Rehabilitating History: A reconsideration of the treatment of disability in Chinese history and its implications for today

william alford

Conveners: SIAS, China Centre, Oriental Studies

Speaker: Professor William Alford

Accounts of the treatment of persons with disabilities over the course of China’s long history are almost all unreservedly bleak.  Without glossing over the great challenges that persons with disabilities faced historically in China (and every other society), this talk contends that there are at least five noteworthy threads ‒ in philosophy, imperial policy, law, social practice and self-help by persons with disabilities ‒ that suggest a more nuanced view is warranted. This is important both for our understanding of the Chinese past and to address arguments, both from within and beyond the PRC, about the limits of what is possible today.  William Alford

William P. Alford is the Henry L. Stimson Professor at Harvard Law School, where he also serves as the Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies, the Director of East Asian Legal Studies, and Chair of the HLS Project on Disability.  His publications include To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization, Raising the Bar: The Emerging Legal Profession in East Asia, 残疾人法律保障机制研究 (A Study of Legal Mechanisms to Protect Persons with Disabilities) and Prospects for the Professions in China: Essays on Civic Vocations, as well as dozens of articles concerning Chinese law and legal history, international law, U.S.-East Asian relations, the legal profession, and other subjects. Professor Alford earned his undergraduate degree at Amherst and holds graduate degrees from Yale, the University of Cambridge and Harvard Law School. He also is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Geneva, has been an Honorary Professor of Renmin University (PRC) and Zhejiang University (PRC), and is deeply involved in pro bono work on disability, including serving as Lead Director and Chair of the Executive Committee of the board of Special Olympics International.