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Great Master of Macro History, Mr. Ray Huang

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 Great Master of Macro History, Mr. Ray Huang

Ray Huang (simplified Chinese: 黄仁宇; traditional Chinese: 黃仁宇; pinyin: Huáng Rényǔ; June 25, 1918–January 8, 2000) was a Chinese historian and philosopher. He was an officer in the Nationalist army and fought in the Burma campaigns. He earned a Ph.D in history from the University of Michigan, worked with Joseph Needham and is a contributor of Needham's Science and Civilisation in China. Huang taught in the U.S., and is best known in his later years for the idea of macro history.

Early life

Ray Huang was born in Changsha, Hunan Province, in 1918. He was the oldest of three children. His father, Huang Zhenbai (黄震白), was an early member of the revolutionary group, Tongmenghui, who became less active in the group over the years. Ray Huang grew up in Hunan and went to study electrical engineering at Nankai University, Tianjin in 1936. At the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, he returned to Changsha and wrote for the Japanese War Report (《抗日战报》).

Afterwards, he entered the Kuomintang Central Officer Training School (国民党中央军校) at Chengdu, Sichuan, graduating in 1940. He was appointed Second Lieutenant Platoon Leader in 1941; he was a staff First Lieutenant stationed in India in 1942, and a Staff Major in the New First Army in the Burma theater from 1943-1945. While in Burma, he was shot through the thigh, but he made a complete recovery. After the war he attended the American Army Staff College (graduating in 1947), and was part of a military delegation to Japan from 1949-1950. However, with the loss of mainland China in 1949, the Nationalist army in Taiwan was downsized (and purged of political opponents) and as a result,Huang was discharged from the Nationalist Army in 1950. His military career was over.

Academic career

Huang went to the United States to study Chinese History. At the University of Michigan, he received his Bachelors Degree in 1954, his Masters Degree in 1957 and his Doctorate in 1964. He was appointed Visiting Associate Professor at Columbia University in 1967, and a Professor at the State University of New York, New Paltz Branch in 1968-1980. He was a research fellow at the Harvard Center for East Asian Research in 1970, where he worked with the leading American Sinologist John K. Fairbank, with whom he had close personal ties. Nevertheless, Huang and Fairbank disagreed in research methodology. Fairbank liked concentrated analysis in short time frames and limited areas, while Huangliked synthesis covering broad time periods (though Huang's classic work 1587 had a very tight focus).

In 1972, Huang went to Cambridge University and assisted Joseph Needham, who was more sympathetic to Huang's research approach, in Needham's monumental work on the history of Chinese science and technology. Huang's chosen field of study became financial administration in Ming China, and he published one of his major works, Taxation and Finance in Sixteenth Century Ming China, in 1974 (translated into Chinese only in 2001).

He returned to Cambridge in the mid 1970s, and contributed two chapters to the Ming Dynasty Volumes of the Cambridge History of China. Around the late 1970s, he retired from teaching and focused on writing instead, even occasionally contributing to a column in Yazhou Zhoukan. Nonetheless, he often travelled to Taiwan even after retirement to give lectures and participate in various academic exchanges.

His other works include The War in Northern Burma (1946), 1587, a Year of No Significance (1981) (also published in Chinese as The Fifteenth Year of Wan Li/《萬曆十五年》, 1985), Broadening the Chinese Field of Vision (in Chinese, 1988), Chinese Macrohistory (1988) (in Chinese 1993), Conversations about Chinese History on the Banks of the Hudson River (in Chinese 1989), Discussions of Here and There and Old and New (in Chinese 1991), Capitalism and the Twenty First Century (in Chinese 1991), From a Macrohistory Perspective in Reading Jiang Jieshi's Diary (in Chinese 1993), Contemporary Chinese Outlets (in Chinese 1994), The Affair of Wan Chong (in Chinese 1998), Yellow River Qing Mountain: Record of Huang Renzi's Recollections (in Chinese 2001), and Bianjing Unfinished Dreams.

Personal life

He married Gayle Bates in 1966 and the two had a son, Jefferson Huang. He died of a heart attack in 2000.


  • 1587: A Year of No Significance. First published in English (Yale University Press, 1981), with Chinese (Wanli Shiwunian) and other language translations.
  • China: A Macro History
  • Fiscal Administration during the Ming Dynasty
  • Conversation on Chinese History by the Hudson River (in Chinese)
  • Broadening the Horizons of Chinese History: Discourses, Syntheses, and Comparisons
  • Capitalism and the 21st Century(in Chinese)
  • The Grand Canal during the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 (Doctoral dissertation)
  • White Jasmine of Changsha (Novel)

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Last Updated on Friday, 08 July 2011 22:03