Martin Powers was formerly Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, and director of the Center for Chinese Studies, now emeritus. His research focuses on the role of the arts in the history of human relations in China, with an emphasis on issues of personal agency and social justice. In 1993 his Art and Political Expression in Early China, Yale University Press, received the Levenson Prize for the best book in pre-twentieth century Chinese studies. In 2006, his Pattern and Person: Ornament, Society, and Self in Classical China, was published by Harvard University Press East Asian Series and was awarded the Levenson Prize for 2008.
Powers has served on numerous national committees, including NEH, ACLS, and the advisory board of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. He has taught at Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Zhejiang University, and has published articles and essays in multiple venues in Chinese, including an editorial series in the journal of culture and current affairs, Du Shu. In 2009 he was resident at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton writing a book on the role of "China" in the cultural politics of the English Enlightenment.
Together with Dr. Katherine Tsiang, he co-edited Looking at Asian Art and the Blackwell Companion to Chinese Art. His latest book, China and England: the Preindustrial Struggle for Justice in Word and Image, is currently available from Routledge.
Powers’s next project will be a close study of the Classical Chinese term xiaoyao, “wondering freely,” and how it played out visually and politically during the Han and Song periods.