In Memoriam: Sin Ming Chiu

Charles Desnoyers, February 2008

Sin Ming Chiu, for nearly 30 years a professor of Chinese history at Temple University in Philadelphia, succumbed to a degenerative muscular disease this past February 15, 2007.

Born in Taishan, Guangdong Province, China, on October 18, 1923, he received his early education in Hong Kong before fleeing the Japanese occupation of the region. Originally contemplating a career in medicine, he came to the United States in 1949. As a student at Indiana University he became interested in history, receiving a bachelor's degree there, and then an MA from the University of Iowa. Upon earning his doctorate from the University of Southern California, he spent several years working for the RAND Corporation and participated in studies of the developing defense capabilities of the People's Republic of China for the U.S. armed forces before coming to Temple University in 1962.

At Temple he quickly acquired a university-wide reputation as a gifted teacher, not only in Chinese history, but in more general historical fields as well, and remained one of the history department's favorite instructors. In addition to fluency in English and Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghai dialect Chinese, he also acquired a working proficiency in Japanese and German. Because of the classified nature of much of his work, most of his publications did not receive wide circulation, but he was a central figure in the U.S. Air Force's Human Resources Research Institute's "Chinese Documents Project" under Theodore Chen of the University of Southern California, and was lead author in the study, "Some Basic Conceptions and Rules of Conduct of Chinese Communism" in the mid-1950s. He was also a contributor to George P. Jan's Government of Communist China (Chandler, 1966). After retirement in 1990, he continued to teach part-time courses for area institutions and lead travel-study groups to China.

Chiu remained an integral part of Philadelphia's Chinese community throughout his career and was an avid student of its history and that of the Chinese in America more generally. He was one of the founders of On Lok House, a community residence for senior citizens, and served on its board until his infirmities made it impossible for him to continue. He is survived by his wife, Helen Goodwin Lienhard, a retired political scientist from Penn State University, his daughter, Phyllis, and son, Herman.

It is a fitting tribute to the man as a scholar and teacher that, in addition to family, colleagues, and members of the community, his former students, from late middle age to early career, comprised a considerable part of the mourners at his memorial service. I will always remember the rigor and selflessness with which he patiently checked my Chinese with me as we slogged together through a translation I was working on of Li Gui's "New Account of a Trip Around the Globe." The image that will remain most vivid for me and those who knew his wit, however, came years before during my first trip to China with Ming and Helen. As we crossed the threshold of the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing, Chiu turned to the assembled throng and deadpanned, "Welcome to the Forbidden City! Buy more t-shirts!"

Laoshi, yilu ping'an!

—Charles Desnoyers
La Salle University