Robert Keith McMahon

Humanities - East Asian Languages & Cultures
Full Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures Department, School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures, the University of Kansas Director of Graduate Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures Department
Primary office:
Wescoe Hall, 2119
University of Kansas
1445 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045-7590


Keith McMahon received his B.A. in French and Comparative Literature from Indiana University in 1974, his M.A. in Chinese from Yale University in 1976, and his Ph.D. in Chinese from Princeton University in 1984. He studied one year of Chinese language in Taiwan in 1976-77 and did Ph.D. and post-doctorate research in Shanghai and Beijing for a total of four years between 1979 and 1991. He has taught at the University of Kansas since 1984, where he was chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures for twelve years from 1996 to 2008. In the past decade, he has written on nineteenth-century fiction and sexuality in China on the verge of modernity; opium smoking in 19th and 20th century China and Euro-America; and the history of emperors and their wives and concubines, the institution of imperial polygamy, and the subject of queenship. He has lectured in Chinese and English on these topics in the United States, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, and France, and has published six books, Causality and Containment in Seventeenth-century Chinese Fiction (Brill, 1988), Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists: Sexuality and Male/Female Relations in Eighteenth-century Chinese Fiction (Duke, 1995), The Fall of the God of Money: Opium Smoking in Nineteenth-century China (Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity (University of Hawaii Press, 2010), and a two volume study, Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013) and Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). A Chinese translation of Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists appeared in 2001. A French translation of the 2013 volume appeared in February 2016, Sexe et pouvoir à la cour de Chine. Épouse et concubines des Han aux Liao, published by Les Belles Lettres and translated by Damien Chaussende. Recently he has returned to Ming and Qing fiction in a study of sexually explicit description in the novel Jin Ping Mei, the phenomenon of pornography in pre-modern Chinese and European literature, and Jin Ping Mei in its Ming historical context.

Teaching Interests

  • Chinese language
  • Chinese culture
  • Chinese fiction, poetry, and thought
  • History of gender and sexuality in China
  • Chinese myth and folklore.


Ming and Qing fiction, male and female character types in literature and history, Chinese eroticism, the culture of opium smoking in 19th century China and Euro-America, the structure of sexuality in late imperial China, and the history of imperial marriage in dynastic China.

Research Interests

  • Chinese literature
  • Chinese narrative
  • Polygamy and sexuality in China.

Selected Publications

McMahon, Keith. “‘The Institution of Polygamy in the Chinese Imperial Palace.’” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 72, no. 4, Oct. 2013, pp. 917–36.
McMahon, Keith. Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China, Han to Liao. Rowman and Littlefield, 2013.
McMahon, Keith. Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity. University of Hawaii Press, 2010.
McMahon, Keith. The Fall of the God of Money: Opium Smoking in Nineteenth-Century China. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2002.
McMahon, Keith. <i>Misers, Shrews, and Polygamists. Sexuality and Male/Female Relations in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Fiction<i>. Duke University Press, 1995.

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