M. C. Brinton u.a. (Hrsg.): Remembering Ezra Vogel

Remembering Ezra Vogel.

Brinton, Mary C.; Whyte, Martin K.
Harvard East Asian Monographs
368 S.
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Karina Khasnulina, Leipzig University

On 20 December 2020, Ezra F. Vogel, an esteemed American sociologist and specialist in the East Asian region, as well as a professor and former director of the Fairbank Center at Harvard University, departed from this mortal realm. Two years hence, the Harvard University Asia Center released the tome Remembering Ezra Vogel, thus becoming the 455th addition to the renowned Harvard East Asian Monographs series. However, this book deviates from the customary academic studies typically found within this series and from the genre of a conventional biography. Edited by two of Vogel’s colleagues and sociology professors from Harvard University, Martin K. Whyte and Mary C. Brinton, this book bears a resemblance to a Festschrift, comprised not of research articles but instead of brief reminiscences offered by acquaintances of the late professor. Perhaps the most accurate definition for the book would be his collectively painted academic portrait of Ezra Vogel.

Within the pages of this volume, one encounters memoirs about Vogel, penned by his family members, friends, and colleagues, who knew him at various stages of his life. These recollections, numbering 155 succinct short essays, are organized into 15 distinct sections that delve into different facets of Vogel’s life and work. They touch upon his seminal work Japan as Number One,1 his profound comprehension of China, and his unwavering dedication to bridging the divide between East Asia and the Western world. Not only does each essay offer a distinct perspective, collectively painting a comprehensive portrait of Vogel’s multifaceted contributions, but the memoirs also capture the impact Vogel had on his colleagues, students, the academic community, and even international relations. One of the book’s notable strengths is its ability to capture the personal anecdotes and stories that reveal Vogel’s character and his impact on those around him, be it family members, students, or even US foreign service officers.

When I received this book for review, I did not start reading it from the first page but first found the familiar names of Asian researchers throughout the text. So I went to the middle of the book, to the memories of Vogel of my teacher and the man I consider my first supervisor in contemporary China studies, Prof. Zhou Xiaohong (p. 302). Xiaohong became a kind of bridge between Vogel and me, whom I had never met in person, but like all students in China studies, I learned from his work. Any other person from this field, whether a student or an accomplished researcher, will find in the book the name of a familiar person who was guided Prof. Vogel’s personality. Indeed, the book can be read by opening it to any page. After all, each essay, which occupies approximately a page, is a separate story that sheds light on individual episodes of the hero’s life and how the system of scientific interaction works. One might even say that it shows how informal interpersonal relationships are as important as professional ones in the development of any scholar.

In this regard, as a young teacher, I came to the conclusion that the book, as a special type of historical source, could be an effective teaching tool. For example, sociology students can examine how memory forms in the academic community. The book gives not so many dry facts about an outstanding scientist but a personal account, a Weberian look at how a charismatic personality type is vital in building a career of the academic, whose scholarship would go beyond academia and setting up intercultural dialogues for rapprochement between countries. For those taking a course like “Introduction to Asian Studies”, this book can be a valuable addition to studying the history of the discipline in the twentieth century as a source about an academic career in North America and the scholar’s desire to influence the political perception of the foreign country. The book is especially replete with episodes of how, in the last decade of his life, Vogel tried to prevent those new diplomatic curtains from falling between countries.

Although the genre of the book does not include memoirs written during Vogel’s life, it would be interesting to learn about Vogel as a student from the memoirs of his former teachers. Even though they have already passed away, professors from Ohio or Harvard probably still have memoirs about these students. Thus, a little archival search and the addition of a couple of references to the perception of Vogel as a student would have enriched the image, reconstructed collectively.

Although the book is not a research study, I would argue that it is written in the true spirit of global history, where one can observe both the microscopic approach in certain episodes of everyday life, such as conversations during breakfast, and the telescopic view on the dynamics that took place in the world and in relations between America and Asia during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The latter can be traced not only by the broad geography of contributors, but also through the interconnectivity of these people, as well as knowledge they produced. My feeling is that this book is a farewell not only to a magnificent man who had lived a full life, but also to the era that he observed and reflected. It was the era of globalization, the absence of borders, and the annual Pacific crossing to field research in Asia.

1 Ezra F. Vogel, Japan as Number One. Lessons for America, Cambridge, 1979.

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