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Distinguished Yale Historian to Speak at City Honors School

Renowned author and scholar Jonathan Spence to discuss early Jesuit envoy to Chinese court

Release Date: August 31, 2010

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Renowned China scholar Jonathan Spence will present a lecture on an early Jesuit envoy to the Chinese court Sept. 21 in Buffalo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jonathan Spence, British-born historian, public intellectual and one of America's preeminent China scholars, will present a free public talk at Buffalo's City Honors School Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

The lecture will be sponsored by the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Fund and the University at Buffalo Confucius Institute, part of the UB Asian Studies Program. Co-sponsors include the Buffalo Public Schools, the UB Department of History and the UB Law School's Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy.

Buffalo School Superintendent James A. Williams and UB Professor and Vice Provost for International Education Stephen C. Dunnett will be among the honored guests at the lecture.

Spence, who served as Sterling Professor of History at Yale University from 1993 to 2008, is celebrated for bringing history to life for thousands of readers of his popular books and for the many students who attended his university classes and public lectures.

Author of the groundbreaking bestseller, "The Search for Modern China," which remains a standard text on the last several hundred years of Chinese history, Spence has been the recipient of many honors in his distinguished career, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

His talk, "Matteo Ricci and His Legacy in China: The Perils of Success," will examine the impact of Ricci, an early Jesuit envoy to China, a founding figure of the 17th-18th century Jesuit China Mission and one of the first Westerners to learn classical Chinese.

Ricci had an unusual appreciation for Chinese culture and became prominent at the 17th century Ming court. Upon discovering the importance of Confucianism to that court, he became the first to translate the Confucian classics into a western language (Latin) with assistance from the scholar Xu Guangqi. Ricci continues to be celebrated by the Chinese for creating a cultural bridge between China and the West through art, science and letters.

A major exhibition of Ricci's accomplishments opened in Beijing in early 2010 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death and is now on display at the Shanghai Museum.

City Honors principal William Kresse said, "City Honors is thrilled and honored to host Dr. Spence's presentation, as it complements the work of our international baccalaureate program and Mandarin Chinese language program.

"Supporting the Alison L. Des Forge Memorial Fund," he added, "is also something that we are proud to be a part of, as Alison contributed significant time and support to our school and community."

Eric Yang, executive director of the UB Confucius Institute, said, "We are delighted that a major figure like Professor Spence was willing to come to Buffalo and give the first public lecture sponsored by the institute.

"We are grateful to City Honors for hosting the event and look forward to continuing our partnership with Buffalo Public Schools and expanding it to include other schools in this region."

Spence will be joined in Buffalo by his wife, Annping Chin, herself a noted author and historian of China.

She will present a free public talk, "Living with the Enemy: Insights from the Manchurian Diary of Jin Yufu, 1931-1935," at noon on Sept. 22 in 509 O'Brian Hall, UB North Campus.

Donors of $50 or more to the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Fund will be invited to a reception for Spence and Chin at City Honors School prior to Spence's talk.

The Des Forges fund was established to raise money for a scholarship in memory of Des Forges, an internationally renowned human-rights advocate and one of the world's leading experts on Rwanda, who died in the crash of Continental Airlines flight 3407 in Clarence in 2009.

Her husband Roger, a China scholar and professor of history at UB, said, "This event wonderfully honors Alison's deep commitment to local education about our increasingly integrated global society, and we are very grateful to the many individuals and institutions that have cooperated to make it possible."

For information about the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Fund, contact Helene Kramer at 716-843-8895 or kramerh@rtsb.org.

The Confucius Institute at the University at Buffalo was established in early 2010 to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture at UB, in local schools and throughout the Buffalo community. A major goal of the institute is to provide teachers and resources to schools to help them establish or expand Chinese language programs.

The institute collaborated with the Buffalo Public Schools this year on an "Experience China" summer camp and study tour to Xian, China, and with Nichols School on a performance by the art troupe of the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. Chinese language and culture classes for businesses and community groups are also planned.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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