Former Director of Harvard-Yenching Institute Dies

Patrick D. Hanan, a well-known sinologist and a former director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, died on April 26. He was 87.

As the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Chinese Literature Emeritus, Hanan specialized in Chinese literature in the late-Qing dynasty period.

Hanan grew up on a farm in New Zealand and studied Chinese at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. He taught at Stanford University before joining the Harvard faculty in 1963.

During the following 14 years, Hanan served as chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and as the fifth director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute.

The current director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Elizabeth J. Perry, remembered him as a leader “with a rare combination of wisdom and grace.”


“Under his directorship, the Institute developed new partnerships with Chinese universities, established a new Visiting Fellows program, and launched a very successful book series with Sanlian Press in Beijing to encourage high quality scholarship in humanities and social sciences,” Perry wrote in an email.

Scholars in the field described him as a trailblazer in the study of late imperial Chinese vernacular narrative fiction.

“In China, this field had not received much attention until the introduction of his scholarship,” said Duan Huaiqing, a visiting scholar from Fudan University.

“His scholarship was extraordinary in its breadth, its focus, and its attention to the details of a culture very different from his own,” Hanan’s son, Rupert “Guy” Hanan, wrote in an obituary.

In 2005, Hanan was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in his native New Zealand for his services to higher education.

A former student of Hanan, Ellen B. Widmer described him as “very personable, very caring, and yet very formal.”

“I was the only student in his class on the fiction of the Ming and Qing dynasties. He would walk in and read a lecture from a notebook, but he always kept an eye on what I was writing down.... Such was his seriousness about elevating his students to full professional competence in the field,” said Widmer, who is now a Chinese Studies professor at Wellesley College.

David Der-wei Wang, a former colleague of Hanan, described him as “a very erudite gentleman who never showed off his knowledge.”

“As a scholar, he will be remembered for decades, even centuries, to come,” said Wang, who is a professor of Chinese literature.

Hanan’s works include “The Chinese Short Story,” “The Chinese Vernacular Story,” “Essays on Chinese Fiction of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” and “The Invention of Li Yu.” He also translated many works of Chinese traditional fiction.

Hanan is survived by his wife, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. His son, Rupert “Guy” Hanan, died in July 2014.

A memorial ceremony will take place on Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m. in the Belfer Case Study Room in CGIS South.

—Staff writer Zara Zhang can be reached at


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