Aug. 12, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 20

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    Expert on modern China Tang Tsou dies at 80

    Tang Tsou, (Ph.D.,‘51) a political scientist at the University and one of the nation’s leading experts on modern China, died Saturday at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Tsou, a resident of Hyde Park for 55 years, was 80.

    Tsou was the author of six books on Chinese politics, including America’s Failure in China: 1941-1950, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1963. The book won the Gordon J. Laing Prize from the Press in 1965 as the best book written during the previous two years by a Chicago faculty member.

    Among his other books was Twentieth Century Chinese Politics: From the Perspectives of Macro-history and Micromechanism Analysis, which was published in Chinese in 1994 by Oxford University Press in Hong Kong.

    Tsou, the Homer J. Livingston Professor Emeritus in Political Science, was well known for his independent thinking, said colleague Dali Yang, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University. His positions often brought him into disagreement with leaders in the United States as well as in both mainland China and Taiwan, he said.

    “His position in America’s Failure in China: 1941-1950 was that the Nationalist government lost to the communists in the Chinese Civil War because the Nationalist government was corrupt and riven by infighting,” Yang said.

    That analysis annoyed the Nationalists as well as American policymakers who were pro-Taiwan. He also took positions that irritated the Communist Chinese.

    Charles Lipson, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University, said, “Tang Tsou was not only an expert on China, he was a profound thinker about China's place in the world, particularly its rocky relations with the Soviet Union, North Korea and the United States.

    “What was so striking––and so wonderful––about Tang Tsou was his continuing intellectual curiosity,” Lipson said. “He may have been 80 years old and one of the world's most distinguished Sinologists, but he had a graduate student’s zest for new ideas. His passion for study and his willingness to work were undiminished to the end.”

    Tsou visited China during his scholarly career and also pursued a number of important research projects.

    From 1977 to 1980, for instance, he was principal investigator of the research project “Political Leadership and Social Change in China at the Local Level from 1850 to the Present.” The project was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and focused on changes in China’s rural areas beginning in the 1940s.

    During the 1990s, Tsou became optimistic about the future of China, Yang said. He felt the political and economic system was benefiting the people. He was extremely interested in China becoming part of the World Trade Organization. He felt that membership in the WTO would help integrate China into the rest of the world.

    Tsou was named an honorary professor at Beijing University in 1986 and was named an honorary academy member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1997, the first year that membership became possible for foreigners.

    Tsou was born in Canton, China, and received a B.A. in 1940 from National Southwestern Associated University, Kunming, China. He received a Ph.D. in political science in 1951 from Chicago. He came to the University as a student in 1941. “Tang Tsou’s personal history was a microcosm of the turbulence of Chinese politics, and in the tradition of China’s scholars, he was devoted heart and soul to China’s welfare. Though he was fated to watch the PRC from a distance, his emotional and academic center of gravity remained in China. He was an outside insider,” said former student Brantly Womack, professor of government and international affairs at the University of Virginia.

    In his book The Cultural Revolution and Post-Mao Reforms, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1986, Tsou said “an instinct for survival” helped him through the squalls of his life and “unexpected good fortune” eventually gave him “a chance to find a place and a home in a bountiful land.”

    He is survived by his wife, Yi-Chuang Lu. A memorial service will be held at a later date.