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Julia Ching, 1934-2001

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 62, Number 4, October 2001
pp. 745-746 | 10.1353/jhi.2001.0037

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Journal of the History of Ideas 62.4 (2001) 745-746

Professor Julia Ching, member of the Board of Editors of this Journal for twenty-five years, died of complications from cancer at the age of 67 on Friday, 26 October, in Toronto.

Born in Shanghai in 1934, Professor Ching was a refugee from the Japanese invasion in World War II and from the communist takeover in China after the war. After high school in Hong Kong she studied at the College of New Rochelle in New York and served as an Ursuline nun for two decades, taking an M.A. degree at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., teaching in Taiwan, and then obtaining a doctorate in Asian studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. Later she moved to posts at Columbia and Yale before going to the University of Toronto in 1978.

Entering the field of scholarship at the age of 35, Julia became a world expert on neo-Confucian philosophy and religion of the Song and Ming dynasties of tenth-through seventeenth-century China. The fifteen books she has written or edited include her definitive studies of the leading Ming Confucian Wang Yangming (1976) and the leading Song Confucian Zhu Xi (2000). She also co-authored a book on Christianity and Chinese religions with the theologian Hans Küng (1989), and with her husband, Willard G. Oxtoby, edited a volume, Discovering China (1992), for the Library of the History of Ideas. For her scholarly achievements she was appointed to the rank of University Professor at the University of Toronto, named incumbent to the R. C. and E. Y. Lee Chair of Chinese Thought and Culture, made a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, named to the Scholars' Council of the U.S. Library of Congress, and received honorary L.H.D. and D.D. degrees.

Julia delighted in intellectual interchange, putting scholars in touch with one another. She organized international gatherings for the study of Chinese philosophy and with her husband was co-president of the 33rd International Congress of Asian and North African Studies, which hosted over a thousand attendees in Toronto in 1990. More recently, she was a key planner of, and active participant in, this journal's conference on Chinese intellectual history held in Nanjing in the spring of 2001 -- her last academic appearance before her final illness.

Julia Ching's interests were not limited to technical scholarship. She participated in movements for world responsibility such as the Inter-Action Council, Science for Peace, and the Canadian Pugwash Group. As an astute commentator on current events, she was frequently called on to interpret breaking news from China, both by the general Canadian press and networks and the Chinese-language media in Toronto. In response to the Tian'anmen massacre of 1989, she published a book on protest and dissent in China, Probing China's Soul (1990). She became arguably the principal cultural authority in the Chinese community of Toronto; and for this as well as her scholarship she was named in 2000 to membership in the Order of Canada.

Formerly private about her personal life, Julia shared many of her fears and feelings in a personal literary memoir, The Butterfly Healing: A Life Between East and West (Orbis, 1998), in which she described her perceptions of being an Asian woman in male-dominated Western academe, of striving for spiritual discipline in the religious order, and of seeking healing as a cancer survivor experiencing various therapies.

United States donations toward a Julia Ching fellowship to assist Ph.D. students in Chinese thought and culture in the later stages of their work may be made payable to "Associates of the University of Toronto, Inc.," and forwarded to Mr. Gary Kaufman, Treasurer, at the Associates office, 1370 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 3200, New York, NY 10019. Canadian donations may be addressed to "University of Toronto" care of Ms. Suzanne Puckering, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A1.

Willard G. Oxtoby


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