Ezra Vogel, one of the most respected scholars on East Asia — who passed away on Dec. 20 — embodied what it meant to be a true master of Japanese and Chinese politics, economics and societies, including the mastering of both nation's respective languages. There are many scholars who are well-versed in matters related to Japan and China, but Vogel was simply in his own league in terms of his academic work, and his contributions were immeasurable in facilitating a better understanding of the two Asian giants for scholars and laypersons alike.
In July, some of his former students — myself included — and colleagues got together for an online party to celebrate his 90th birthday. The late scholar talked about his life, showing us many old family photos that included his Jewish immigrant parents. We were all amazed how such a radiant boy from the small town of Delaware, Ohio, could rise from such humble beginnings to navigate this world using his intellect and hard work to become the most celebrated expert on both Japan and China.
Vogel was full of energy and passion about his book project on Hu Yaobang, who was a close collaborator of Deng Xiaoping and very close to Japanese leaders such as Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. He also had words of advice on future U.S.-China policy for Joe Biden (who he hoped would win) and his administration in addition to being enthusiastic about his personal memoirs, as evidenced by the photo tour of his life. We parted by promising to meet again on his 100th birthday.