Prof. dr. B.J. (Barend) ter Haar

  • Professor
  • Chinese history

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2216
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, SAS China
Office Address: Arsenaal
Arsenaalstraat 1
2311 CT Leiden
Room number 0.15b

I am a historian of China, with a strong focus on cultural and religious history. Although I am primarily a social and cultural historian, the religious dimension is so central to Chinese (traditional) life that much of my research has addressed religious phenomena. In addition, I have worked extensively on ethnic identity, violence and fear, and social organization. Crucially, I seek to demonstrate that traditional culture and cultural patterns are still relevant today, for instance in the case of Falun Gong or the role of exorcist violence in political contexts throughout the twentieth century.

I am presently moving to the study of literacy and orality, focusing on the period from the Qin dynasty (circa 221 BCE) through the Southern and Northern Dynasties (circa 589 CE). The choice of a long-term perspective is motivated by the existence of prior research that cites the right sources but asks the wrong questions – to put it somewhat polemically, without wanting to detract from its merits – and by the need to assess substantial change over time; the data is not good enough to see less substantial, short-term change. Areas of inquiry include 1. scribes and literacy education; 2. material change from bamboo and silk to paper, and its impact on the social place of writing; 3. writing and orality in religious culture (Daoism and/or Buddhism), 4. oral traditions (rumors, story-telling, court reporting and testimony, etc).

Education and grants

- PhD in Sinology, Leiden University, 1990, cum laude. Advisors: Prof Erik Zürcher (Leiden University), Prof. Susan Naquin (then University of Pennsylvania, later Princeton University)
- MA (doctorandus) in Sinology, Leiden University, 1984
- China-Netherlands MoE scholarship: Sinology, Shenyang University, 1979-1980 (competitive grant scheme)
- Japan MoE Monbusho scholarship: Sinology, Osaka, Fukuoka, Tokyo, 1982-1984 (competitive grant scheme)

Dutch, English, German, French, Chinese, Japanese (active as well as passive), Classical Chinese and Latin (passive)

Employment and grants

- Chair Professor of Chinese History at Leiden University, since 2000
- C3 Professor of the Social and Economic History of China at the University of Heidelberg, 1994-2000
- Postoctoral fellow, International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS, Leiden), 1994-1997, discontinued because of Heidelberg appointment
- Director, research program on Endangered Minorities in Southeast Asia, International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS, Leiden), 1994-1995, discontinued because of Heidelberg appointment (competitive grant scheme)
- Postdoctoral fellow, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation (CCK), 1994-1997, discontinued because of Heidelberg appointment (competitive grant scheme)
- Postdoctoral fellow, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), Leiden University, 1991-1994 (competitive grant scheme)
- Lecturer of Classical Chinese and Chinese History, Leiden University, 1986-1992
- Student advisor, Leiden University, 1986-1988
- Mandarin instructor, Leiden University, 1984-1986

Select publications

For a full list, see my personal website

Authored monographs 

  1. Het Hemels Mandaat: De geschiedenis van het Chinese keizerrijk (The Heavenly Mandate: The History of the Chinese Empire), Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009; second printing 2010 (for general audience)
  2. Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History, Leiden: Brill, 2006
  3. The Ritual and Mythology of the Chinese Triads: Creating an Identity, Leiden: Brill, 1998, paperback 2000; Chinese translation forthcoming
  4. The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History, Leiden: Brill, 1992; paperback: Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Chinese translation scheduled for 2013
  5. Non-Action Teachings: The Lay Search for Meaning and Significance. Complete ms, 150.000 words; proposals submitted to international publishers. Publication expected 2013 

- First editor, Sinica Leidensia book series, Brill, since 2004; over forty volumes 2004-2012
- Co-editor, T’oung Pao, with Pierre-Etienne Will (Collège de France, Paris), 2001-2009
- Journal boards: Hanxue yanjiu (since 2005), Oriens Extremus (since 2009), T’oung Pao (since 2010), East Asian History (since 2011)
- Book series boards: Sinica Leidensia, Brill, 2000-2004, The Cambridge China Library, Cambridge UP, since 2012


I teach on all levels (BA-1 tot PhD) and in all modalities (from full-cohort lectures for 150 students to tutorials), in the fields of Chinese anthropology, (social, cultural, economic) history, religion, philosophy and thought, and Classical Chinese.

PhD supervision

I have successfully supervised and/or am currently supervising many China-related PhD research projects, working in and frequently combining the fields of anthropology, history, religion, and philosophy and thought; and collaborating with other experts in Chinese Studies and elsewhere in the fields of art and material culture, archeology, and literature.

(Online) education and research tools

Over the years, I have initiated and maintained the following online tools (most of the material comes in the form of critical bibliographies, and is still available on my current website):

- Violence in Chinese culture (most active)
- Literacy, writing and education (most active)
- Religious culture in China
- Local religious life in mainland China in the twentieth century
- Falun Gong
- Yao religion
- Shamanism in China
- Protest and dissent in traditional China (closed 1994)

In 1987-1990, I produced three editions of Een sinologische gebruikersgids (A User Guide to Sinology), a research and education guide in Dutch which critically introduced a range of sinological handbooks for the study of pre-modern and modern China. I used this material in the early 2000s for a Dutch-language website called China Tools see here.

Last Modified: 31-01-2013