Madeleine H. Zelin

Madeleine H. Zelin

Research Interest

Modern legal history and the role of law in the Chinese economy

Professor Zelin has pioneered the study of Chinese legal and economic history. Her book The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Enterprise in Early Modern China (Columbia University Press, 2005), a study of the indigenous roots of Chinese economic culture and business practice was awarded the 2006 Allan Sharlin Memorial Prize of the Social Science History Association, the 2006 Fairbank Prize of the Association for Asian Studies and the 2007 Humanities Book Prize of the International Convention on Asian Studies.

In addition to teaching the advanced modern Chinese history survey and general graduate and undergraduate seminars and colloquia on modern Chinese history, Professor Zelin offers courses on Chinese legal and economic history and the history of industrialization. In addition to Merchants of Zigong and numerous articles and book chapters, Professor Zelin is author of The Magistrate’s Tael (University of California Press, 1984), and coeditor of Chinese law : Knowledge, Practice and Transformation, 1530s to 1950s (Brill, 2015), Merchant Communities in Asia (Pickering & Chatto, 2015), New Narratives of Space in Republican Chinese Cities (Brill 2013), Contract and Property Rights in Early Modern China (Stanford University Press, 2004), and Empire, Nation and Beyond: Chinese History in Later Imperial and Modern Times (University of California Press, 2006), and translator of Mao Dun’s Rainbow (University of California Press, 1992).

Professor Zelin’s current research focuses on discursive, juridical and economic aspects of commercial law reform in the late Qing and early Republican period. She introduced this research to the university community when she delivered the 2019 Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures. Professor Zelin has been on the Columbia faculty since 1979.



Madeleine Zelin and Lin Yu-ju, editors, Merchant Communities in Asia, 1600–1980 (Pickering & Chatto, 2015).

Madeleine Zelin and Li Chen, editors, Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice, and Transformation, 1530s to 1950s (Brill, 2015).

Madeleine Zelin and Billy K.L. So, editors, New Narratives of Urban Space in Republican Chinese Cities: Emerging Social, Legal and Governance Orders (Brill, 2013).

Madeleine Zelin, The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China (Columbia University Press, 2006).

Madeleine Zelin, Joseph Esherick, and Wen-hsin Yeh, editors, Empire, Nation, and Beyond: Chinese History in Late Imperial and Modern Times – A Festschrift in Honor of Frederic Wakeman (University of California Institute of East Asian Studies, 2006).

Madeleine Zelin, Jonathan K. Ocko, and Robert Gardella, editors, Contract and Property in Early Modern China (Stanford University Press, 2004).

Madeleine Zelin, translator: Mao Dun, Rainbow (University of California Press, 1992).

Madeleine Zelin, The Magistrate’s Tael: Rationalizing Fiscal Reform in Eighteenth-Century Ch’ing China (University of California Press, 1984).


Read about the “Beyond Modernity: Understanding Change in China” Conference in honor of WEAI professor Madeleine Zelin here. October 21, 2014