• Philip Kuhn, a noted author of books on Chinese history died on Feb. 15.

Philip Kuhn, a noted author of books on Chinese history died on Feb. 15. (Photo : REUTERS)

British-born American historian on Chinese history Philip Kuhn died on Monday, Feb. 15, at the age of 83, China Daily reported.

Sinologist and Chinese history professor Hilde De Weerdt and Cambridge history professor Hans van de Ven confirmed Kuhn's death.

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"RIP Philip Kuhn, author of excellent books on Chinese history: Rebellion & Its Enemies; Soulstealers; Origins of the Modern Chinese State," writes Weerdt on his Twitter account at 5:40 p.m. Beijing time on Monday, Feb. 15.

Born in 1933 in London, Kuhn went to the U.S. where he attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. He earned his A.B. at Harvard University and went to Georgetown University for graduate studies in 1957. He returned to Harvard for his doctorate in History and East Asian Languages under the supervision of John King Fairbank, a notable historian of China.

Kuhn deviated from Fairbank's "shock-response," which argues that Western society's impact on China changes Chinese society fundamentally. Instead, Kuhn suggested that one should examine the history of China to explain its transformation, which gave a new and unconventional view in the study of Chinese history.

The report said that Kuhn's death was mourned by readers on social networking sites Sina Weibo, which revived the interest of netizens on Chinese society from a historical perspective.

One of the most notable of Kuhn's published books is "Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768." The book is required reading material for their students, some university professors claimed.

"Soulstealers," originally published in 1990 by Harvard University Press, won the Joseph Levenson Book Prize in 1992 for its "subtle, powerful, and still relevant inquiry into the dynamics of autocratic rule." The book tackled the mass hysteria over sorcerers during the most prosperous period of China's last imperial dynasty.

According to Liu Chang, co-translator of "Soulstealers," the book is "attractive as a detective novel."

Liu said Kuhn used to tell him: "The book is also about contemporary China."

Kuhn wrote in his book that people lose hope that they can improve their social condition through work or study in a society where population is growing disproportionately, resources are going the wrong way and social morale is decaying. And people may turn to sorcery for an illusion of power, when they lose faith in the judicial system.

Kuhn published four other books, which include the "Rebellion and Its Enemies in Late Imperial China," "Militarization and Social Structure, 1796-1864," "Origins of the Modern Chinese State" and "Chinese among Others: Emigration in Modern Times."