Frederic E. Wakeman Jr: 68; Historian Was Expert on China

Historians in the News

Frederic E. Wakeman Jr., a retired UC Berkeley expert on Chinese history who helped open China to Western scholars and wrote several books admired for their meticulous research and compelling style, died of cancer Sept. 14 at his home in Lake Oswego, Ore. He was 68.

Wakeman retired from UC Berkeley in June after spending his entire four-decade career there. He was the Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Asian Studies and a past director of the university's Institute of East Asian Studies.

His best known book was "The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in 17th Century China," a two-volume narrative history of a dramatic period in Chinese history that began with the suicide of the last Ming emperor.

Two years after it was published in 1985, it won the Joseph R. Levenson Prize of the Assn. for Asian Studies, which praised it as a "monumental" work that synthesized a broad range of Chinese, Japanese and Western sources.

Wakeman was an evocative writer who chose, "like the novelist he really wanted to be, stories that split into different currents and swept the reader along," said Jonathan Spence, the eminent China scholar at Yale University. "To me, Fred was quite simply the best modern Chinese historian of the last 30 years."

An activist as well as scholar, he played an instrumental role in building academic bridges between the United States and China during the 1970s and 1980s.

Through his work on various committees, including the U.S. Inter-Agency Negotiating Team on Chinese-American International Exchanges for which he served as education advisor, he enabled American historians and social scientists to travel to China and gain access to long-closed historical archives dating to the imperial era....
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