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John DeFrancis, Scholar of Chinese Language, Departed at 92

Sadly, John DeFrancis, one of the most influential scholars and teachers of Chinese language, died a week ago on Jan 2nd 2009, and no one even wrote an obituary until Jan 15th! Right on the heels of an excellent new show coming up at the Met, from January 23 – September 13, 2009 of paitnings and calligraphy of the Ming Dynasty… :(

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Several points of duty: from the John DeFrancis memorial weblog:

With the “loss” of mainland China in 1949, Owen Lattimore became the target of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who in the early 1950s charged that Lattimore was America’s leading communist agitator. Subpoenaed, John, who was as yet untenured, spoke out vehemently in defense of his boss, and in 1954 ended up losing his job.
Dozens of unsuccessful attempts to obtain a new China-related position made John realize he had effectively been black-listed by American universities. Embittered, he abandoned Sinology. Under pressure to support his wife and young son Chuck, he tried making a living as a vacuum-cleaner salesman, but failed in some misery. He eventually landed a job as a math instructor at a private school in New Haven.

And finally, from the official NYTimes obit:

In 1935, he was asked by H. Desmond Martin, a military historian, to undertake a trip across China tracing the path of Genghis Khan. Together they traveled 1,000 miles across the Gobi Desert by camel and 1,200 miles down the Yellow River on a raft of inflated sheepskins. [link]

His books were probably more responsible for cross-cultural communication than all the political diplomacy in the worlds.

From the Met exhibition press release:

…But the second half of the dynasty was weakened by capricious and incompetent rulers. Many government officials chose to retire early to take up poetry, calligraphy, or painting, often working in garden settings similar to the Metropolitan’s Astor Court, which is modeled on a Ming scholar’s garden courtyard in the cosmopolitan city of Suzhou.

…because there is so much similarity between the Astor Court and reality…

donglingwang

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January 16, 2009
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