David Robinson

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David Robinson

Robert H.N. Ho Professor in Asian Studies and Professor of History

Department/Office Information

History, Asian Studies
315 Alumni Hall

As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by martial arts in China. I spent half my college years in Beijing and Taipei, where I developed a strong interest in local history. Many years later, the result was my first book, Bandits, Eunuchs, and the Son of Heaven. It tried to reconstruct a forgotten world, where bandits and enforcers in and around the capital of Beijing were tied to the emperor and his senior court officials.

A focus on the local unexpectedly drew me into regional and then global history. Later works explored the court culture of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), early modern Chinese military history, Northeast Asia (especially Koryŏ-Chosŏn history), and eventually the Mongol empire and its various Eurasian successor states of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

As I encountered new places and peoples, I grew curious about their connected histories, including the realm of shared historical memories, diplomatic practice, and modes of rulership. In the Shadow of the Mongol Empire: Early Ming China (2019) and Ming China and Its Allies: Imperial Rulership in Eurasia (2020), are attempts to think about early modern China's rich and diverse connections to neighboring polities. I again approached the question through the prism of the Ming court in Beijing...and its surprisingly deep ties to places from Samarqand, Besh-Baliq, and Tibet to Mongolia, Korea, and more. Korea and the Fall of the Mongol Empire: Alliance, Upheaval, and the Rise of a New East Asian Order (2022) uses the life of the Goryeo ruler King Gongmin to explore Korea's experience as ally to two contemporary superpowers, the Mongol Empire and then the Ming Dynasty, in the second half of the fourteenth century. Ability and Difference in Early Modern China: A Mongol Family at the Ming Court (forthcoming) traces the experiences of one Mongolian family to explore the twin issues of ability and difference, especially as they relate to military affairs.

My current research considers a seeming paradox of Chinese state and society during the Ming period. On the one hand, we see the massive impact of the Ming state on the physical environment, transportation infrastructure, demographic composition, economic structure, and social dynamics of its northern borderlands, arguably the most ambitious border regime in the early modern world. On the other hand, individuals, families, and communities routinely exploited those prodigious state resources to pursue their own interests. In the process they alternately served, subverted, and redefined state objectives.

Foreign relations, military culture and institutions, borderlands, and China's place in Eurasia during the early modern period (circa 1350-1650) are all central interests.

This Chinese-language interview in 燕京访谈 traces how I went from an interest in martial arts to writing about the Ming dynasty as a successor to the Mongol empire.

  • BA, Hobart College
  • MA, PhD, Princeton University
  • Early modern China, Korea, and Eurasia
  • Military history, diplomatic history, court culture
David Robinson Book Cover
David Robinson Book Cover
David Robinson Book Cover



David Robinson Book Cover
David Robinson Book Cover
David Robinson Book Cover



David Robinson Book Cover
David Robinson Book Cover
David Robinson Book Cover



David Robinson book cover
David Robinson Book Cover
  • "The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Its Non-Han Auxiliaries." China and Asia: A Journal of Historical Issues 5.2 (2024): 177-223.
  • “Korea in the Mongol Empire.” In Cambridge History of the Mongol Empire, eds. Michal Biran and Kim Hodong.  Cambridge University Press, 2023, pp. 679-706.
  • “Storytelling with a Point: Ming China, Japan, and the Mongols.” In The Mongols and Global History, edited by Anne Dunlop. Florence: I Tatti—The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, 2023, pp. 97-114.
  • 「明代宫廷与蒙元遗产」[The Ming Court and the Legacy of the Yuan Mongols]. Translated by Zheng Dechang 郑德长. Ouya yicong《欧亚译丛》 6 (2022).
  • “Delimiting the Realm under the Ming Dynasty.” The Limits of Universal Rule: Eurasian Empires Compared, eds. Michal Biran, Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum, et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021, pp. 284-315.
  • “The Ming Empire.” In Oxford World History of Empire, eds. Peter Bang, C. A. Bayly & Walter Scheidel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020, vol. 2, pp. 533-70.
  • 国际语境下的高丽晚期外交再思考」[Rethinking the Late Koryŏ in an International Context].  Translated by Shu Jian 健康. Yuanshi ji minzu yu bianjiang yanjiu jika 元史及民族与边疆研究集刊》37 (2020): 266-80.
  • “Controlling Memory and Movement: The Early Ming Court and the Changing Chinggisid World.” A special issue on Mobility and Transformation in Mongol Eurasia in the Journal of the Social and Economic History of the Orient 62/1-2 (2019): 503-24.
  • 「元明之际的中国边疆:以云南与辽东的比较为例」[Borderlands during the Yuan-Ming Transition: A Comparison of Yunnan and Liaodong].  In《明代云南治理与开发国际学术研讨会》, ed. Shang Chuan 商传 and Xiong Jing 熊晶.  Yunnan renmin chubanshe, 2018, pp. 1-14.
  • “Celebrating War with the Mongols.” How Mongolia Matters: War, Law, and Society, ed. Morris Rossabi. Brill, 2017, pp. 105-28.
  • “The Continuing Relevance of Fr. Henry Serruys (1911-1983):  The History of the Mongols in China.”  Leuven Chinese Studies 36 (2017): 11-29.
  • 「全球史视野下的明朝尚武展示」 [Martial Spectacles of the Ming Court in a Global Context].  Gugong xuekan故宫学刊 18 (2017): 37-42.
  • “Why Military Institutions Matter for Chinese History.” The Journal of Chinese History 2 (July 2017): 235-42.
  • “Why Military Institutions Matter for Ming History.” The Journal of Chinese History 2 (July 2017): 297-327.
  • “Rethinking the Late Koryŏ in an International Context.” Korean Studies 41 (2017): 75-98.
  • 「欧美的明朝宫廷史研究动态」[The Ming Court in Anglophone Scholarship: A Review Essay], Gugong xuekan 故宫学刊 17 (2016): 420-24.
  • “Justifying Ming Rulership on a Eurasian Stage.” In Ming: Courts and Contacts, 1400-1450, eds. Craig Clunas et al. British Museum Press, 2016, pp. 8-14.
  • 「大元帝国的影子和明初边疆政策」[Early Ming Border Policies and the Shadow of the Great Yuan Nation].  Zhongguoshi yanjiu dongtai『中国史研究动态』 5 (2016): 32-36.
  • “Chinese Border Garrisons in a Transnational Context: Liaodong under the Early Ming Dynasty.”  In Chinese and Indian Warfare—From the Classical Age to 1870, eds. Peter Lorge and Kaushik Roy. Routledge, 2015, pp. 57-73.
  • “Wu: The Arts of War.” In Ming: 50 years that changed China, eds. Craig Clunas and Jessica Harrison-Hall.  British Museum Press, 2014, pp. 112-55.
  • “Military Labor in China, circa 1500.”  In Fighting for a Living: A Comparative History of Military Labour 1500-2000, ed. Erik-Jan Zürcher.  Amsterdam University Press, 2014, 43-80.
  • 「司律思先生的学术遗产」 [The Scholarly Legacy of Henry Serruys].  Mingshi yanjiu luncong 『明史研究论丛』 14 (2014): 230-33.
  • “Yuan Dynasty.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Chinese Studies, ed. Tim Wright. Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • “Ming Dynasty.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Chinese Studies, ed. Tim Wright. Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • 「明代前期皇室田猎」 [The Royal Hunt during the Early Ming Dynasty].  Mingshi yanjiu luncong 『明史研究论丛』 12 (2013): 51-64. Translated by Afeng 阿风.
  • “Mongolian Migration and Ming China.” Journal of Central Eurasian Studies 3 (2012): 109-29.>
  • “Princely Courts of the Ming Dynasty.”  Ming Studies 65 (2012): 1-12.
  • “Princes in the Polity: The Anhua Prince’s Uprising of 1510.” Ming Studies 65 (2012): 13-57.
  • “Introduction.” In Culture, Courtiers, and Competition: The Ming Court (1368-1644), ed. David M. Robinson.  Harvard University Asia Center, 2008, pp. 1-20.
  • “The Ming Court.” In Culture, Courtiers, and Competition, ed. Robinson, pp. 21-60.
  • “The Ming Court and the Legacy of the Yuan Mongols.” In Culture, Courtiers, and Competition, ed. Robinson, pp. 365-421.
  • “Mongoru teikoku no hōkai to Kōrai Kyōmin’ō no taigai seisaku” モンゴル帝国の崩壊と高麗恭愍王の対外政策.  In Chūgoku Higashi Ajia gaikō kōryū shi no kenkyū 中国東アジア外交交流の研究, ed. Fuma Susumu 夫馬進.  Kyoto University Press, 2007, pp. 145-84. Translated by Mizukoshi Tomo 水越知.
  • Translation of Iwami Hiroshi 岩見寛.  “Professor Yamane Yukio and the Study of the Ming Period.”  Ming Studies 51-52 (Spring and Fall, 2005): 8-11.
  • “Disturbing Images: Rebellion, Usurpation, Rulership--Korean Writings on Emperor Wuzong (r. 1506-1521).”  Journal of Korean Studies 9, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 97-127.
  • “Images of Subject Mongols under the Ming Dynasty.”  Late Imperial China 25, no. 1 (June 2004): 59-123.
  • Translation of Fuma Susumu 夫馬進 “Ming Studies in Japan, Part 1.”  Ming Studies 47 (Spring 2003): 21-61.
  • “Banditry and the Subversion of State Authority in China: the Capital Region during the Middle Ming Period (1425-1525).”  Journal of Social History 33 (March 2000): 527-63.
  • “Politics, Force, and Ethnicity in Ming China:  Mongols and the Abortive Coup of 1461.”  Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 59, no. 1 (June 1999): 79-123.
  • “Korean Lobbying at the Ming Court: King Chungjong’s Usurpation of 1506.”  Ming Studies 41 (Spring, 1999): 37-53.
  • “Notes on Eunuchs in Mid-Ming Hebei.”  Ming Studies 34 (July, 1995): 1-16.