Faculty Profile

Rowena He, M.A., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of History
View Curriculum Vitae

Research Associate, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University
B.A., South China Normal University
M.A., University of Toronto
Ph.D., University of Toronto

Areas of Expertise:

Modern and contemporary Chinese history, society, and politics;  Interdisciplinary inquiries into the nexus of history, memory, and power, political socialization, youth values, and social change, and their implications for citizenship, human rights, and democracy; the 1989 Tiananmen Movement and its aftermath; intellectual freedom and censorship; patriotic education and post-89 student nationalism; oral history and life history.

Courses I Teach:

Traditional East Asia
Modern East Asia
Honors Program: Tiananmen in History and Memory
Human Rights in China
Senior Seminar

Tianamen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China by Rowena He
Tiananmen Exiles has been named one of the Top Five China Books of 2014 by the Asia Society.

“A moving and very personal account of life as a political emigrant...A convincing and powerful account of a central experience in contemporary Chinese life”
-New York Review of Books by Ian Johnson 

'Tiananmen Exiles is a brave book written eloquently, with controlled passion... [it is] a masterly narrative and analysis..[He's] often profound book is an unmistakable sign of her devotion to the cause' - The Spectator by Jonathan Mirsky

“Rowena He herself is an example of someone who has battled for years, sometimes in the face of angry criticism, to keep alive the memories of an idealism that emerged in full force in 1989. And she’s determined not to let us forget.”
-Christian Science Monitor by Dan Southerland 

"A compelling account of idealism and the price it exacts"
- Kirkus

“Bold attempt to reclaim Chinese history from the state”
-The Independent by Edward Wilson

Tiananmen Exiles has organically tied the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen movement together through the lives and agonies of three former student leaders, and through them, the lives and struggles of their generation.
– Journal of East Asian Libraries by Zehao Zhou

"Rowena He...courageously battles state-imposed amnesia, forcing us to remember the human cost of China's 1989"
- The Daily Telegraph by Julia Lovell

"Those who have chosen, or were forced by circumstances, not to live the official lie, including Rowena He, are condemned as traitors to China rather than as critics of the regime. For the three student leaders interviewed in her book, the events of 1989 and their subsequent exile created a permanent post-traumatic state. Much the same could be said of the nation they left behind, a nation that is waiting for the moment when the legacy of the tragedy suffered a quarter-century ago can be faced."
- New Statesman by Isabel Hilton

 “As long as the Communist Party continues to refuse to tolerate any conversation about June Fourth, it will only ensure that voices like Ms. He’s echo even louder in the silence."
- The Wall Street Journal Real Time by Maura Cunningham

"Though China's democracy movement was crushed in the Tiananmen Massacre 25 years ago, the ideas that animated it are eternal. Rowena Xiaoqing He, one of the most courageous academics in the U.S., has written a powerful book that tracks the poignant journeys of three exiled activists and honors the sacrifices so many Chinese had to make in 1989 and after."
- Adi Ignatius, Wall Street Journal Beijing Bureau Chief in 1989 and co-editor of Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyan

"This new book revives as well as preserves the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Movement in a quintessential way. Combining autobiographical and biographical approaches with psycho-cultural analysis, Rowena Xiaoqing He has ingeniously reconstructed the entire movement in historical perspective not only to unlock the past and explain the present but also to peer into the future of China's sustained struggle against totalitarian tyranny. This is also a deeply touching narrative that the reader will find difficult to lay down until reaching the last sentence."
- Yu Ying-shih, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History, Princeton University, and and winner of the John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity

"Tiananmen Exiles rekindles our painful memories of those who paid dearly for their ideals. In this oral history project, Rowena Xiaoqing He captures the indomitable spirit of three student leaders forced into exile after the Tiananmen crackdown a quarter century ago. Their stories are powerful, moving, and inspirational."
- Minxin Pei, Director, Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College and author of China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy

Recent Invited Talks and Lectures              

Special Lectures 
(Special Lecture) Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Event. U.S. State Department, Washington D.C. June 4, 2014. Introduced by Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary of State Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. 

(Congressional Hearing) Tiananmen at 25: Enduring Influence on U.S.-China Relations and China’s Political Development, Joint Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Washington D.C., May 20, 2014.

(Keynote Lecture) “Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China.” Symposium on Repressed Remembrance: The 25th Anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Incident in Comparative Asian Perspective, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, May 29, 2014.

(President’s Lecture Series) “1989 as Watershed: China since Tiananmen.” President’s Lecture Series, University of Montana, Missoula, April 9, 2014.

Invited Talks on Tiananmen Exiles 
New York University Law School, Asia Law Institute. October 9, 2015.

Brandeis University, International and Global Studies Program.  September 17, 2015.

Living History Day, Winchester High School. May 29, 2015. 

Carnegie Mellon University. April 13, 2015. 

Keynote speech, University of Pennsylvania Symposium on Contemporary China. March 1, 2015.  

Boston Trinity Academy, January 20, 2015.

Symposium on Tiananmen Then and Now: Memories and Legacies, Center for Modern East Asian Studies, Georg-August Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany, November 27, 2014.

Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Heidelberg. November 25, 2014. 

Symposium on Tiananmen and China, International Education Week 2014, Global Programs, Boston University, Boston, November 14, 2014.

Grayson Kirk Distinguished Lecture Series, International Studies Program, Miami University. November 11, 2014.

Asian Studies Program, Hamilton College, October 29, 2014. 

Panel on China and Tiananmen 25 Years On: Does Authoritarianism Pay? Open Society, New York City, June 11, 2014.

Wellesley College, June 5, 2014.

Candle light vigil for the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen, Harvard University. June 4, 2014. 

Harvard Coop Bookstore, June 3, 2014.

University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada, May 26, 2014.

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University, May 8, 2014.

Harvard Business School Executive Education Program, May 6, 2014.

Montana State University, Bozeman, April 10, 2014.

Invited Talks

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University, April 11, 2016.

China Colloquium Series, the Council on East Asian Studies, Yale University, October 8, 2015.

A panel discussion and concert presentation with composer Jasoan Kwan on Tiananmen.  Multicultural Music Group, New York. Lovinger Theater, Hehman College, June 11, 2015. 

“What’s Happening in Hong Kong? A Faculty Panel.” Wellesley College, October 9, 2014.

Panel on “Tiananmen Protests: A Reflection-25 Years on. University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada, May 29, 2014.

“Surviving 1989.” 1989: Revisiting Tiananmen Square @25. St. Joseph’s University. April 24, 2014.

Rowena Xiaoqing He
Assistant Professor of History, Saint Michael’s College
Research Associate, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University 

Professor He received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and conducted her postdoctoral research at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Her book Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China has been named one of the Top Five China Books of 2014 by the Asia Society’s China File. The book has been favorably reviewed in the New York Review of Books, the Christian Science Monitor, the Independent, the Spectator, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, the New Statesman, the Journal of East Asian Libraries, the China Journal, American Diplomacy, and Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue. Her postdoctoral project at Harvard, Identifying with a “Rising China”?: Overseas Chinese Student Nationalism, traces the roots and development of nationalism among Chinese students in the post-Tiananmen era. Preliminary results of this study have been published in an edited volume Constructing Modern Asian Citizenship (Routledge, 2015). 

Before joining Saint Michael’s College, Professor He had taught at Harvard University and Wellesley College. Her seminars on the 1989 Tiananmen Movement and its aftermath have earned her the Harvard University Certificate of Teaching Excellence for three consecutive years. She believes that civic engagement should have an important place on university campuses. Her courses aim to cultivate students’ personal moral engagement as well as their intellectual understanding of the world. Her teaching and student activities have been supported by the Harvard Provost Fund for Arts and Humanities, Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Harvard Elson Family Arts Initiative Fund. She has also been funded by the American Educational Research Association for three years to organize and chair a mentoring seminar for doctoral students in international studies.

In addition to her scholarly work, Professor He speaks and publishes widely outside the academy. She has been a keynote speaker for the Canada Human Rights National Symposium, testified at the U.S. Congressional hearing, and delivered lectures for the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the U.S. State Department, Canada International Council, and Rights and Democracy in Canada. She has served as co-chair of the International Section of the Program Committee and a core member of the selection committee for the annual Ella Baker/Septima Clark Human Rights Award for the American Educational Research Association.

Professor He’s writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Globe and Mail. She has been interviewed by the ABC (Australia), AI Jazeera, Associated Press, BBC, Boston Globe, Boston Public Radio, CBC, Christian Science Monitor, CTV, Daily Telegraph, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Harvard Gazette, Harvard Crimson, Harvard Magazine, Harvard Political Review, Los Angeles Times, NBC, New York Times, Public Radio International, Radio Free Asia, Radio Canada International, Time, Voice of America, Wellesley News, and various other international media.



Wall Street Journal 
Reading Havel in Beijing by Rowena Xiaoqing He
The Open Wound of Tiananmen by Rowena He

Washington Post
Still Seeking Justice for the Tiananmen Massacre by Rowena Xiaoqing He

The Fight for Democracy is not just a Challenge for People in Hong Kong

Selected Interviews

Harvard Magazine
Tiananmen Plus Twenty-Five
History and Memory

Harvard Gazette
Echos of Tiananman Square

New York Times
Teaching Tiananmen to a New Generation 

Tiananmen Conference 2014
Tiananmen in History and Memory

Radio Free Asia
Tiananmen Didn't End in 1989

Voice of America
Q&A with Rowena He: Remembering the Tiananmen Crackdown

How China has rewritten the history of Tiananmen Square 

Boston Globe
Students Gather at Harvard to Remember Tiananmen

The Invisible, but Not Forgotten Anniversary of Tiananmen Square 

LA Times
Collective amnesia prevails in China 25 years after Tiananmen Square

The Guardian (UK)
Tiananmen square protests and crackdown: 25 years on 

The Telegraph (UK)
Tiananmen 25 years on: the 'event' that no one dares remember

ABC (Australia)
Remembering Tiananmen Square

Associated Press
Why Chinese Youth Are Ignorant of Tiananmen Square Protest
Secret Historians Preserve Past in China Amid State Amnesia

Christian Science Monitor
Tiananmen protests: Could they happen again? 

Globe and Mail (Canada)
In Hong Kong, remembering China’s ‘open wound’ of Tiananmen Square 

L'opinion (France)
«Les Hongkongais savent que Pékin ne reculera devant rien»

Japan Times
Secret historians preserve past in China amid state amnesia

Taipei Times (Taiwan)
Taiwan can learn from Tiananmen

The Straight Times (Taiwan)
China's 25-year-olds ambivalent about the 1989 Tiananmen protests
Tiananmen lost in history to today’s youth 
Tiananmen Square Lost in History to Today's Chinese Youth  

Harvard Crimson
Scholar Perry Link Visits Seminar on China 

Harvard Political Review
Tiananmen in History and Memory 

Montana Public Radio
Chinese exile says Tiananmen was a beginning, not an ending 

Public Radio International
Discussing Tiananmen Square is still risky after 25 years, even for Chinese students in the US 

The National
Tiananmen protests a ‘distant tale to most China youth’ 

‘It didn’t happen’: China’s youth swallow the ‘official’ account of Tiananmen Square 

CNS news
25 Years After Tiananmen Massacre, China Still Won't Tolerate Dissent 

The Daily Beast
No Academic Freedom for China 

The Epoch Times
Yearning for Truth 25 Years After Tiananmen Massacre 

Wellesley News
Tiananmen Panel Rewakens Memories of Massacre

International Journal of China Studies
Forget Tiananmen, You Don't Want to Hurt the Chinese People's Feelings - and Miss Out on the Business of the New "New China"! 

Global Post
Beijing security tight for 25th anniversary of Tiananmen crackdown 

Gulf News Europe
25 years on, Tiananmen’s pro-democracy protests and the crackdown barely known to China youth 


Rowena He, assistant professor of history, has been offered (and accepted) a fellowship by the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in New Jersey for the 2018-2019 academic year. Among its faculty and members are 33 Nobel Laureates, 41 of the 56 Fields Medalists, and 17 of the 19 Abel Prize Laureates, as well as many MacArthur Fellows and Wolf Prize winners. Rowena's proposed book project at the Institute is titled: A Rising China and Chinese Student Nationalism Abroad.” Rowena has been quite busy in her campaign standing against China’s ongoing human rights violations. In March she organized a panel titled “The Unbearable Heaviness of Beginning: Liu Xiaobo and Chinese Political Conscientiousness" for the annual conference of the Association of Asian Studies. The prestigious journal National Geographic also requested an interview with Rowena regarding the March in D.C. against gun violence so she could talk about her area of expertise, China’s Tiananmen uprising, and its parallels to other youth-fueled movements. And, she did live TV interview with Voice of America on China rights earlier in the semester. A piece titled “In Autocratic China, Leakers Beware” by reporter Jocelyn Ford on Public Radio International (PRI) also quotes Rowena extensively after the reporter visited campus early in the semester. In January a Beijing-based radio reporter for America Abroad media visited Rowena on campus and interviewed her on China exporting self-censorship.  She was quoted extensively this past winter in a long piece appearing on the widely respected national/international higher-education website Inside Higher Ed by writer Elizabeth Redden exploring increasing concerns about Chinese government influence over teaching and research in the U.S. and Australia. She more recently was invited to participate as a panelist at a briefing for Congressional staff hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The briefing, "Exploring the Contested History of Tiananmen Square," was to be on June 5 on Capitol Hill. The Foundation's China Studies Research Fellow, Peter Mattis, is moderator of the discussion, while other panelists are. Dr. Jianli Yang, President of Initiatives for China, and Robert Suettinger, Senior Advisor at the Stimson Center.
(posted June 2018)

Rowena He, assistant professor of history, has learned that her article "The 1989 Tiananmen Movement and Its Aftermath" has been approved for publication in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History (Ed. David Ludden. New York: Oxford University Press).
(posted December 2017)

Rowena He, assistant professor of history, spoke at several events in recent months: On April 14 she had an appearance at University of California Berkeley for an event titled “The Quest for a Voice: Revisiting Asia’s Democratic Revolt”; on March 17 she was part of a panel at the annual conference for the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto, Canada, where she presented on “History, Memory, and Nationalism in China.” On March 9 she gave a talk about her book Tiananmen Exiles at St. Johnsbury Academy,(a private high school in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Also, in December 2016 Rowena found out that she has been included among this year's “Top 100 Chinese Public Intellectuals.” This annual selection started in 2005, when a group of intellectuals inside China decided to create an uncensored list to recognize the achievements of public intellectuals from both inside and outside China, as a counterweight to the official list approved by the Beijing government. The selection criteria include the following: intellectuals with academic background and professional expertise; outspoken activists engaged in public affairs; and idealists dedicated to social criticism and justice. And she found out over the Christmas holiday break that the New York Times Chinese Edition has ranked her profile interview with them, published in June 2016, among the "Top 3" Most Popular Articles of 2016 based on readership.
(posted June 2017)

Rowena He, assistant professor of history, gave the following invited talks during the past academic year:  Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University (April 11, 2016); China Colloquium Series, the Council on East Asian Studies, Yale University (October 8, 2015); New York University Law School, Asia Law Institute (October 9, 2015); and Brandeis University, International and Global Studies Program (September 17, 2015). Rowena also was interviewed by Vermont Public Radio (April 20, 2016), The New York Times Chinese (June 6 & June 7, 2016) and The New York Times (June 22, 2016).
(posted June 2016)

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