Feature: Ezra Vogel, a gentleman and scholar remembered for his warmth, wisdom

Source: Xinhua| 2020-12-22 14:21:24|Editor: huaxia
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File photo taken on Dec. 20, 2015 shows Ezra Vogel (L) and his sister Fay Bussgang. Ezra Vogel, professor emeritus at Harvard University and a renowned China scholar, passed away at the age of 90 on Dec. 20, 2020. For many who know him from personal experience, the fluent Mandarin-speaking scholar will be remembered for his warmth, humor and generosity as well as his wisdom and insight on China, Japan and East Asia. (Photo by Benjamin Rosser/Xinhua)

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Ezra Vogel, professor emeritus at Harvard University and a renowned China scholar, passed away at the age of 90 on Sunday.

For many who know him from personal experience, the fluent Mandarin-speaking scholar will be remembered for his warmth, humor and generosity as well as his wisdom and insight on China, Japan and East Asia.


"My father loved China and the Chinese people. His hope was always that China would forge better relations with both Japan and the United States. We in the next generations in all three countries have a lot of work to do to realize that vision," Steven Vogel, a professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, told Xinhua via email on Monday.

A passionate life-long student of languages, Ezra Vogel mastered both Japanese and Chinese, and he once lived in south China's Guangdong Province for one year, and has visited China every year since the late 1980s.

"1980 was of course an incredible moment to witness China in transition... He was working on the research that eventually produced his book, One Step Ahead in China, about the Guangzhou/ Guangdong region," said Steven, adding that he used to accompany his father on various field research trips to factories and communes in the region.

"He thoroughly enjoyed people, and the pursuit of knowledge," said the son.

Ezra Vogel was the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard and he retired from teaching in 2000. He was Director of the Fairbank Center (1995-1999) and the first Director of the Asia Center (1997-1999).

He was originally trained as a sociologist studying the family in the United States. He devoted two years to language study and field research in Japan in 1958-60, emerging as a specialist on Japanese society. He then embarked on Chinese-language study in the 1960s and became an accomplished scholar of Chinese society as well.

Ezra Vogel, who took pride in his ability to conduct research and give public lectures in both Japanese and Chinese, always prefered to speak Mandarin during interviews with Xinhua correspondents in the United States in the past years.

He was best known in China for his book "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China," which he spent ten years to accomplish at the age of 81. Published in 2011, the over 900-page tome has provided a window for Westerners to gain a better understanding of modern China.

In 2019, Ezra Vogel published China and Japan: Facing History (2019), which reviews the history of political and cultural ties between the two nations over 1500 years.

He was also concerned about U.S.-China relations. In an online event in October, he suggested the United States have high-level talks, intellectual exchanges, and economic cooperation with China.

"Competitors can talk as competitors, but it doesn't have to be enemies. It can be competitors. It can be suspicious. But, it can be under some kind of control," he noted.

In many interviews with Xinhua, Ezra Vogel had made it clear that he believed both Chinese and U.S. officials should work together to pursue their common interests.

Together with dozens of other experts and former senior U.S. officials, he released a joint statement in April to urge the United States to cooperate with China to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2019, he co-authored an open letter entitled "China is not an enemy" to the U.S. president and Congress, in which more than 100 American academics, foreign policy experts, military and business leaders called on the Trump administration to re-examine its views on and approach to China.


The passing of Ezra Vogel was deeply mourned by both the Chinese and U.S. sides.

In his message of condolences, Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai called Ezra Vogel "an outstanding scholar on China and an old friend of the Chinese people."

"Throughout his lifetime he was dedicated to greater mutual understanding between the Chinese and American people and made significant contributions to their friendship and China-U.S. relations. His wisdom and insight on China have been of immeasurable value not only to people in the field of study, but also to the world," tweeted Cui Tiankai late Sunday.

"I have known Professor Vogel for a long time and learned a great deal from him. I believe his ideas and commitment will always have an impact on us," Cui added.

China expresses deep condolences over the passing of renowned sinologist Professor Ezra Vogel and sends sincere sympathies to his family, said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Monday.

"We will remember Professor Vogel's contribution to the development of China-U.S. relations," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.

Calling Ezra Vogel "the giant," Robert Lawrence Kuhn, chairman of the Kuhn Foundation, told Xinhua that his work had "set the standard both for sinology as a vital field and for U.S.-China relations as a critical practice."

For Avery Goldstein, a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, Ezra Vogel's passing was "tough news to read first thing (on) Monday morning."

"A shock and terribly sad. A giant has left the stage. Ezra left a deep impression -- both intellectually and personally," Goldstein told Xinhua via email.

Goldstein recalled a dinner conversation with Ezra Vogel where "Ezra engaged us in a wide-ranging discussion about the 'state of the fields' (both political science and Chinese studies)."

"The most profound impression from that dinner was the sincerity of his interest in the work and views of the few grad students who joined us for dinner. He drew them out and took them as seriously as the faculty members. A role model to be sure. He was, as the saying puts it, a gentleman and a scholar," he said.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., one of the world's leading scholars of international relations, called Ezra Vogel a great friend and colleague in an interview with Xinhua on Monday.

"He was very patient in explaining the intricacies of Asia to me, and we worked together on a number of study groups at Harvard, and continued to have lunch after retirement. He was always seeking answers to tough questions, and was open to everyone," Nye said.

Ezra Vogel also served as co-director of the Asia Foundation Task Force on East Asian Policy Recommendations for the New Administration (2001).

Calling Ezra Vogel "an absolute pillar of East Asian studies within American intelligentsia," Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for China-America Studies, told Xinhua on Monday that his "greatness was that he embraced wisdom, cultural complexity and strength."

"These attributes create the foundation of an ever-richer cross-fertilization and enmeshment of cultures, societies, peoples and, ultimately, nations," Gupta said.

"His passing is somewhat akin to the passing of an age in U.S.-China ties. But like his contributions which will endure and enrich generations of scholars and practitioners, U.S.-China relations hopefully will come through these difficult times and endure, enrich and prosper for the long term," he said. Enditem


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