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John Dardess Remembrance

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Department of History and the East Asian studies community of the University of Kansas were saddened to learn of the passing of Professor John Dardess, well-respected historian of Ming China and member of the department from 1966 to 2002.

Professor Dardess said that his childhood fascination with dictators led him to study Russian history and language in college, but when he went into the army in the late 1950s, he was sent to the Army Language School to learn Chinese, and after that was posted in Taiwan. These experiences led him to enroll at Columbia University for graduate work in Ming history, a field that was just opening up in the United States.

His long-standing interest in dictatorships nonetheless continued to influence his choice of subject matter, particularly his second book, Confucianism and Autocracy: Professional Elites in the Founding of the Ming Dynasty, in which he wrote about Ming Taizu, the Ming founder, and his fourth book, Blood and History in China: The Donglin Faction and its Repression, 1620-1627, on a series of repressive events that he was inspired to write about after observing the Tiananmen events of 1989 in China. His 1996 local history, A Ming Society: Tai-ho County, Kiangsi, in the Fourteenth to Seventeenth Centuries received particularly high acclaim from Ming historians.

Professor Dardess retired from the University of Kansas in 2002, but his long and successful research career continued up until this year, as did his regular use of the extensive collection of sources on premodern China that he helped the KU Library to build. Most of his published work focused on various dimensions of Ming political history. His most recent book, More Than the Great Wall: The Northern Frontier and Ming National Security, 1368-1644, was published earlier this year. John's colleagues admired his productivity, appreciated his conviviality, and envied his physical stamina witnessed in his biking past undergraduates up the hill to his office. John's example as a gentleman scholar will be dearly missed.

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