IEAS Director

Penny Edwards

Penny Edwards


Penny Edwards is the Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies and Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley. She received her BA Hons in Chinese from SOAS, London University, her MPhil in International Relations from St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, and her PhD in History from Monash University. She has held a Fulbright Scholarship at Cornell University, and a British Council Scholarship at Beijing Normal University.

Edwards is a leading authority on cultural nationalism and colonial encounters in Southeast Asia, whose scholarship is grounded in more than three decades of active experience and engaged research in Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia and in China. Her first book Cambodge: The cultivation of a nation, 1860-1945, recipient of the Harry J. Benda Prize of the Association of Asian Studies, has had wide-ranging traction beyond Asian studies. Her second book, Kingdoms of the Mind: Burma’s fugitive prince and the fracturing of empire, forthcoming with Columbia University Press, is an epic tale of geopolitics, exile and modernity that explores how power works in transnational contexts. Core questions driving her research include the complexity of identity, the makings of belief, and the power of connection.

Her publications range from literary anthologies to cultural and global histories of Buddhism, nationalism and cross cultural encounters in Southeast Asia, Chinese diaspora and Australia. She has edited and co-edited seven volumes and journal issues, most recently In the Silence: International Fiction, Essays, Poetry and Performance, Volume 34 (2023) of Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, and Memory Thickness: Presenting Southeast Asian Pasts, Issue 21 (2016) of the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Her Op Eds and essays have featured in Open Democracy, Mekong Review, and Words Without Borders. Her book-length translations from Chinese, Khmer and French include Cambodian author Soth Polin's novel L'anarchiste, now in press with Gazebo Books, Sydney, Australia. 

Edwards teaches in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies and is recipient of the Carol. D. Soc Graduate Mentoring Award and the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of Graduate Student Instructors.  Her recent cultural collaborations include the Archiving Cinema project, a collaboration between Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center in Cambodia and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, funded by the Luce Foundation, and no place like home, a multi-artist performance she directed at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, funded by a grant from the University of California Critical Refugee Studies Collective.  

Edwards chaired the Center for Southeast Asia Studies from 2008 - 2011, and has worked for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, Amnesty International, the Center for Advanced Studies in Cambodia and Beijing Foreign Languages Press.

Former Directors

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien

2013- 2022

Kevin O'Brien, Jack M. Forcey Professor in Political Science, served as Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies from 2013-2022. His interests include Social Movements, Comparative Legislatures, Local Elections, and Political Reform. He has served as Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies since July 2013.

A student of Chinese politics in the reform era, Professor O'Brien has written articles on topics such as legislative politics, local elections, fieldwork strategies, popular protest, policy implementation, and village-level political reform. He is the author of Reform Without Liberalization: China's National People's Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change (Cambridge, 1990, paperback, 2008) and the co-author of Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge, 2006). He is the co-editor of Engaging the Law in China: State, Society and Possibilities for Justice (Stanford, 2005, paperback 2010) and Grassroots Elections in China (Routledge, 2011), and the editor of Popular Protest in China (Harvard, 2008). His most recent work centers on the Chinese state and theories of popular contention, particularly as concerns "soft repression" and the policing of protest.

Prior to being named director of the Institute of East Asian Studies, Professor O'Brien chaired the Center for Chinese Studies from 2005 to 2008. He has won various grants and awards and serves on the editorial or advisory board of numerous journals, including China Journal, China Quarterly, Comparative Politics, Journal of Agricultural Change, Journal of Contemporary China, Issues and Studies, Asian Survey, Journal of Chinese Political Science, Rural China/Zhongguo Xiangcun Yanjiu, and World Politics (1999-2007). He also served on the Board of Directors of the National Committee on US-China Relations, from 1998 to 2001 and from 2002 to 2005.

Wen-hsin YehWen-hsin Yeh


Wen-hsin Yeh, Richard H. and Laurie C. Morrison Chair in History, served as Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies from January 2007 to June 2013. A leading authority on 20th century Chinese history, Yeh is author or editor of many books and articles examining aspects of Republican history, Chinese modernity, the origins of communism and related subjects. Her books include the Berkeley Prize-winning Provincial Passages: Culture, Space, and the Origins of Chinese Communism (University of California Press, 1996) and The Alienated Academy: Culture and Politics in Republican China, 1919-1937 (Harvard University, 1990). Her publication, Shanghai Splendor (University of California Press, 2007) is an urban history of Shanghai that considers the nature of Chinese capitalism and middle-class society in a century of contestation between colonial power and nationalistic mobilization. Professor Yeh served as the Chair of the Center for Chinese Studies from 1994 to 2000 and was Director of the IEAS Shorenstein Programs on Contemporary East Asia from 1996 to 1998. She is a member of the Association for Asian Studies, the American Historical Association, and has served on the Board of Commissioners at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, among other positions. Her work has been supported by numerous prestigious extramural and UC awards, including an ACLS Senior Scholar Fellowship, a Freeman Foundation grant, a multi-year Chiang Ching-kuo Senior Scholar Research Fellowship, as well as the UC President's Humanities Research Fellowship.

TJ Pempel

T.J. Pempel


T.J. Pempel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, directed the Institute of East Asian Studies from January 2002 through December 2006. As Director, he held the Il Han New Chair in Asian Studies. Before coming to Berkeley he was the Boeing Professor of International Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. From 1972 to 1991 he served on the faculty at Cornell University where he also directed the East Asia Program. A leading scholar of East Asian political science, Professor Pempel's research focuses on comparative politics, political economy, contemporary Japan and Asian regionalism. Publications include Remapping East Asia: The Construction of a Region (Cornell University Press, 2004), Beyond Bilateralism: U.S.-Japan Relations in the New Asia-Pacific (Stanford University Press, 2003), and Regime Shift: Comparative Dynamics of the Japanese Political Economy (Cornell University Press, 1998). He is co-editor of Two Crises, Different Outcomes: East Asia and Global Finance (Cornell University Press, 2015). Professor Pempel is on the editorial boards of several professional journals, and has served on various committees of the American Political Science Association, the Association for Asian Studies, and the Social Science Research Council. He is currently conducting research on various problems associated with U.S. foreign policy and Asian regionalism.

Frederic WakemanFrederic Wakeman


Frederic Wakeman (1937-2006), the former Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies, directed the Institute of East Asian Studies from 1990 until 2001. One of the world's leading historians of late imperial and modern China, he joined Berkeley's Department of History in 1965 and taught there until his retirement in May 2006. Wakeman was a prodigious scholar, having published, edited and co-edited over thirty books in English and Chinese and authored over one hundred essays and articles that appeared in learned journals as well as popular journals such as The New York Review of Books and The New Republic. His books won such prizes as the 1987 Levenson Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, the 1987 Berkeley Prize from the University of California Press, and the Urban History Association's prize for Best Book in Non-North American Urban History published during 1995 and 1996. Upon his retirement in June 2006, he was awarded the Berkeley Citation, the university's highest honor. Professor Wakeman died after a brief illness in September 2006.

Robert ScalapinoRobert Scalapino


Robert Scalapino (1919-2011), Robson Research Professor of Government, Emeritus, was the founding director of the Institute of East Asian Studies. Renowned for his work on East Asia in a career spanning five decades, Scalapino began teaching at the university in 1949 and played a singular role in cementing the university's reputation as a premier center of teaching and research on Asia. The author of more than 500 articles and 38 books or monographs on Asian politics and U.S.-Asia policy, Scalapino served as an advisor to heads of state and key policymakers around the world, including three U.S. presidents. He was a frequent visitor to the People's Republic of China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan and the countries of Southeast Asia and Central Asia. He twice headed an American delegation to Korea, and served as a visiting lecturer at Peking University in 1981, 1985 and 1999. Professor Scalapino retired from teaching in 1990, but remained active in political and development issues in Asia until his death in 2011.