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UC Berkeley Press Release

Michael Rogers, UC Berkeley professor emeritus who helped with first Mongolian-to-English dictionary, dies

– Michael Courtney Rogers, a University of California, Berkeley, professor emeritus of East Asian studies who was honored by the Korean government for his contributions to the study of Korean culture, died May 4 at his home in Grass Valley, Calif., following a long battle with the rare blood disease multiple myeloma.

"Rogers was a meticulous scholar and linguist," said Jeffrey Riegel, professor of Chinese, East Asian language and culture and chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley. "He had mastered the literary forms of Chinese and Korean, and his translations - as well as his scholarly writings - are exemplars of elegance and clarity."

Rogers' love of languages started when he was at San Diego High School and San Diego State University, where he studied Latin and French.

Rogers transferred to UC Berkeley in 1942 and dedicated himself first to Mongolian studies. He helped his department chairman compile the world's first Mongolian-to-English dictionary.

He completed his B.A. in 1944, and after the start of World War II, Rogers was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy and sent to its Japanese/Oriental Language School at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He delivered the valedictory address there in fluent Japanese.

After graduation, he changed his commission from Navy ensign to Marine Corps second lieutenant and underwent Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Then he was sent to the Pacific, participating as a language officer, translating documents and interviewing prisoners of war in the Okinawa campaign that began in April 1945.

Rogers told his family that after Japan surrendered in August 1945, he was surprised that some Japanese prisoners thought his account to them of the surrender was a ploy. After the war ended, he finished his service with a several-month tour of duty in China and was promoted to first lieutenant.

Returning to UC Berkeley in 1946, he studied Chinese and Tibetan, and two years later received a Fulbright scholarship to study those languages in China and Tibet. He traveled extensively there, often on foot and alone. He also spent several months living with the monks in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet and was one of very few Caucasians ever given that privilege.

He returned to his studies at UC Berkeley in 1950 and received his Ph.D. in oriental languages in June 1953. He married Francea Branger in 1954.

Rogers joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1953 as a professor of oriental languages and eventually become chair of what is now East Asian Studies.

At UC Berkeley, he taught Chinese, Japanese and Korean. His scholarly research included translating into English ancient Chinese dynastic histories that had never previously been translated. Among the best known is "Chronicle of Fu Chien: A Case of Exemplar History," published by UC Press in 1968 as one title in a Chinese Dynastic Histories Translation Project that was organized on the UC Berkeley campus.

Andrew Barshay, a UC Berkeley professor of history and chair of the Center for Japanese Studies, recalled Rogers' undergraduate Korean language classes during the early 1970s that were held in his office in the basement of Durant Hall.

"He had, as I recall, a practiced and graceful hand in writing Chinese characters and hangul, the Korean syllabary," said Barshay. "I think I remember him saying that he didn't speak colloquial Korean fluently, but he seemed to pronounce it with ease and had a good ear for correcting my pronunciation and getting the intonation of sentences right."

Rogers "had a pleasantly rumpled quality about him, and twinkly eyes, and just struck me as a contented person," said Barshay.

Rogers was honored by the South Korean government with the Bo-Gwan award in 1985 for his scholarly original research into Korean antiquity. After receiving the award, he and his wife set up the UC Study Abroad Program at Yonsei University in Seoul. Upon their return, they retired to Grass Valley, in the Sierra foothills.

His family said that throughout his life, Rogers' passion for knowledge never abated, and in retirement he focused on politics and Western civilization, resurrected a youthful passion for Latin, and wrote poetry.

A native of Santa Ana, Calif., Rogers is survived by sons Daniel Rogers of Oakland, Calif., and Mathew Rogers of Modesto, Calif.; daughters Suzie and Camilla Rogers of Grass Valley, Avian Rogers of Palm Springs, and Ame Wauters of Novato, Calif.; and three brothers, Joseph Rogers of San Francisco, Jack Rogers of Glendale, and Chuck Rogers of Pasadena. Rogers' wife, Francea, died in 2001.

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m., June 6, in Berkeley. Contact Daniel Rogers at drogers1221@comcast.net or (510) 339-3056 for details.

Contributions may be made in Michael Rogers' name to the Hospice of the Foothills, 12399 Nevada City Highway, Grass Valley, CA 95945.