1961 and spent the remainder of his career at Harvard.

After Ezra’s intensive Chinese lessons, the Vogels spent 1963–64 in Hong Kong, where he conducted in-depth interviews with individuals who had once lived in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). These refugee accounts of daily life, augmented by Chinese press accounts, became Canton under Communism (1969), detailing how the Chinese Communist Party had transformed the institutions and social patterns of the province adjacent to Hong Kong.

Ezra’s subsequent research shifted between China and Japan. The difficulties American auto companies experienced in competing with Japanese carmakers stimulated Ezra to write his provocative book Japan as Number One (1979), which argued that, in certain respects, Japan was becoming a more successful modern industrial society than the U.S. By the 1980s, China’s nascent economic boom drew Ezra’s attention back to the PRC. In 1979, divorced from Suzanne, Ezra married Charlotte Ikels, an anthropologist of China, and in 1987 they spent seven months living in Guangzhou. That fieldwork became One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong under Reform (1989).

Ezra was concerned about America’s ability to compete on the world stage but was also deeply committed to cooperation between America and Japan and China. Comeback (1985) conveyed his ideas about how the U.S. could respond to the Japanese challenge. In 1993–95 he took leave to serve under the Clinton administration as the National Intelligence Council’s officer for East Asia, and over the years he published numerous essays analyzing America’s relations with rising East Asia.

Ezra continued writing and publishing after retiring from teaching in 2000. He spent more than ten years on research for his masterful book, Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (2011), which described how Deng, a lifelong communist, was able to steer China into a successful post-socialist economic transition. His last book was China and Japan: Facing History (2019), a detailed historical investigation of the relations between the two great Asian powers over many centuries.

Ezra’s reputation for honest, knowledgeable, and sympathetic scholarship on the societies he studied earned him widespread praise and respect on both sides of the Pacific. The translation of Japan as Number One became a bestseller, and a Chinese translation of his book on Deng likewise became a bestseller in the PRC. He traveled to Japan at least once a year starting in 1958. After a first visit in 1973, he visited the PRC annually starting in 1980. He lectured frequently in Asia, giving public lectures and media interviews in fluent Chinese and Japanese.

In addition to his impressive scholarship, Ezra was an academic institution builder. At Harvard he directed the East Asian Research Center, the Council of East Asian Studies, the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, the Asia Center, and the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, and he was the founding chairman of the East Asian Studies concentration, continuing in that role from 1972 to 1991. He was also active in numerous external organizations devoted to Asian studies and U.S.-Asia relations.

Ezra earned multiple book awards, was given honorary degrees by eleven universities, and received Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star, in 1991 and the Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

None of these honors conveys the characteristics of Ezra Vogel that earned him such gratitude and affection from those whose lives he touched. His boundless optimism, utter lack of pretentiousness, generosity, intense curiosity, eagerness to exchange ideas, and devotion to promoting the careers of young scholars generated an extensive network of friends and admirers around the world. Ezra cherished these ties, maintaining contact partly through his annual Christmas card list, which eventually included more than 600 names. His was a full and rewarding life on a large stage for a modest youth from a small town in central Ohio.

Ezra is survived by his wife, Charlotte Ikels; children, David, Steven, and Eve; sister, Fay Vogel Bussgang; and five grandchildren.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary C. Brinton

Martin K. Whyte, Chair

Find more about Professor Eza Vogel here

Remembering Ezra Vogel (Harvard University Press 2022) published by the Asia Center

Remembering Ezra Vogel (Harvard University Press 2022)

Remembering Ezra Vogel Book

EDITORS: Martin K. Whyte and Mary C. Brinton

About the Book

Ezra F. Vogel (July 11, 1930–December 20, 2020) was one of America’s foremost experts on Asia, mastering the Japanese and Chinese languages and contributing important scholarly works on both countries, and on their relationships with each other and with the world. Starting from modest roots in an immigrant family in a small town in Ohio, he came to Harvard in 1953 to train as a sociologist. He then shifted his focus to Asia, spending almost the entirety of his life at Harvard.

Vogel had a dramatic impact around the world, not only through his scholarship and the students he trained, but also through his friendship and mentoring of journalists, diplomats, business executives, and foreign leaders as well as through his public policy advice and devotion to institution building, at Harvard as well as nationally and internationally. Active until the end, his sudden death provoked outpourings of gratitude and grief from countless people whose lives he had affected. The present volume, containing fond reminiscences from 155 diverse individuals, conveys what was so extraordinary about the character and life of Ezra Vogel.

About the Editors

Martin K. Whyte is John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Sociology, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

Mary C. Brinton is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University.

Conference Venue and Directions


S010, Tsai Auditorium is located in the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS), South Building, on the concourse level.

CGIS South
1730 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Map of CGIS South building, Harvard University

Public Transit

The following MBTA Routes serve Harvard Square. The CGIS South building is located on Cambridge Street, between Prescott and Felton Streets.

•    Red Line Subway
•    Bus Route #1 (Massachusetts Avenue)
•    Bus Route #66 (Brighton, Allston, Brookline)
•    Bus Route #69 (Lechmere Station. Stops in front of CGIS)
•    Bus Route #71 (Watertown)
•    Bus Route #72 (Huron Avenue via Concord Avenue)

•    Bus Route #73 (Waverley Square via Trapelo Road)
•    Bus Route #74/75 (Belmont Center)
•    Bus Route #77 (Arlington Heights)
•    Bus Route #78 (Arlmont Village)
•    Bus Route #86 (Cleveland Circle)
•    Bus Route #96 (Medford via Davis Square)

In addition, Harvard's M2 shuttle offers service between Harvard Yard and the Longwood Medical Area. Service is free to holders of Harvard student, officer, and staff ID cards. Others may purchase tickets. See the M2 shuttle home page for details.


Bike racks are located on either side of CGIS South. Please do not lock your bikes to the small trees around the CGIS complex.

By Car

Parking in Harvard Square can be difficult during business hours. There are metered parking spots on Cambridge Street, Felton Street, and Broadway.

You may purchase a one-day visitor's pass for $17.00 to park in the Broadway Garage, which is the closest parking garage to the CGIS complex. The Broadway Garage is located on Felton Street, at the corner of Broadway. Please contact the University Parking Office in advance to obtain a parking permit. Availability is limited.

From I-90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) East

1.    Take the Cambridge/Allston exit (#18). 
2.    Go straight over the River Street Bridge.
3.    Immediately make a left turn onto Memorial Drive.
4.    At the third light, turn right onto JFK Street.
5.    JFK Street becomes Massachusetts Avenue/ MA 2A W.
6.    Make a slight right turn onto Cambridge Street.

From Massachusetts Avenue or Route 2A West

1.    Cross Harvard Bridge and follow Massachusetts Avenue (Route 2A West) for 1.5 miles.
2.    Make a slight right turn onto Cambridge Street.

From Route 2 East

1.    Follow signs for Route 2 East as you approach Cambridge and bear right onto the Alewife Brook Parkway. Pass the Alewife MBTA Station on the right.
2.    Continue over the bridge, pass the Fresh Pond Mall on the left.
3.    Follow signs for Route 2 East to Boston.
4.    Watch for and take a left turn onto Memorial Drive (Route 2 East).
5.    Stay on Memorial Drive to the Anderson Bridge.
6.    Turn left onto JFK Street.
7.    JFK Street becomes Massachusetts Avenue/ MA 2A W.
8.    Make a slight right turn onto Cambridge Street.

Harvard University's Asia-Related Resources