Milestones, Research, People, Politics & society

East Asia scholar Robert A. Scalapino dies at 92

By Kathleen Maclay

Robert A. Scalapino, the Robson Research Professor of Government emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and a renowned expert in the field of East Asian studies, died Monday, Nov. 1, in Oakland, of complications from a respiratory infection. He was 92.

He was a leading expert in Japan studies, and advised three American presidents and numerous governmental groups on foreign policy relating to Asia. Scalapino also edited Asian Survey, the seminal journal of contemporary East Asian politics, from 1962 to 1996. He founded in 1978 the Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), one of UC Berkeleys largest and best endowed research units, and served as its director until retiring in 1990.

Robert A. Scalapino. Photo courtesy of G. Paul Bishop.

Robert Scalapino was a giant in Asian studies and U.S.-Asia relations, said T.J. Pempel, a UC Berkeley political science professor and former director of the IEAS. His scholarship was prodigious, and his teaching and active engagement in U.S. foreign policy shaped the policy views of countless Americans and Asians, from the general citizenry to many who rose to prominent positions on both sides of the Asia-Pacific.

Scalapino joined UC Berkeleys political science department in 1949 and served as department chair from 1962 to 1969.

He received his B.A. in 1940 from Santa Barbara College (later to become UC Santa Barbara) and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in government from Harvard University in 1943 and 1948, respectively.

Scalapino was born Oct. 19, 1919, in Leavenworth, Kan., and his family moved in 1929 to Santa Barbara. Midway through college, he decided to specialize in politics and international relations between the United States and Europe. After Pearl Harbor, Scalapino went into the military as a Japanese language officer at the U.S. Navy Language School in Boulder, Colo., beginning his immersion in East Asia.

Scalapino published some 553 articles and 39 books or monographs on Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan as well as on Asian politics and U.S. Asian policy. These include Democracy and the Party Movement in Prewar Japan (1952), Parties and Politics in Contemporary Japan (1962), and the two-volume Communism in Korea (with Chong-Sik Lee, 1972), for which the authors received the Woodrow Wilson Award.

He was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the government of Japan in 1984 for promoting Japan-U.S. cooperation and understanding. Scalapino also received the Order of Diplomatic Service Merit, Heung-in Medal from the Government of Korea, and the Friendship Medal from the Government of Mongolia.

He also received the Medal of Highest Honor from the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies at Kyung Hee University and the Japan Foundation Award. He was made honorary professor at Peking University and at the Center on Northeast Asian Studies in Mongolia.

Scalapino was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was a founder and first chair of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Between 1965 and 1980, he served on the State Department Advisory Committees on East Asia and on China.

He was awarded the Berkeley Medal, the campuss highest honor, in 1999, and the Berkeley Citation for Distinguished Service in 1990.

Scalapino was a member of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, the board of trustees of The Asia Foundation, and the advisory boards of the Atlantic Council, the Pacific Forum-Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the National Bureau of Asian Research. He served on the board of The Asia Society and was director emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and the Japan Society of Northern California.

Bobs greatest talent was as a synthesizer and explicator of myriad complex events from which he would perennially present his cautiously optimistic views of how policies could effectively be shaped to resolve the most daunting of issues, said Pempel.

An indefatigable world traveler, Scalapino made 62 trips to the Peoples Republic of China. He had two one-year residences in Japan, and went many times to the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and all parts of South and Southeast Asia. He also traveled several times to North Korea and led a 2008 delegation of UC Berkeley faculty members to Mongolia.

In his memoirs, From Leavenworth to Lhasa Living in a Revolutionary Era (2008), Scalapino said he started his college teaching career in 1940 to pay for graduate school. At that time, he met Dee Jessen, and the two wed in 1941, remaining married until her death in 2005. They raised three daughters: the late poet Leslie Scalapino; Diane Jablon of Los Angeles; and Lynne Scalapino of Berkeley, Calif. Robert Scalapino also is survived by five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

A memorial is set for 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Faculty Clubs Great Hall on campus.

Donations in Scalapinos memory can be made to the Robert A. Scalapino Fund at IEAS, benefitting undergraduate students at UC Berkeley with an interest in East Asian studies. Contact Rochelle Halperin at for details.