The following announcement was made on Dec. 21 by Michael A. Szonyi, director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and Winnie (Chi-Man) Yip, acting director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, at Harvard University.
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved former director, colleague and friend Ezra F. Vogel (1930-2020), Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences, emeritus, at Harvard University. He passed away on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020 at Mt Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., at the age of 90, due to complications from surgery.
From 1973-1975, Professor Vogel served as the second director of the East Asian Research Center, which was founded in 1955 and later renamed the Fairbank Center in honor of its founding director, Professor John King Fairbank. Professor Vogel served as director again from 1995-99.
He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University (B.A.) in 1950 and then Harvard University (Ph.D. sociology) in 1958, after which he then spent two years conducting fieldwork in Japan. He was assistant professor at Yale University from 1960-61 and a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University from 1961-64, studying Chinese language and history. He became a lecturer at Harvard in 1964 and a professor in 1967.
Professor Vogel made remarkable contributions to the study of East Asia. The breadth of research covered the entirety of East Asia, to which he brought not only a deep knowledge and understanding of each country, but also an understanding of the region’s political, economic, and cultural interconnectedness.
His many books highlight his multifaceted intellectual endeavors and include: “Japan’s New Middle Class”; “Canton Under Communism”; “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America”; “Comeback, Case by Case: Building the Resurgence of American Business”; “One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong Under Reform”; “The Four Little Dragons: The Spread of Industrialization in East Asia”; “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China”; and most recently, “China and Japan: Facing History.”
The Japanese edition of “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America” (1979) remains the all-time best-seller in Japan of non-fiction by a Western author.
Professor Vogel contributed extensively to building institutions that would support generations of scholars and practitioners with an interest in East Asia. Beyond the Fairbank Center, he served as the second chairman of Harvard’s Council for East Asian Studies (1977-1980) and director of the Undergraduate Concentration in East Asian Studies from its inception in 1972 until 1989. In 1980, he served as the founding director of the Harvard Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, where he served until 1987, and then as honorary director until his passing.
In 1993 he took a two-year leave of absence from Harvard to serve as a national intelligence officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council during the Clinton Administration. On his return to Harvard, he served as both director of the Fairbank Center (1995-1999) and as the founding director of the Harvard University Asia Center, from 1997-1999, a center that he envisioned as supporting transnational and transregional studies of the Asian continent.
In recent years, he remained an active and enthusiastic member of the Fairbank Center community, organizing a weekly “Critical Issues Confronting China” lecture series, hosting visitors at the center and at his nearby home, and regularly traveling to East Asia to engage with scholars in the region.
Ever the optimist, Professor Vogel was an advocate for improving mutual understanding between the U.S. and China. We are sure that it would be Ezra’s wish that we commemorate him by working to improve the U.S.-China relationship in ways that are beneficial to the peoples of both countries.
Above all, Professor Vogel will be remembered for his kindness, generosity, patience, and devotion to teaching. He always described himself as a student first and a teacher second. Writing in The Japan Times, Professor Vogel’s son, Steven, writes that he “will be most remembered for his boundless good cheer and boyish enthusiasm.”
Professor Mark C. Elliott, former Fairbank Center director and current vice-provost for international affairs at Harvard University, writes that Professor Vogel’s passing is “a huge loss to Harvard and to Asian studies everywhere.”
Ezra Vogel was a true champion of the Fairbank Center, an erudite scholar, and a wonderful friend. He will be truly missed by all of us here at Harvard.
A memorial service honoring Ezra’s life will held at an appropriate time in the new year.