John Fairbank 费正清 & the Cambridge History of China

Fairbank (1907 Huron S Dakota – 1991 Cambridge, MA) was the most prominent American scholar of East Asia in the last century, and well known in China as Fei Zhengqing.  He graduated from Harvard and went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.  He founded the East Asia center for research which was later named the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research in his honor at Harvard.

After finished reading my grandaunt Lucy‘s memoir (Chinese edition), I was little bewildered at my very first glean into my genealogical past: REALLY?!

That afternoon, my children wanted to go to the library. I found myself was more than eager to go. As I was driving toward the destination, I laughed silently to myself: what could I possibly find in a local library on Long Island, New York, about my Chinese roots?  The Chinese section in our library is quarantined to a small corner. The few English language books there could hardly filled the allotted space, which was only half block on one side of an aisle in the back.  I stared at them aimlessly and hopelessly, they glanced back at me with a stoical contempt, as if dare me.  Most the books on the shelf were modern, about Mao, … then I saw few thick volumes of Cambridge History of China.  With the dark gold and maroon colours, they looked very dignified and scholarly. They were edited by Fairbank – at time I had no idea who he was.  Perhaps I’m destined to do this genealogy research, those few voluminous books were precisely what I most needed to start because of their bi-lingual index on people/place/major events, etc., on top of the actual content of the books. It reassured me the accuracy of Lucy’s memoir and directed me toward the right research path.

As I stated before, it’s normal for older Chinese to have multiple names (a must), plus the translations into English. Pinning down an individual without a clear idea who s/he was, is really hard. I’m not well-schooled in Classic Chinese and history, so dealing with English material is actually easier. Besides, it’s my prejudice that the western Chinese scholars are just more rigorous and better trained at their craft, with or without the unfair advantages.

So, REALLY, I do have a glorious family. With the right spelling of their names, I was able to pull out many articles online from the New York Times, Times (of London) about the Zhous, the Lius, the Zhangs, etc. It’s been six years since and I’m still at it with great enthusiasm.

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