Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr., Historian of Late Imperial and Modern China, University of California, Berkeley, 1965-2006  

Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr., Historian of Late Imperial and Modern China, University of California, Berkeley, 1965-2006

Ann Lage
November 2019
Oral History Center

The Oral History Center is pleased to announce the launch of the oral history with noted China historian, Frederic Wakeman.  Conducted over eleven interview sessions in the two years before his death in 2006,  the oral history is part of an ongoing series of interviews with scholars in UC Berkeley’s Department of History.

Fred Wakeman spent his academic career at Berkeley, commencing with graduate studies here in far eastern history under the guidance of Professor Joseph Levenson. Immediately after completing his PhD in 1965, he was appointed assistant professor of history, and he served in the department for forty-one years, until his retirement in 2006.  But despite his fealty to this place, he was very much a citizen of the world throughout his life, as he recounts in his oral history. He vividly describes his peripatetic childhood .as the son of a novelist and screenwriter living in Bermuda, Mexico, Cuba, Spain, France, and the US Midwest, Northeast, and South, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gene Tunney, a racketeer godfather, and purported spies and con men. As a youth, he mastered several languages, read widely, made himself at ease in many cultures, and developed the fascination with the world of intrigue that suffused much of his scholarly work. He studied European history and literature as an undergraduate at Harvard and Soviet studies and political theory at the Institut d’etudes politiques in Paris. He then wrote a novel and flirted with the idea of joining the CIA,  before settling on pursuing a graduate degree in China studies at Berkeley.

Over his four-decade career, Wakeman wrote groundbreaking histories of late imperial and modern China, meticulously researched, deeply analytical, and written with the graceful narrative style of a master novelist. Strangers at the Gate, his doctoral dissertation, engaged in local history, a new departure in China studies. With History and Will, he examined Mao’s intellectual roots in European and Chinese thinkers. Delving into newly discovered historical archives in China, he pursued his monumental work, twenty years in the making, on the Ming-Qing transition, the two-volume narrative history, The Great Enterprise: the Manchu Reconstruction of the Imperial Order in 17th Century China. Discovery of an incredible source of social and police history in the archives of the Shanghai Municipal Police led to his trilogy of books, Policing Shanghai, Shanghai Badlands, and Red Star over Shanghai. In 2003, he published his fourth book focusing on Shanghai and reflecting his interest in espionage, Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese Secret Service

On campus Wakeman chaired the Center for Chinese Studies from 1973-1979 and was director of the Institute of East Asian Studies from 1990-2001. He was instrumental in opening scholarly exchanges between the US and China in the 1970s. His oral history describes the excitement of meeting Chinese historians in 1979 and the transformation that ensued in the study of Ming-Qing history when the first group of American scholars was led to the secret and unimaginably vast archive of government documents on the Ming-Qing era: 

It was again one of those occasions where people who we thought were dead or had disappeared, or whatever, suddenly were saying, “I’m Xie Guozhen.” My God! Or, you know, “I’m Wang Qingcheng,” or “I’m . . . Zhaang Zhongli.” You know, very famous people. . . . it was absolutely thrilling. we were all completely atingle with excitement. And the second day there, the person who was assigned to be our, the Chinese call peitong, the person who accompanies you, who was a very, very vigorous, strong intellectual who had made his way through the Cultural Revolution, without—he had been labeled a Number Nine Stinking Intellectual; he’d survived that, and he was a wonderful man who’d been a secretary of Guo Moro, the great Chinese poet and writer and historian. He told me, in confidence, he said, because I was the head of the delegation, he said, “We’re going to take you to see the Ming-Qing archives. I said, “Really!” I was so excited. . . we didn’t know these things had been preserved . . .

Hidden in a compound on the grounds of the Forbidden City,:they are led into vaults,   “You go into these vaults and it’s, ‘My God!’ and it began to dawn upon us. This was—we had our work cut out for us!”

As he notes in the oral history, the study of modern Chinese history was forever altered by the ensuing research in these documents. Wakeman’s The Great Enterprise was based largely on this Forbidden City archive. 

In response to our project’s interest in the history of the Department of History, Wakeman reflected on the department’s all-male cohort hired at Berkeley in the late fifties and early sixties, a variegated group with tolerance for different historical approaches and insistence on rigorous standards for promotion to tenure. He contrasts the camaraderie of this group with the department’s gender and cultural battles in the early and mid-1980s, resulting in sometimes bitter personnel fights. His oral history also traces hiring in the China area, which made the Berkeley department a major US site for training historians of China.

Wakeman vividly describes campus protests of the Vietnam war era and the effect of campus political battles on the history department and the Center for Chinese Studies.

Our final interview took place in April 2006. Fred Wakeman retired in June and was awarded the Berkeley citation, the university’s highest honor. He and his wife, He La Wakeman, moved to their home in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Within just a few months, Fred died of cancer, on September 14, 2006, at age 68. We are grateful to have these recollections of his remarkable career.  Fred Wakeman’s research, writing, and teaching, coupled with his public service on the campus and as chair of the Social Science Research Council and committees to expand scholarly exchanges, had a major impact on China studies at Berkeley, in the US, and internationally. 


Joanne Corday Kozberg and Bill Siart and the Getty Board of Trustees

As part of an ongoing partnership between the Oral History Center and the Getty Trust, we recently conducted interviews with two distinguished former members of the J. Paul Getty Trust Board of Trustees: Joanne Corday Kozberg and Bill Siart.  

Joanne Corday Kozberg: The Getty Trust from a Trustee’s Perspective, 2005-2017

A Life of Service in Art and Education: Bill Siart and the Getty Board of Trustees

These oral history interviews with Kozberg and Siart document the successes and challenges of operating a major arts institution like the J. Paul Getty Trust. But they also demonstrate the importance of having solid leadership from experienced board members in times of crisis.  When Kozberg and Siart joined the J. Paul Getty Trust Board of Trustees in 2005, the organization was facing an antiquities scandal, was the subject of an investigation by the California Attorney General, and was struggling with internal management. And not long after these issues were resolved, the 2008 recession rocked the Getty’s core, requiring significant financial and organizational restructuring.

Listen to Kozberg and Siart share their stories of these difficult times in the Getty’s history, and how they approached these challenges as members of the Board of Trustees.

Joanne Corday Kozberg is a consultant for the public affairs firm California Strategies, LLC, and served on the board of trustees for the Getty Trust from 2005 to 2017. Ms. Kozberg grew up in Los Angeles, California, and attended University of California Berkeley in the 1960s. She was a graduate of the Coro Fellowship Program and completed her master’s degree at Occidental College. Kozberg then worked at the Coro Foundation and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Kozberg served as the California Secretary of State and Consumer Services under Governor Pete Wilson from 1993 to 1998. She also served as the Chair of the California Arts Council from 1999 to 1991 and was a Regent of the University of California from 1998 to 2011. Kozberg was the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Music Center of Los Angeles County from 1999 to 2002.

Bill Siart is the founder and chairman of the nonprofit Excellent Education Development (ExED), and served on the board of trustees for the Getty Trust from 2005 to 2017. Mr. Siart grew up in Los Angeles, California, and attended Santa Clara University in the 1960s. He completed his master’s degree in finance from University of California Berkeley. Siart was the chairman of First Interstate Bank until it was purchased by Wells Fargo in 1996. Siart ran for the Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District in 1996. He also serves as the chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

— Amanda Tewes, November 2018


Paul Gray: A Career in Electrical Engineering, UC Berkeley Administration, and Private Sector Leadership

Paul Gray: A Career in Electrical Engineering, UC Berkeley Administration, and Private Sector Leadership

Paul R. Gray is Professor Emeritus of Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Dr. Gray worked at Fairchild Semiconductor before joining UC Berkeley EECS in 1971. There he developed a multi-decade research project on digital-analog conversion and the thermal properties of integrated circuits, which laid the foundation for digital telecommunications, scientific instrumentation, and digital representations of the analog world. He served as Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, also known as EECS (1990-93), Dean of the College of Engineering (1996-2000), and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley (2000-06). He has served on the boards of several corporations and foundations, including the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

In this clip, Dr. Gray talk about the importance of SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis), the first widely available open-source simulation software for integrated circuits. Developed at EECS, this program was just one of the many of UC Berkeley’s contributions to the electronics, telecommunications, and computing industries. This clip is characteristic of Dr. Gray’s habit of lifting up the work of others. To learn more about Dr. Gray’s contributions to research, innovation, and university administration, please consult his wide-ranging oral history.

Mark Yudof: A Career Teaching Law, Pursuing Equity in Education, and Leading Public Universities

Photo of Judy Yudof, Mark Yudof, and Paul Burnett
Judy Yudof, Mark Yudof, and Paul Burnett, Morrison Library, September 12, 2018
Mark Yudof Oral History Presentation

On September 12, 2018, the Oral History Center celebrated the release of our oral history with UC President Emeritus Mark Yudof at the Morrison Library. In the best oral histories, we come to understand a lot more about what shapes people, and how those people in turn engage with the world and have an influence, modest or grand, on institutions, policies, bodies of knowledge and practice, and people.

Professor Yudof is both very candid and extremely wide-ranging in these interview sessions, which were conducted between 2014 and 2016. There is food for thought in these sessions about class, race, culture, ethnicity, faith, opportunity, exclusion, belonging, fateful decisions, philosophy and poetry, altogether forming a branching life path that informed his purpose and choices.

There is also much discussion of legal issues to do with education reform, for which he has long been an advocate, of his leadership of two large public university systems in Minnesota and Texas, and of his time as president of the University of California between 2008 and 2013. These were catalytic years in the history of the system, and Yudof’s recollections form an important part of the documentary record.

It was a real challenge to try to capture in a brief video reel what is in this oral history. But something interesting often follows Mark Yudof’s use of the phrase “by the way.” “By the way” in his usage seems to be the fulcrum of a careful thinker. So this phrase became a guidepost for the editing of this clip. If you disagree with the importance of “by the way,” then at the very least this device serves as a way to sample such a broad and deep set of subjects.

Read Mark Yudof’s complete oral history here.

–Paul Burnett, September 19th, 2018

Michael B. Teitz: Fifty Years of Planning and Policy, from U.C. Berkeley to the Public Policy Institute of California

Now online: Michael B. Teitz: Fifty Years of Planning and Policy, from U.C. Berkeley to the Public Policy Institute of California

Michael B. Teitz is Professor Emeritus of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director of Economy at the Public Policy Institute of California, which he helped establish. In addition to a distinguished, thirty-five year career at UC Berkeley, and policy work that still continues at PPIC that still continues, he has served as a consultant to local, state, and national governments, both in the United States and Internationally. In this interview he discusses growing up in London during and after World War II; Coming to the United States for graduate school; the various events and changes he experienced at UC Berkeley between 1962 and 1998; developments in the fields of Planning and Regional Science; his consulting work for local and state governments in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia; and leaving Berkeley to establish PPIC and serving as its founding Research Director.

Lester Telser: Beyond Conventions in Economics

Photo of Lester Telser
Photograph by Leena Schwartz, 2016

Now online, An Oral History with Lester Telser: Beyond Conventions in Economics

Lester Telser is Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Chicago. A student at Chicago in the 1950s, Dr. Telser was first a professor in the Graduate School of Business until 1964. Dr. Telser’s life work is the theory of the core, a variant of game theory that involves coalitions of agents as opposed to individuals working to maximize their advantage. He used sophisticated mathematics to study why and how certain forms of markets are organized without appeals to more established concepts in economics. As both a student and colleague at the Chicago economics department, and as a fellow at both the Cowles Commission and the Cowles Foundation, Telser is a key witness to the transformation of the field of economics after World War II.

Economist Life Stories

The impact of economics in our society is hard to overstate. Economics structures government policy, guides decision-making in firms both small and large, and indirectly shapes the larger political discourses in our society.

To enrich the understanding of the influence and sources of powerful economic ideas, the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago set out in 2015 to capture oral histories of selected economists associated with Chicago economics. The aim was to preserve the experiences, views, and voices of influential economists and to document the historical origins of important economic ideas for the benefit of researchers, educators, and the broader public. This oral history with Lester Telser, conducted in ten sessions in Chicago, IL, from July to October 2017, is the third interview for the project.

Economist Life Stories is more than a collection of life histories; it chronicles the history of a scholarly community and institutions at the University of Chicago, such as the Graduate School of Business, the Cowles Commission, and the Department of Economics. It also reflects the achievements of faculty and students in the domains of economic policymaking and private enterprise around the world. Although this project focuses on the leaders and students of the University of Chicago Department of Economics, the Graduate School of Business, and the Law School, we hope to add more stories from economists around the world as the project expands.


Hodson Thornber and Paul Burnett organized the project with Toni Shears and Amy Boonstra of the Becker Friedman Institute, with important support from an advisory group of historians and economists.

Financial support for this work was provided by Hodson Thornber, a member of the Becker Friedman Institute Council, whose contribution is gratefully acknowledged.

J. Michael Bishop: Scientist, UCSF Chancellor, and Nobel Laureate

J. Michael Bishop with a model of DNA Photograph courtesy of UCSF Archives and Special Collections.
J. Michael Bishop with a model of DNA Photograph courtesy of UCSF Archives and Special Collections

This oral history with J. Michael Bishop is one in a series documenting bioscience and biotechnology in Northern California. Selecting Rous sarcoma virus, a cancer-causing retrovirus, after arriving at UCSF in 1968, Bishop was soon joined by Harold E. Varmus with whom he established a partnership legendary for its length and productivity. In a seminal publication of 1976, they established the proto-oncogene as a normal cell component and precursor of oncogenes. In 1989, Bishop and Varmus were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this research. With some reluctance, Bishop agreed to become UCSF Chancellor in 1998. His highly productive eleven years saw the creation and staffing of the Mission Bay campus and record-breaking fundraising success, among other important events he oversaw. The oral history consists of five interviews conducted in 2016 and 2017, with an introduction by colleagues Bruce Alberts and Harold Varmus.


In Memory of Gildo Mahones (1929-2018)

Today we commemorate the life of Gildo Mahones, an inspiring, talented, and powerful bop-based pianist who grew up in Harlem in the 1930s and 40s and played with virtually all the jazz greats during the 1950s and 60s. He passed away last week at the age of 88. His 2015 oral history addresses a plethora of issues surrounding jazz: his childhood in Harlem, the advent of bebop and its luminaries, jazz vocalism, racism, and more.

Mahones was born to Puerto Rican parents in the Spanish section of East Harlem in 1929. Later the family moved to an apartment behind the Apollo Theatre, and in the 1950s, he eventually performed with many of the jazz greats he heard there as a teenager, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie. In a Berkeleyside feature of Mahones, writer Andrew Gilbert describes how the pianist and the piano were not love at first sight; after an unsuccessful first lesson at age seven, it took his mother moving the neighbor’s left-behind piano into their home and a family friend doling out some live tunes on the piano for Mahones to finally warm up to the instrument.  

After being hired to perform in 1949 at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem and then briefly serving in the military, Mahones became the pianist for Lester Young’s band at Birdland. Here, he wrote dozens of songs. On composing, Mahones said in his interview, “Oh, the songs come to me in many ways. […] A dream could blossom into a song.” He goes on to describe Young’s unique style of playing and his friendship with Billie Holiday, whom he dubbed Lady Day and who called Young ‘Prez’.

In 1965, Mahones moved to Los Angeles to work with Joe Williams and Harry “Sweets” Edison at the Pied Piper club, also working with vocalists O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls, James Moody, Big Joe Turner, and Lorez Alexandria, with whom he recorded several albums. Throughout the 1970s, he was a popular sideman in clubs across Southern California, and toured Japan and Europe with Benny Carter and with his own band. Mahones has several recordings published with a Japanese company, which unfortunately have not been released in the US. Later on, he and Mary, his wife of 45 years, moved to Oakland so as to be near their daughter and grandson. He practiced often and performed at clubs and galleries around the Bay Area.  

You can hear more of Mahones’ reflections in this video excerpt from his oral history.

The Berkeley Remix: Season 3 of the Oral History Center’s Podcast

Listen to Season 3 Episode 1 of our podcast now known as The Berkeley Remix.

First Response: AIDS and Community in San Francisco

This podcast is about the politics of the first encounters with the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The six episodes draw from the thirty-five interviews that Sally Smith Hughes conducted in the 1990s. A historian of science at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Office, Sally interviewed doctors, nurses, researchers, public health officials and community-health practitioners to learn about the unique ways that people responded to the epidemic. Although these interviews cover a wide range of topics, including the isolation of the virus HIV and the search for treatments, the interviews we selected for this podcast are more focused on public health, community engagement, and nursing care. Most of the following podcast episodes are about the period from early 1981, when the first reports emerged of an unknown disease that was killing gay men in San Francisco, to 1984 and the development of a new way of caring for people in a hospital setting.

Episode 1 explores what it was like to be gay in San Francisco in the 1960s and 70s, before people became aware of the epidemic.

Visit The Berkeley Remix for release of Episodes 2-6 each Wednesday.

In Memory of Ruth Bancroft 9/2/1908 – 11/26/2017

Photo of Ruth Bancroft in The Ruth Bancroft Garden
Ruth Bancroft, photo courtesy of The Ruth Bancroft Garden, photographer unknown

UC Berkeley alumna Ruth Petersson Bancroft, founder of The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek and well-known expert in dry gardening, passed away at the age of 109 on Nov. 26. Her oral history, The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California: Creation in 1971 and Conservation, conducted in 1991 and 1992, is described by interviewer Suzanne B. Riess as “…the amazing chronicle of the growth of a passionate gardener, from her childhood recollections of spring wildflowers on the hills of an earlier, bucolic Berkeley, to her current triumphs, and the tribulations of stewardship of a garden more or less in the public trust.”

The daughter of first-generation Swedish immigrants, Ruth Petersson was born in Massachusetts, but moved to Berkeley, California when her father landed a professorship at UC Berkeley. Of her childhood, she said, “I spent a lot of time wandering around and also over into Wildcat Canyon, just looking at the wildflowers and I think that’s what started me in the interest of wildflowers…” Although Ruth originally studied architecture as one of the only women in the program at UC Berkeley, the Great Depression hit and so for the sake of job security, she switched her career to education. It was during her time as a teacher of home economics in Merced that she met Philip Bancroft, Jr., the grandson of Hubert Howe Bancroft, whose 60,000-volume book collection began the Bancroft Library. After they married, the couple moved onto the Bancroft Farm in the East Bay. The Bancroft family sold much of their land to the city of Walnut Creek as it expanded over the years. Later, in 1971, Philip Bancroft, Jr. gave the last 3-acre plot of walnut orchards to his wife in order to house her extensive collection of succulents.

Though The Ruth Bancroft Garden now boasts a beautiful display of water-conserving plants, the garden was not without its hardships at the beginning. Just a few months after Bancroft began her garden, a severe freeze in December killed nearly all that she had planted. Still, she persevered. “Well, I started again the next year… I figured it doesn’t happen that often, and you can’t just not replant those same things, because they might have another twenty years before they’d be killed again. So I’m just replanting. Have to start over again.” To this, Riess queried, “You didn’t think in some way you had been given a message?” Bancroft laughed and replied, “No.”

A long-time friend of Bancroft and former manager at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, Wayne Roderick said, “I would classify Ruth as a genuine dirt gardener. She’s out there doing things with her bare hands. She would be out in the garden by seven at the latest, and for the first hour she was weeding the path of the little spotted spurge, hand-weeding those paths until her knees would get so sore from the rocks, the gravel. That’s what I mean by a genuine dirt gardener.” In addition to Bancroft’s hands-on style of working, she also kept meticulous records as she created her garden. An invaluable addition to her oral history is the transcription of the entirety of her handwritten notes on the garden’s first year, cataloguing every trial and triumph. Riess urges in her introduction to the oral history, “Any gardener will do well to read that year of Ruth’s journal, to see the value of a journal, as well as the work involved in realizing a dream, and the necessity of being willing to weed!”

Over the years, Bancroft also had many helpers that contributed to the development of her impressive creation, such as Lester Hawkins, who created the original design of the garden, and her husband Philip. Roderick recalls, “Phil Bancroft just adored Ruth, and he wanted her to have anything she wanted. He did everything he could to help her. I don’t think Phil thought about the garden continuing, but he certainly was there to make sure she got what she wanted for the place. He was a farmer-type, but he enjoyed seeing the garden, and he was willing to get in and help.” Later, her garden would inspire fellow gardener Francis Cabot to create the Garden Conservancy, of which the Ruth Bancroft Garden became the first of many private gardens to be preserved for the public.

Still, through all of the international recognition and acclaim she received, Bancroft maintained a simple and genuine love for gardening: “You never know just what’s going to bloom when, during the summer. And a lot of the bloom just lasts a day, or possibly two days. It’s interesting to see what there is, and catch it before it’s gone.” When asked whether she had had a mission for the garden, she replied, “I just started it for the fun of it, and the enjoyment of it. I had no idea that people would be looking at it, no idea at all.“

The Ruth Bancroft Garden will hold a public, all-day celebration of Bancroft’s life on February 17th, 2018.

Maggie Deng
Oral History Center Student Assistant