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Richard Baum, Distinguished "China Watcher," 1940-2012

Influential scholar, engaging teacher, and founder of Chinapol network.

December 14, 2012

Richard Baum, well-known and highly regarded China specialist, passed away December 14, 2012. Fuller remembrances will be forthcoming, but here we want to celebrate all that Rick meant to thousands of students in forty-two years of teaching at UCLA, to all those interested in China through his scholarship, and to the field through his leadership of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies and his creation of Chinapol, a large private online network of academic, government, media, and business specialists. Though a diehard Bruin, Rick was a key supporter of the USC U.S.-China Institute. A founding member of our board of scholars, Rick gave us advice, attended our events, and generously shared his expertise through three public talks. His encouragement and his criticism were both profoundly appreciated. We miss him and join his friends, students, and colleagues in extending our deepest sympathies to his wife Karin and other family members.

USC political scientist Stanley Rosen said, "Rick Baum was the single most important influence on my understanding of China, both in terms of research and teaching. I first learned how to teach a course on China while serving as his teaching assistant and how to write something others might want to read as his PhD student. I first met him when he came to teach at UCLA in 1969 and, even though he was still finishing his own PhD dissertation at UC Berkeley, he was an enthusiastic participant on my PhD qualifying oral examination. He taught me the importance of reading original Chinese documents and refugee interviewing in Hong Kong. He was always very supportive of my work and his constructive criticism greatly improved anything I wrote. His love of knowledge was highly infectious, but perhaps what I'll remember most in recent years was his frequent visits to USC whenever we had an interesting speaker or program on China. Only someone who lives and teaches in Los Angeles can appreciate the significance of a faculty member from the "rival" school making the trek across town for something other than the annual football ritual."

Rick was the author of many influential works, including Burying Mao. His last book, China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom is both a memoir and a study of how the field of China studies evolved over Rick’s life. Click here to see a three minute video UCLA made of Rick speaking about the book. A longer lecture that Rick gave at USC on the book is below.


Bored with language study but fascinated by Chinese politics, in 1967 Richard Baum "borrows" a set of secret Chinese Communist Party documents that Taiwan intelligence had somehow brought to Taipei. These materials revealed the fierce struggle waged between 1962 and 1965 over the direction of the party-state's Socialist Education campaign. Through the documents, Baum shows how Mao Zedong was pushing for a focus on class struggle, while his opponents, namely Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, were trying to keep the movement focused on rooting out official corruption. Working with another graduate student, Frederick Teiwes, Baum documented the ideological purity/effective performance battle at the center of the CCP that had eventually caused Mao to launch the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

This is just one of the stories that distinguished political scientist Baum shared in an engaging presentation at USC on April 1, 2010. Discussing his just published, China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom, Baum also detailed a three-decade long rivalry with Michel Oksenberg which included a pointed limerick and a verbal brawl at the profession's annual conference. The scholar also sweated through a Marine inspection of his luggage and inadvertently leaked information about the president's 1989 plan to meet China's leading dissident.


A memorial service will be held 2 pm, Saturday, January 19, 2013 at UCLA. Click here to download the announcement, including directions and how to contribute to the Baum Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Richard Baum began teaching at science at UCLA in 1968. He directed the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies from 1999-2005. He served on the USCI Board of Scholars and has served on many editorial boards (China Quarterly, China Information, Asian Survey, and The Journal of Contemporary China among them).  He is author or editor of eight books on Chinese politics and numerous articles. He has also held visiting scholar or professor appointments in China, Hong Kong, Japan,  India, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

The book is available from the publisher, The University of Washington Press, and also from major online booksellers and larger bookstores.

Baum (second from right, standing) as a member of the Inter-University Program basketball team in Taipei, 1967.
Baum, sitting beside Hua Guofeng, the future Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, 1975.
Baum and three other China academics meet with President George H.W. Bush and his advisors at Camp David in 1989 ahead of his February trip to Beijing. From the left: Robert Gates (Dep. Director, CIA), Michel Oksensberg (Michigan), Larry Krause (UCSD), President Bush, Baum (UCLA), Harry Harding (George Washington University), James Lilley (soon to become US Ambassador to China), and Karl Jackson (Asia director, National Security Council).
 Baum at Gubeikou, a part of the Great Wall, about 140 km from Beijing.

Baum also spoke at USC in 2007 on "The Political Impact of China’s Information Revolution." Click here to read an article on his presentation.

                                                                                                                                      -- Clayton Dube