Mara Yue Du

Associate Professor


Mara Du’s research centers on the history of modern China (17th century – present), particularly on law, gender, and state-building. Her first monograph, State and Family in China: Filial Piety and Its Modern Reform (Cambridge University Press, 2022), won the 2022 International Society for Chinese Law and History Biennial Book PrizeState and Family studies the intersection of politics and intergenerational family relations in China, with particular focus on law. It treats the state-sponsored parent-child hierarchy as the axis around which Chinese family and political power relations were constructed and maintained in imperial times. And it examines reform of filial piety law as a key to understanding the trajectory China undertook in the twentieth century. Bringing generational order back to the heart of scholarly discussion of state and family relationship in China, this book nonetheless highlights the intertwining of gender and filial piety in the state’s instrumentalization of family relations for its legitimation and governance. In addition to engaging those who are interested in Chinese history and politics, this book provides insights to readers who work on family law, gender, or state building from a comparative perspective.

Mara is currently completing her second book, China: From a Nationless State to a Nation Defined by State, which is under contract with Columbia University Press. Reading a pre-modern concept into the modern era, this book explores how China has been shaped by the multifaceted concept guo. A word for dynastic state in classical Chinese, this term came to be used for the modern nation-state since the 19th century. The creation of the triple-faced guo (nation-state-regime) as the locus of Chinese sovereignty was mediated by Western missionary-lawyers, overseas Chinese, and transnational intellectuals. Its adoption played a crucial role in China's empire-to-republic transition. And its development has far-reaching ramifications for contemporary China's constitutional structure, domestic politics, and international relations. Mara is also conducting research for her third major project, Twice a Stranger: China, United States, and Trans-Pacific Travelers. This book tells the story of the two countries through the life experiences of seven transnational figures.

Research Focus

Late Imperial and Modern China; Law; Family and Gender; Empire- and Nation-Building; Sino-Foreign Relations; Chinese Overseas.



“Toward a Nation Defined by State: Tattooed Loyalty and the Evolution of Yue Fei’s (1103-1142) Image from the Song to the Present,”  Journal of Chinese History, 8.1 (2024), 23-48.

“Unlimited Debt toward Father and Mother: Engendering State-Sponsored Generational Hierarchies in Late Imperial China,” Asia Major, 34.2 (2021), pp.93-125.

“From Dynastic State to Imperial Nation: International Law, Diplomacy, and Conceptual Decentralization of China, 1860s-1900s,” Late Imperial China, 42.1 (2021), pp.177-220.

“Bringing Chinese Law in Line with Western Standards? Problematizing ‘Chinese’ and ‘Western’ in the Late Qing Debate over the New Criminal Code,” Frontiers of History in China, 16.1 (2021), pp.39-72.

“Policies and Counterstrategies: State-Sponsored Filiality and False Accusation in Qing China,” International Journal of Asian Studies, 16.2 (2019), pp.79-97.

“Reforming Social Customs through Law: Dynamics and Discrepancies in the Nationalist Reform of the Adoptive Daughter-in-Law,” NAN NÜ: Men, Women and Gender in China 21.1 (2019), pp.76-106.

“Sun Yat-sen as Guofu: Competition over Nationalist Party Orthodoxy in the Second Sino-Japanese War,” Modern China 45.2 (2019), pp.201-235.

“Concubinage and Motherhood in Qing China (1644-1911): Ritual, Law, and Custodial Rights of Property,” Journal of Family History 42.2 (2017), pp.162-183.

“Legal Justice in Eighteenth-Century Mongolia: Gender, Ethnicity, and Politics in the Manchu-Mongol Marriage Alliance,” Late Imperial China 37.2 (2016), pp.1-40.

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