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