June 9, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 20

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    Obituary: Herrlee Creel, East Asian Languages & Civilizations

    Herrlee G. Creel (Ph.B.'26, A.M.'27, Ph.D.'29), the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in East Asian Languages & Civilizations, died June 1 at his home in Palos Park, Ill. He was 89.

    Creel was considered one of the world's foremost scholars of Confucius and early Chinese philosophy, history and literature.

    "Herrlee Creel was a giant in the field of Chinese studies," said David Roy, Professor in East Asian Languages & Civilizations. "His work helped establish the University as a leading international center of East Asian studies."

    The author of more than 10 books and several dozen papers on Chinese history and culture, Creel helped prepare during World War II one of the first English-language textbooks on translating Chinese, "Newspaper Chinese by the Inductive Method" (1942). His method for training students in modern journalistic Chinese was regarded as an important contribution to the war effort.

    One of the founders in the 1930s of the University's program in Far Eastern Studies, Creel was also instrumental in establishing the University's Far Eastern Library, an internationally renowned collection of classical Chinese literature.

    He began the library by ordering some 5,000 books a year directly from Chinese book dealers. In 1939, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, he and his wife, Lorraine Johnson Creel, decided to make a potentially dangerous visit to Beijing, which was under Japanese occupation, to make larger purchases.

    "I thought there was going to be a war and that we should go to Beijing to get as many books out as we could before it was too late," Creel said in a 1987 interview.

    In Beijing, he arranged with an agent, who later became chief librarian of the National Library there, to purchase about 75,000 volumes, most of which dealt with China before 1644. In the spring of 1940, the Creels left Beijing with trunks of books on a journey that led them through Korea and Japan to Hawaii and then back to Chicago. By the time they had returned, the war in China had escalated and many books in China had already been destroyed.

    During World War II, hundreds of Army recruits eager to study China and other East Asian nations came to the University to use the materials gathered by Creel.

    Among Creel's most famous books are "Shen Pu-hai: A Chinese Political Philosopher of the Fourth Century B.C." (1974), "What is Taoism?" (1970), "The Origins of Statecraft in China, Vol. I: The Western Chou Empire" (1970), "Chinese Thought, from Confucius to Mao Tse-tung" (1953), "Confucius, the Man and the Myth" (1949) and "The Birth of China" (1936).

    Creel, a native Chicagoan, received his Ph.B. in 1926, his A.M. in 1927 and his Ph.D. in 1929 from the University. He studied in Beijing from 1932 to 1936 before joining the Chicago faculty in 1936.

    Creel served as Chairman of the Committee on Far Eastern Civilizations from 1951 to 1957 and as Chairman of Oriental Languages & Civilizations from 1954 to 1962. He was named the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in 1964, and he retired in 1973.

    A former president of the American Oriental Society, he also had been a member of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council.

    He is survived by his wife, Lorraine Johnson Creel.

    Services will be private. Plans for a memorial service will be announced.