In Memoriam

Franz Schurmann

Franz Schurmann, a China and global scholar, journalist, and former head of the Center for Chinese Studies, died in San Francisco on August 20, 2010, at the age of 84.

Professor Schurmann — he was Franz to everyone — was a World War Two veteran who like many of his generation parlayed his training in Asian languages into a career (initially) focused on academic scholarship. After completing his doctorate at Harvard in Asian Studies, he came to Berkeley to teach Persian and Turkish, two of a dozen languages in which he was fluent.

Harvard's Ezra Vogel puts it this way: He was modest and plain in his own living, passionate about his concern for justice, brilliant in seeing comparisons across histories and cultures that few could match.

Franz Schurmann subsequently joined and was tenured in Berkeley's History and Sociology Departments. He accurately predicted the major Sino-Soviet rift, surprising lesser proponents of a monolithic communism. After the turmoil of the 1960s Franz grew disenchanted with academia and co-founded the Pacific News Service in San Francisco. With his wife and partner, PNS Executive Editor Sandy Close, Schurmann developed the news service into a "voice for the voiceless." They largely refocused it from Asia to the U.S. PNS and its later broader incarnation, New America Media, offer an alternative news stream that many major outlets nonetheless subscribe to. When the New York Times reported the latest war on drugs, quoting officials in Washington, PNS went to the streets and interviewed the junkies. Schurmann continued to teach at Berkeley until retiring in the 1990s.

He is survived by Close and sons Mark Schurmann and Peter Schurmann, the latter a new student here at Berkeley's graduate Group in Asian Studies program.

A memorial service for Franz Schurmann will be held at the UC Berkeley Alumni Center on Sunday, September 19, 2010, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Note: This essay was compiled by Dr. David Fraser of the Institute of East Asian Studies. He expresses his appreciation to Professor Ezra Vogel of Harvard for his personal remembrances. Some material is drawn from the articles about the passing of Franz Schurmann at New America Media's website,

Click the links below to read online articles about Franz Schurmann.

Personal reminiscence

I read Franz Schurmann's Ideology and Organization in Communist China (1966/1968) during college; it was dense and fascinating and propelled me — eventually — toward advanced studies in Chinese history and culture. When I came to Berkeley for the doctoral program in East Asian History, someone suggested I visit Pacific News Service. I expected to meet an intimidating, grand old analyst of Chinese affairs. Instead, there was Franz, a universal uncle, sometimes appearing (though not actually) a bit distracted, hand cupped to bolster his hearing, working at his desk covered with newspapers in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and who knew what else. Part of his appeal was that rather than displaying his formidable intellect and expansive knowledge of global affairs, he liked to ask those around him for their views. I quickly learned after Sandy hired me part-time that Franz loved people and ideas. He was enormously kind, giving me the run of his office on campus for a number of graduate years. He taught his classes, but ultimately made a rare choice to swap life as a professor at the University of California for a career as a more public intellectual, an "explorer/journalist" as he put it, working out of modest offices in San Francisco. This is not to value one profession over the other, but rather to observe Franz's willingness to go where his questing heart and mind took him (he would point out that in Chinese, both are covered by the same word, 心 [xin]).

David Fraser, Ph.D.
IEAS, Managing Editor, Asian Survey
Berkeley, CA

If you would like to add a personal reminiscense of Professor Schurmann, please send it to Catherine Lenfestey, IEAS webmaster.