Jessica Rawson, DBE, FBA (born 20 January 1943) is an English art historian, curator and academic administrator, specializing in Chinese art.
After many years at the British Museum, she was Warden (head) of Merton College, Oxford, from 1994 until her retirement in 2010. She served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor at University of Oxford from 2006 for a term of five years.
Rawson's academic background is in Sinology with a particular research focus on the cosmology of the Han period (206 BC-AD 220) and its relation to tombs and their decoration. Educated at St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, West London, New Hall, Cambridge and the University of London, Rawson began her career in the civil service.
Between 1976 and 1994, she served as Deputy Keeper and then Keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum. From 1994 to 2010 she was Warden of Merton College, Oxford, and from 2006 to 2011 she served as She served as pro-vice-chancellor of Oxford University. She has been involved in a number of high-profile exhibitions such as the Mysteries of Ancient China.
Rawson contributed with Evelyn S. Rawski and other scholars to the catalogue of China: The Three Emperors by Frances Wood. The exhibition ran at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2005-06.
From 2011-2016, Rawson headed a project at the University of Oxford on China and Inner Asia: Interactions Which Changed China (1000-200 BC) funded by the Leverhulme Trust, with Jianjun Mei as collaborator. This project explored relations between Ancient China and peoples of the Eurasian Steppes, particularly to the north and north-west. As of 2015, Rawson was also listed as a project partner on the RLAHA project FLow of Ancient Metals across Eurasia (FLAME) funded by the European Research Council.
Rawson is a Fellow of the British Academy, a member of the Scholars' Council of the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and a member of the Art Fund's Advisory Council. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours List 2002 for services to oriental studies.
In 2012, Rawson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Foreign Honorary Member.
In May 2017 it was announced that Rawson will be awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal in recognition of her lifetime's contribution to the study of Chinese art and archaeology, with the presentation to take place in Washington, D.C. on 28 October 2017.
Rawson is married with one daughter.