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Albert Feuerwerker

Albert Feuerwerker, who enjoyed a long and active career at the University of Michigan and who fashioned a distinguished legacy as a scholar of Chinese history, passed away on April 27, 2013.

Born in 1927, he was raised in Cleveland, Ohio.  He studied at Harvard University, earning his A.B. degree in history, magnum cum laude, in 1950 and his Ph.D. in History and Far Eastern Languages in 1957.  He was a lecturer at the University of Toronto (1955-1958) and a research fellow at Harvard (1958-1960), and then came to the University of Michigan in 1959, where he spent the remainder of his career.  He became professor emeritus in 1996.

At the University of Michigan, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Center for Chinese Studies.  He served as its first director, 1961-1967, and again from 1972 to 1983.  He applied his leadership to making the University of Michigan one of the major centers in the country for Chinese studies and for Asian studies more broadly.  He secured grants, facilitated the creation of new positions in other departments, helped to recruit faculty, supported the growth of the Asia Library, and negotiated a secure place for Asian studies among the University’s commitments.  He was chair of the Department of History from 1984 to 1987 and served on several important University committees.

His professional activities outside the University were extensive.  Among them was the presidency of the Association for Asian Studies, 1991-1992.  He served on various national committees over the years, sometimes as chair or co-chair, including the SSRC-ACLS Joint Committee on Contemporary China, the SSRC Subcommittee on Research on the Chinese Economy, the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (of the National Academy of Sciences), the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and the SSRC Committee on Exchanges with Asian Institutions.  He served on the editorial boards of several major academic journals.

The main focus in his scholarly publications was on the Chinese economy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, although he often ventured productively into other areas.  He set a base-line for discussions of the role of the Qing state in modern economic development with his monograph, China’s Early Industrialization:  Sheng Hsuan-huai (1844-1916) and Mandarin Enterprise (Harvard, 1958).  His 1970 article, “Handicraft and Manufactured Cotton Textiles in China, 1871-1910,” was immediately the standard for research and argument about economic change in that period.  He wrote general treatments of modern Chinese economic history that became the starting point for any further work and staples for graduate training in modern Chinese history.  He also published lucid short books on eighteenth-century China, on rebellion in the nineteenth century, and the foreign presence in the early twentieth century.  His publications pioneered the introduction to a Western audience of the scholarship of the People’s Republic of China.  He edited several important collections of academic work on China, and was a co-editor of one of the volumes of The Cambridge History of China, a series in which his articles appeared more than once.

Albert Feuerwerker’s contributions to both his university and his field of scholarship have been enormous.  He was a formidable figure in the arenas of his endeavors.  Those of us who knew him will also miss him as a friend and colleague.  We offer our consolations to his beloved wife, Yi-tsi, and his children, Alison and Paul.