Ezra F. Vogel is a student of both modern Japan and China. He received his B.A. at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1950 and his Ph.D. in sociology at Harvard in 1958. He then spent two years in Japan conducting research. In 1960-61, he was assistant professor at Yale University and from 1961-62 through 1963-64 a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, studying Chinese language and history. He remained at Harvard, becoming lecturer in 1964 and professor in 1967.
Professor Vogel succeeded John Fairbank as second Director (1972-1977) of Harvard's East Asian Research Center and second Chairman of the Council for East Asian Studies (1977-1980). He was Director of the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Center for International Affairs (1980-1987) and, since 1987, Honorary Director. He was director of the Undergraduate Concentration in East Asian Studies from its inception in 1972 until 1989.
In 1993 he took a two-year leave of absence, serving as National Intelligence Officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council. He returned to Harvard in September 1995 to direct the Fairbank Center until 1999 and was head of the Asia Center from 1997 to 1999. He taught courses on communist Chinese society, Japanese society, and industrial East Asia. The Japanese edition of Professor Vogel's book Japan as Number One: Lessons for America (1979) remains the all-time best-seller in Japan of non-fiction by a Western author. He officially retired in 2000 but remains active in research and East Asia related activities.