Ezra Feivel Vogel, 90 – Harvard Gazette
At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on November 1, 2022, the following tribute to the life and service of the late Ezra Feivel Vogel was released in the permanent archives of the Faculty.
Ezra Vogel, Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences, Skilled, was one of the main American authorities in East Asia. Over a sixty-year career, he has published groundbreaking works on Japan and China based on detailed fieldwork, in-depth interviews and desk research.
Ezra grew up in small town Delaware, Ohio. His father ran a men’s and boys’ clothing store where Ezra often helped out; his mother was a housewife and part-time accountant at the store. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and, after serving in the military, he enrolled in the doctoral program in social relations at Harvard. He intended to become a family sociologist, completing his doctorate. in 1958.
Ezra’s transformation into a researcher of Japan and then China came about through chance conversations and a willingness to take risks (on the part of Ezra and his wife, Suzanne, a social worker by training, whom he married in 1953) . One of his thesis supervisors, Florence Kluckhohn, asked Ezra how he could generalize about American families if he had nothing to compare them with. Accepting this challenge, Ezra secured funding to spend 1958–1960 in Tokyo, where he studied Japanese intensively and then conducted weekly interviews with six suburban families over the course of a year. The result was “Japan’s New Middle Class” (1963).
Ezra returned to a position at Yale. Opening the door to a second transformation, anthropologist John Pelzel told Ezra that Harvard received a grant to fund social scientists willing to reorganize for careers studying contemporary China. Although he had no knowledge of China, Ezra was intrigued by this opportunity and Pelzel arranged for him to meet John King Fairbank. With Suzanne’s support, Ezra declared himself ready to become a specialist in both China and Japan, on the condition of benefiting from a three-year post-doctoral fellowship to enable him to learn Chinese and begin research on contemporary China, followed by teaching post in social relations. This package was quickly negotiated and Ezra left Yale in 1961 and spent the rest of his career at Harvard.
After Ezra’s intensive Chinese lessons, the Vogels spent 1963–64 in Hong Kong, where he conducted in-depth interviews with people who had once lived in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). These accounts of daily refugee life, supplemented by accounts from the Chinese press, became “Canton under Communism” (1969), detailing how the Chinese Communist Party had transformed the institutions and social patterns of the province adjacent to Hong Kong.
Ezra’s later research shifted between China and Japan. The difficulties faced by American automakers in competing with Japanese automakers prompted Ezra to write his provocative book “Japan as Number One” (1979), which argued that in some ways Japan was becoming a more prosperous modern industrial society than United States. 1980s China’s incipient economic boom brought Ezra’s attention to the PRC In 1979, divorced from Suzanne, Ezra married Charlotte Ikels, a Chinese anthropologist, and in 1987 they spent seven months in Guangzhou. This fieldwork became “One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong under Reform” (1989).
Ezra was concerned about America’s ability to compete on the world stage, but was also deeply committed to cooperation between America, Japan, and China. “Comeback” (1985) conveyed his ideas of how the United States might respond to the Japanese challenge. From 1993 to 1995, he took time off to serve in the Clinton administration as an officer for the National Intelligence Council for East Asia, and over the years he has published numerous essays analyzing the relationship of America with rising East Asia.
Ezra continued to write and publish after retiring from teaching in 2000. He spent more than ten years researching his masterful book, “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” (2011), which describes how Deng, a lifelong communist, was able to steer China toward a successful post-socialist economic transition. His latest book was “China and Japan: Facing History” (2019), a detailed historical survey of the relationship between the two great Asian powers over several centuries.
Ezra’s reputation for honest, knowledgeable, and sympathetic scholarship on the societies he studied won him widespread praise and respect on both sides of the Pacific. The translation of “Japan as Number One” became a bestseller, and a Chinese translation of his book on Deng also became a bestseller in the PRC. He traveled to Japan at least once a year from 1958. After an initial visit in 1973, he visited the PRC every year from 1980. He frequently lectured in Asia, giving public lectures and media interviews in Chinese and Japanese.
In addition to his impressive scholarship, Ezra was a builder of academic institutions. At Harvard, he directed the East Asian Research Center, the Council of East Asian Studies, the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, the Asia Center, and the U.S.-Japan Relations Program, and he was the founding chair of the concentration East Asian studies. , continuing in this role from 1972 to 1991. He was also active in numerous outside organizations devoted to Asian studies and Asian-American relations.
Ezra has won several literary awards, received honorary degrees from eleven universities, and was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure of Japan, the Gold and Silver Star, in 1991, and the Centennial Medal from Harvard Graduate School. of Arts and Sciences in 2008.
None of these honors convey the characteristics of Ezra Vogel that earned him so much gratitude and affection from those whose lives he touched. His boundless optimism, utter unpretentiousness, generosity, intense curiosity, eagerness to exchange ideas, and dedication to promoting the careers of young scholars generated a vast network of friends and admirers around the world. . Ezra treasured those connections, maintaining contact in part through his annual Christmas card list, which eventually included more than 600 names. It was a full and rewarding life on a big stage for a modest youngster from a small town in central Ohio.
Ezra is survived by his wife, Charlotte Ikels; children, David, Steven and Eve; sister, Fay Vogel Bussgang; and five grandchildren.
Mary C. Brinton
Martin K. Whyte, President