In Memoriam: Glen Dudbridge

The College deeply regrets to report that Glen Dudbridge FBA, Emeritus Fellow and Professor of Chinese at Univ from 1989-2005, has passed away after a short illness.

He was a pioneering scholar of traditional Chinese literature, which he researched and taught during a career at Oxford and Cambridge. He was also instrumental in building the field of Chinese Studies in the UK. The China Centre in Oxford is, in significant part, a product of his determination to raise the standing of the study of China.

This tribute to Glen by his then colleague Tao Tao Liu appeared in the 2005 issue of the University College Record on the occasion of his retirement in 2005.

Glen Dudbridge has been Professor of Chinese at Oxford since 1989, and when he retires he will be missed by everyone teaching Chinese here. He was lecturer under two previous professors of Chinese, David Hawkes and Piet van der Loon, the latter having been his teacher in Cambridge, and he succeeded Piet van der Loon. Glen also spent 1984–9 as professor of Chinese at Cambridge University.

Glen started his research life in Chinese fiction, writing a seminal book on a major vernacular novel from the Ming Dynasty, The Journey to the West, and he has continued his interest in popular fiction, still teaching it to students. Vernacular Chinese in its relationship to Classical Chinese in the past is rather like the mediaeval languages of Europe to Latin, but not all the regions in China were able to develop a written literature that held anything like as high a status as Classical Chinese, unlike the regional languages of mediaeval Europe, which is something that still intrigues Glen. He has extended his interest to all kinds of narrative works from China’s past, including historical narrative, and he is excavating the vast corpus of Chinese texts to re-construct lost books. 

Chinese moved out of the Oriental Institute into the present site a few years ago, and Glen revelled in the inclusive nature of the new Institute for Chinese Studies (the only one in the country that is designated Chinese), where it is possible to house not just lecturers of the Oriental Studies Faculty, but others who had posts in other faculties working on modern China, achieving what Glen had wanted all along, a single building for Chinese studies that made a continuum of the study of China both ancient and modern.

At the Institute Glen is constantly accessible to his colleagues and a very good listener. He is willing to put himself out to help each one of us, and that includes going over our drafts until late into the night, and stepping in to meet any kind of emergency: this year. because of an unexpected shortage of manpower at the Institute, he has had to step into the breach on all sorts of fronts, typically going far beyond the call of duty, after which he will deserve retirement from sheer exhaustion. He instituted a regular Friday morning coffee morning in his room, which is the source of news, gossip and much enjoyment, with Glen often holding the stage with his racy accounts of all sorts of events.

Glen is a rigorous teacher of Classical Chinese, and his demand for clear and exact translation into English has been seared into the minds of generations of undergraduates, who all say that he does not spare himself either. One former student recalls him being a ‘great teacher ... I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so in command of their subject ... I’d also point to his innate anti-establishment/revolutionary nature, first encountered at the beginning of my interview, when he asked me why I thought Oxford University Press should be allowed to define what was “correct” and what was “incorrect” English. The way he encouraged us to cut through labels, preconceptions and prejudices was particularly apparent in our tutorials on Warring States philosophers ... His great emphasis on academic correctness and deep engagement with the text—he often focussed on it so much that banal things like students’ names receded into the background.’ Another former student recalls that he was ‘meticulous, thorough, passionate and animated about certain things to do with translation or classical Chinese society.’ Another thing the student remembered was ‘the contortionist crossings of his long legs he used to manage in class’.

When these students heard that he is now about to retire, they all wish him a happy retirement. As do we all.