[Marxism] Franz Schurmann, Cold War Expert on China, Dies at 84

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 30 10:58:50 MDT 2010

NY Times August 26, 2010
Franz Schurmann, Cold War Expert on China, Dies at 84

Franz Schurmann, an expert on China during the cold war and a 
globe-trotting professor who helped found the Pacific News 
Service, a provider of news and commentary about Asia, died on 
Aug. 20 at his home in San Francisco. He was 84. The cause was 
complications of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, his wife, 
Sandy Close, said.

Mr. Schurmann, who was fluent in as many as 12 languages and read 
a variety of foreign papers daily, taught history and sociology at 
the University of California, Berkeley, for nearly four decades. 
But his life was far more adventurous than that sounds, and he 
referred to himself not as an academic but as an explorer-journalist.

The son of working-class immigrants, he developed early on the 
charisma and intellectual heft to attract famous and powerful 
company. He spent graduate school summers with the family of the 
German expatriate playwright Bertolt Brecht, whose son Stefan he 
had met in the Army. At Brecht’s Southern California dinner table 
he encountered Thomas Mann and other German intellectuals in exile.

An opponent of the Vietnam War and a founder of the Berkeley 
Faculty Peace Committee in 1964, he toured Hanoi with the writer 
Mary McCarthy in 1968. An inveterate traveler, especially in Asia 
but also in Russia and other parts of Europe, he became used to 
drawing conclusions more from firsthand observations than from 
secondhand accounts by scholars and journalists.

Mr. Schurmann was a prolific, often iconoclastic writer on a wide 
variety of geopolitical themes, though many of his books were 
coolly received, and even some admirers acknowledged that 
conceptualizing and speaking, not writing, were his strengths.

A review of his book “The Logic of World Power” (1974) in The New 
York Times Book Review praised Mr. Schurmann’s original thinking 
in tracing the development of international politics after World 
War II, but criticized it for unimaginative writing and lack of 
documentation. His book “The Foreign Politics of Richard Nixon,” 
an assessment of the former president as a visionary global 
thinker, was written in the 1970s but did not find a publisher 
until 1987.

His best-known book, “Ideology and Organization in Communist 
China,” published in 1968, was based on interviews with Chinese 
refugees in Hong Kong and offered one of the first significant 
accounts of life inside Mao’s China.

“He provided very important insights into what was then known as 
Communist China,” said the Sinologist Orville Schell, who was Mr. 
Schurmann’s student and co-editor on “The China Reader,” a 
three-volume series. “When we were all looking from afar, he had a 
curious ability to see meaning through the rather turgid documents 
that were our version of their reality.”

Feeling that American academicians and politicians were too 
focused on Europe and insufficiently aware of the influence of 
Asian, Islamic and Latin cultures on the United States, Mr. 
Schurmann began the Pacific News Service with Mr. Schell in 1970. 
It has changed and grown since its beginnings as a source of 
journalism about Asia, and it is now known as New America Media, 
serving as an umbrella for some 2,000 ethnic news organizations, 
according to its Web site, newamericamedia.org.

Herbert Franz Schurmann was born in the Astoria neighborhood of 
Queens on June 21, 1926. His father, a tool-and-die maker, was an 
immigrant from Slovenia who spoke five languages; his mother was 
an immigrant from Saxony, in what is now southeastern Germany. The 
family moved to Bloomfield, Conn., near Hartford, where young 
Franz absorbed not only the languages spoken at home but also 
those of an immigrant neighborhood. He briefly attended Trinity 
College in Hartford.

During World War II he was drafted into the Army, which assigned 
him to Japanese language school. (According to a story he told his 
family, he ended up studying Japanese instead of German when an 
illiterate sergeant got his orders mixed up.) He was eventually 
sent to Japan as a newspaper censor. After his discharge, he went 
to Harvard on the G.I. Bill and earned a Ph.D. in Asian studies.

In addition to his wife, the executive director of New America 
Media, whom he married in 1968, Mr. Schurmann is survived by a 
sister, Dorothy Schurmann, of Oakland, Calif.; two sons, Mark, of 
Olympia, Wash., and Peter, of San Francisco; and a grandson.

“He reoriented me, the way I thought,” said the memoirist and 
essayist Richard Rodriguez, who met Mr. Schurmann when he wrote 
for the Pacific News Service. “Traveling had given him a sense 
that the world was round, and that was his influence on me. He was 
not a great writer, but he was a linguist, and he was an 
enormously gifted listener, and I don’t know where that counts in 
the community of intellectuals.”

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