Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Franz Schurmann, Cold War Expert on China, Dies at 84"

"Franz Schurmann, an expert on China during the cold war and a globe-trotting professor who helped found the Pacific News Service, a provider of news and commentary about Asia, died on Aug. 20 at his home in San Francisco. He was 84. The cause was complications of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, his wife, Sandy Close, said.  Mr. Schurmann, who was fluent in as many as 12 languages and read a variety of foreign papers daily, taught history and sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, for nearly four decades. But his life was far more adventurous than that sounds, and he referred to himself not as an academic but as an explorer-journalist.  The son of working-class immigrants, he developed early on the charisma and intellectual heft to attract famous and powerful company. He spent graduate school summers with the family of the German expatriate playwright Bertolt Brecht, whose son Stefan he had met in the Army. At Brecht’s Southern California dinner table he encountered Thomas Mann and other German intellectuals in exile.  An opponent of the Vietnam War and a founder of the Berkeley Faculty Peace Committee in 1964, he toured Hanoi with the writer Mary McCarthy in 1968. An inveterate traveler, especially in Asia but also in Russia and other parts of Europe, he became used to drawing conclusions more from firsthand observations than from secondhand accounts by scholars and journalists.""  I met Franz and his wife Sandy more than 10 years ago.  They wanted to publicize my radical perspective on the Middle East on KPFA in Berkeley and in the Pacific News Service.  He was a most brilliant man and I did a few radio shows with him.  When you read about his language skills, you better believe it.   This Asian expert later in life worked on other languages, like Arabic.  He told me that he got in to the habit of reading Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat daily.  I would try to convince him to read another Arabic newspaper to no avail: it was part of his daily routine and he was all aware of the nature and mission of the paper but felt that he needed to see that Saudi perspective.   He gave me one of his classic studies of China and I will now begin reading it.   I met him when he was in his seventies and back then his mind was sharp and memory meticulous.  I take this public opportunity to send my condolences to Sandy and the family.