Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Famous Chinese Scholar John DeFrancis Dies

UPDATE: Now I know: "How the World Works" by Andrew Leonard was open for reading when I looked from another computer in the house. Thus ....
Genghis Khan gets a bad rap
... is recommended reading.

This is a rather funny coincidence. Whenever I get time, I will add a "Scriptorium" section to the Hub. Not in the strict definition "A Place where to Write", but a place to show what other people around the world has been writing through the centuries or millenia, and focusing on various writing systems. I had reserved the first post for the old Mongolian writing system, since I had not looked at it all before. Pretty unique "look and feel".

(I also admit being inspired by Paul Auster's amazing "Travels in the Scriptorium", when I picked the word, but I didn't know that there already were tons of Scriptorium pages on the net.)

Original post:

Since I am not sure about how much of Salon.com is open for non-subscribers or not, I simply paste the short article found at
below. Pretty interesting stuff! In particular I like the McCarthy stuff. Very relevant in these days when suppression of Thought and Speech is spreading like a vicious cancer across the Globe.

I will try to get a copy of DeFrancis' book Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy as soon as possible. Seems like required reading in some circles across the net.
Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 13:12 PST
A name China scholars will remember

I just retrieved a tattered green paperback book from a dusty corner of my bedroom, where it had lain untouched for at least a decade: "Beginning Chinese -- Second Revised Edition" by John DeFrancis.

A generation of China scholars are nodding their heads. My generation. During the 1970s and '80s, "the DeFrancis series," complete with its intimidating profusion of accompanying audio-tapes, was by far the most popular instructional text for teaching Chinese to English-speakers. Just one glance at its familiar cover was enough to send me spiraling back through the decades into the dreaded language lab.

I learned today that John DeFrancis died on January 2, at the ripe old age of 98. And as usual in these matters, I also learned that the professor had led an astonishing life of which I had hitherto known nothing about. Among the highlights: floating 1200 miles down the Yellow River in 1935 on a raft made of inflated sheepskins, and testifying vehemently in support of one of his colleagues, Owen Lattimore, when the longtime "China hand" was accused of being a "top Russian spy" by Senator Joe McCarthy.

I am tickled to find out that the man whose name opened the door to the Chinese language for me got so angry at Joe McCarthy that he lost his job. Beginning Chinese is dry stuff, but being a China scholar in the 1950s was anything but. Good for you, John!
― Andrew Leonard

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