John DeFrancis, UH Manoa emeritus professor and influential Chinese language scholar, passes away

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Carolyn Tanaka, (808) 956-8109
External Affairs & University Relations
Posted: Jan 9, 2009

HONOLULU — John DeFrancis, an emeritus professor of Chinese studies at UH Mānoa and influential author of Chinese language text and resource books, passed away in Honolulu on January 2 at the age of 97.

During the Great Depression, DeFrancis traveled to Beijing, where he met his wife Kay, studied Chinese and traced the route of Genghis Khan. He returned to Yale as the university's first PhD student in Chinese studies.

McCarthyism cost DeFrancis his job as assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, but he eventually returned to academia to produce the widely used "DeFrancis series" of Chinese language textbooks and joined the UH Mānoa faculty in 1966.

He worked 10 years without compensation to produce the unprecedented ABC (Alphabetically Based Computerized) Chinese-English Dictionary (UH Press). All royalties from the series are donated to the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Chinese Studies to support work on successive editions. His philanthropy also supported UH Mānoa‘s Center for Chinese Studies and human rights organizations.

A celebration of his life will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 18, at the UH Mānoa Center for Korean Studies. Members of his family will be in attendance. For more on DeFrancis and to post condolence messages, visit

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