Carnegie Mellon University

Donald Sutton

Donald S. Sutton

Professor Emeritus


Donald Sutton is a China historian working from Ming to the present in several distinct topical areas, combining archives, published material and fieldwork. His first book, Provincial Militarism and the Chinese Republic, explored the origins of warlordism through the micropolitics of an officer corps surviving as central authority broke down. His second book, Steps of Perfection, examined Taiwanese local religion as it emerged from Kuomintang rule, analyzing local festival troupes’ market-driven diversification in organizational form and performance style. His third book, Contesting the Yellow Dragon, co-authored with Xiaofei Kang, is a long-term history, tracing the successive transformations of a Sino-Tibetan frontier region from remote Ming garrison to modern tourist mecca in the People’s Republic. It is a work of political culture, combining the religious and military foci of the earlier studies. (Honored as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2016, in the journal's Anthropology list).

While completing these studies, Sutton co-edited three works, one of which has been translated for republication for a Chinese press. Over the years, he has also pursed ethnographic and textual research on ritual, publishing some twelve interconnected articles covering various local Chinese societies; he has also published on ethnic relations and identities on the frontiers, especially the internal periphery of West Hunan. This last topic, specifically the Miao uprising of 1795 and its suppression, is the main focus of his ongoing writing.


Ph.D.: University of Cambridge, England, 1971


  • Ritual, Standardization and Chinese Cultural Unification: Re-examining James L. Watson's Theories (editor, in Chinese) (Guangxi Normal University Press) (in press).
  • “Geopolitics and Development in the Sino-Tibetan Periphery: How Indigenes, Migrants and the State Transformed Songpan into a Chinese Tourist Mecca,” for Carolyn Cartier and Tim Oakes, eds., Vast Land of Borders: Regionality and the Development of the Chinese State (in preparation)
  • Contesting the Yellow Dragon: Ethnicity, Religion, and the State in the Sino-Tibetan Borderland (with Xiaofei Kang). Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016
  • “Transfers of a Ritual at a Northern Sichuan Site: Tibetan and Han Chinese Pilgrims, and Han Chinese Tourists,” in Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual, Gen. ed. Alex Michaels. Vol. V, I: Transfer and Spaces: Ritual Transfer. Eds. Gita Dharampal-Frick and Robert Langer. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden (Nov. 2010), pp. 235-57.
  • Faiths on Display: Religious Revival and Tourism in China. Rowman and Littlefield. Co-edited and introduced with Tim Oakes (2010)
  • “Making Tourists and Remaking Locals: Religion, Ethnicity and Patriotism in Northern Sichuan,” (co-authored with Xiaofei Kang), for Tim Oakes and Donald Sutton, ed. (see above), pp. 103-26.
  • “明清時期的文化一體性、差異性與國家:對標準化與正統實踐的討論之延伸” (Cultural Unification, Variation and the State in Ming and Qing Times: A Contribution to the Debate on Standardization and Orthopraxy) (with the assistance of Melissa Brown, Paul Katz, Ken Pomeranz, and Michael Szonyi, in Lishi renleixuekan [Journal of History and Anthropology] (in Chinese), Hong Kong and Guangzhou 7, 2 (October 2009): 139-163
  • “An Historian Entering Anthropology” (走进人类学的历史学家) Interview with Su Tangdong (Donald S. Sutton) of Kaneiji Meilong University by Tang Yun 湯芸, Liu Xueting 刘雪婷, Bateer巴特尔, and Cui Hanfang 崔瀚方, Xinan minzu daxue xuebao 西南民族大学学报 (Journal of the South-West Nationalities University), Chengdu; Renwen she ke ban (Humanities and Social Sciences Issue) 2008/02 (no. 198), 41-48 (in Chinese)
  • “Recasting Religion and Ethnicity: Tourism and Socialism in Northern Sichuan, 1992-2005” (co-authored with Xiaofei Kang), Casting Faiths: The Construction of Religion in East and Southeast Asia, ed. Thomas DuBois (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 190-214
  • “Purity and Pollution: From Pilgrimage Center to World Heritage Park,” (co-authored with Xiaofei Kang) in (Im)permanence in Art and Cultural History, ed. Stephen Brockmann and Judith Modell (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008)
  • Special Issue on ‘Standardization, Orthopraxy, and the Construction of Chinese Culture--A Critical Reappraisal of James L. Watson’s Ideas,’ Modern China: An International Quarterly of History and Social Science 33,1 (January 2007) (issue editor)
  • “Ritual, Cultural Standardization, and Orthopraxy in China--Reconsidering James L. Watson’s Ideas,” in Modern China 33,1: (January 2007) 1-19.
  • “Death Rites and Chinese Culture: Standardization and Variation in Ming and Qing Times,” Modern China 33,1: (January 2007) 125-153.
  • Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity and Frontier in Early Modern China (co-edited with Pamela K. Crossley and Helen F. Siu). (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
  • “Ethnicity and the Miao Frontier in the Eighteenth Century,” Empire at the Margins for above volume, pp. 469-508 and also co-written "Introduction," 1-24, and "Conclusion," 311-320.
  • “Ethnic Revolt in the Qing Empire: The Miao Uprising' of 1795-1796 Reexamined,” Asia Major 3rd series, vol. 17, 1 (2003 [ published 2005]): 105-151.
  • “To Hell and Back: A Nineteenth-century Fable,” in Hawai'i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture. Ed. Victor Mair, Nancy S. Steinhardt and Paul R. Goldin (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005).
  • “China's Minorities, Cultural Change and Ethnic Identity,” History Compass (Blackwells' web publication, 2005).
  • “Shamanism in the Eyes of Ming and Qing Chinese Elites," in K. C. Liu and Richard Shek, ed., Heterodoxy in Late Imperial China, pp. 209-237 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004).
  • “Prefect Feng and the Yangzhou Drought of 1490: A Ming Social Crisis and the Rewards of Sincerity,” Min-su ch'u-i (Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore). Academia Sinica, Taiwan (Special Issue on Disasters and Religion), 143 (2004,3: 19-55).
  • Steps of Perfection: Exorcistic Performance and Chinese Religion in 20th Century Taiwan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Asia Center Series; distributed by Harvard University Press, 2003).
  • “Violence and Ethnicity on a Qing Colonial Frontier: Customary and Statutory Law in the 18th Century Miao Pale,” Modern Asian Studies 37,1 (Feb. 2003): 41-80. See at
  • “From Credulity to Scorn: Confucians Confront the Spirit Mediums in Late Imperial China,” Late Imperial China 21,2 (December 2000): 145-83. See at Late Imperial China
  • “Myth Making on an Ethnic Frontier: The Cult of the Three Kings of West Hunan, 1715-1996,” Modern China 26,4 (October, 2000): 448-500. See at
  • “Rituals of Smoking in Hollywood's Golden Age: Hawks, Furthman and the Ethnographic History of Film,” Film & History 29,3/4 (1999): 70-85.
  • “Transmission in Popular Religion: The Jiajiang Festival Troupe of Southern Taiwan,” in R. Weller and M. Shahar eds., Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China (University of Hawaii Press, 1996), pp. 212-249.
  • “Consuming Counterrevolution: The Ritual and Culture of Cannibalism in Wuxuan, Guangxi (May-July, 1968),” Comparative Studies in Society and History 7,1 (January 1995): 136-172. See at
  • “Ritual, History and the Films of Zhang Yimou,” East-West Film Journal 8 (July, 1994): 29-42.“Ritual Drama and Moral Order: Interpreting the God's Festival Troupes of Taiwan,” Journal of Asian Studies 49,3 (August 1990):535-54. See at
  • “A Case of Literati Piety: The Ma Yuan Cult from High-Tang to High-Qing,” in CLEAR (Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews) 11 (1989):79-114. See at
  • “German Advice and Residual Warlordism in the Nanking Decade: Influences on Nationalist Military Training and Strategy, 1928-1938,” China Quarterly 91 (September 1982): 386-410
  • “Pilot Surveys of Chinese Shamans: A Spatial Approach to Social History,” Journal of Social History 15, 1 (Fall, 1981): 39-50
  • Provincial Militarism and the Chinese Republic: The Yunnan Army, 1905-25 (University of Michigan Press, 1980).

Courses Taught

    • Global Histories: Ten Days that Shook China and the World
    • China’s Cultural Revolution
    • China in the Age of Reform, 1978-2008
    • Modern China
    • China’s Environment Crisis
    • China Inside Out: Going Global, 19th and 21st Centuries
    • Religions of China
    • 20th Century China Through Film
    • China and Its Neighbors: Minorities, Conquerors and Tribute Bearers

Department Member Since: 1969