UC Berkeley News


Frederic Wakeman Jr.

20 September 2006

Frederic Wakeman Jr.

Frederic Evans Wakeman Jr., an eminent emeritus professor of Chinese history, died at his home in Lake Oswego, Ore., on Sept. 14. He was 68.

The cause of death was cancer, said his wife, He Lea Wakeman.

During the 1970s and '80s, Wakeman played a pivotal role in the opening of scholarly exchanges between the United States and China, according to Joseph Esherick, professor of history at the University of California, San Diego and one of Wakeman's former students.

In 1978, as educational adviser of the U.S. Inter-Agency Negotiating Team on Chinese-American International Exchanges, Wakeman helped ensure that the Chinese desire for scientific and technical exchanges with the United States would be matched by an opening of research opportunities in China for American scholars in the social sciences and humanities, Esherick said.

In subsequent years, Wakeman served on and chaired many of the committees that worked to expand cultural and scholarly relations with China.

But it was as an author of books that Wakeman's influence was the greatest. His historical writings ranged from the 17th-century origins of the last Chinese dynasty to the philosophical foundation of Mao Zedong's thought.

Considered by colleagues a meticulous researcher and a master of many languages, Wakeman was known for his detailed narratives of the complex social, political, and personal dynamics that lay behind the critical turning points in Chinese history.

"Wakeman is one of the finest historians ever to work at Berkeley and one of the campus's greatest scholars of any discipline in the current generation," said David Hollinger, chair of Berkeley's Department of History.

Wakeman's first monograph, Strangers at the Gate: Social Disorder in South China, 1839-1861 (1966), was a pioneering work of local history that explored the social unrest affecting the Canton region in the wake of the Opium War. His 1973 book History and Will: Philosophical Perspectives of the Thought of Mao Tse-tung explored the philosophical influences on Mao's thought - from Zhuangzi to Marx, from neo-Confucians to neo-Hegelians - probing sources ranging from the textbook Mao used in college to his poetry during the Cultural Revolution.

Wakeman's most famous work was The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China (1985). This two-volume narrative history of court debates and literati culture was honored in 1987 with the Joseph R. Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies, which called it "a monumental work [of] extraordinary scope, ambition, and narrative power ... a true history written with an awareness of world events and global connections."

In recent years, Wakeman's work focused on the political history of 20th-century China, with particular attention to Shanghai and the modernizing Chinese states' preoccupation with issues of public security.

A fellow of the American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Wakeman served in 1992-93 as president of the American Historical Association and from 1986 to 1989 as president of the Social Science Research Council.

He was born in Kansas City, Kan., on Dec. 12, 1937. His father, Frederic Evans Wakeman Sr., was a successful novelist who led his family on a peripatetic life, so that the young Frederic attended school in New York City, Cuernavaca, Bermuda, Santa Barbara, Havana, France, and Ft. Lauderdale. Adjusting easily to instruction in Spanish and French, Wakeman picked up smatterings of Italian and Portuguese during summer vacations and learned some Latin at his British grammar school in Bermuda.

In 1955, Wakeman entered Harvard College, where he majored in European history and literature, adding German and Russian to his repertoire and graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He turned to Chinese studies while studying at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, then earned his Ph.D. in Far Eastern history at Berkeley in 1965, mastering Chinese and Japanese in the process. Along the way, in 1962, he published a novel, Seventeen Royal Palms Drive, under the name of Evans Wakeman.

Wakeman taught at Berkeley for his entire career, beginning in 1965. Upon his retirement in June he was honored with the campus's highest award for faculty, the Berkeley Citation.

Wakeman is survived by his wife, He Lea Wakeman, of Lake Oswego, Ore.; three children, Frederic Wakeman III of London, England, Matthew Wakeman of Kensington, and Sarah Wakeman of Providence, R.I.; two grandchildren; and his sister, Susan Farquhar of Blacksburg, Va.

A memorial service will be held on the Berkeley campus in early November.