In Memoriam: Dr. James Z. Gao

Jeremy Brown's picture

Dear colleagues,

Here is a tribute to James Z. Gao written by Liang Kan of Seattle University, who has given me permission to post it here:

Dr. James Z. Gao, a history professor at University of Maryland at College Park, passed away on October 25, 2021, after a brief and brave battle with cancer. He was 73.

James was born and raised in China. He studied Zulu language in college and received a graduate degree in International Politics from Peking University. He came to the U.S. in the mid-1980s and earned his Ph.D. from Yale in African history in 1994. He then switched to Chinese history and started publishing in the field. James joined the history faculty at the University of Maryland in 1998. He had three book-length publications: Meeting Technology’s Advance: Social Changes in China and Zimbabwe in the Railway Age (1997); The Communist Takeover of Hangzhou: The Transformation of City and Cadre, 1949-1954 (2004) and A to Z of Modern China, 1800-1949 (2009). He was also working on a manuscript, Shanghai Market: Rice Consumers, Merchants, and the State. He was remembered as a great teacher, scholar, as well as a great contributor to the academic community. He was the founding president of Chinese Historians in the United States (CHUS). He will be long missed by his colleagues and friends.  

Categories: Announcement
Keywords: In Memoriam

From Jeremy Brown and Paul G. Pickowicz:

We are shocked and saddened by news of the death of Dr. James Z. Gao 高峥. 高峥 was truly 高 and 峥. James was the tallest person at any academic gathering, but beyond his height and skill as a researcher and writer, what made him a towering figure in the field of modern Chinese history was his kindness and generosity to colleagues. Back in 2004, when we were thinking about who to invite to a conference about China's early 1950s, Joe Esherick told us that he had a promising manuscript by James Gao about the Communist takeover of Hangzhou on his desk. That manuscript became Gao's pathbreaking book, which uses oral history and archival sources to show how the relatively cautious tenor of urban governance during the early years of the People's Republic was not a retreat from radicalism but actually set the stage for the revolutionary fervor to come. We knew right away that Gao needed to be a key part of any discussion about PRC history.

Gao's contribution to the 1950s conference in La Jolla, which resulted in his chapter in our book Dilemmas of Victory ("The Call of the Oases: The 'Peaceful Liberation' of Xinjiang, 1949–53), was also towering and showcased his versatility and generosity as a scholar and colleague. Even before the conference, Gao was working to make the overall project a success. When he learned that Jeremy Brown, then a junior graduate student at UC San Diego, was at the National Archives in College Park, he took Brown to lunch, offered research advice, and a week later mailed a rare internally circulated book of memoirs by southbound cadres who had occupied Guizhou and Yunnan. As Dr. Felix Boecking remarked on Twitter after learning of Gao's death, Gao was a "senior scholar who took the time to be kind to graduate students from other schools. The mark of a 君子, as far as I'm concerned."