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Hsu, Francis L. K., 1909-1999



  • Existence: 1909 - 1999


Anthropologist Francis Lang Kwang Hsu was born on October 28, 1909 in the Chinese province of Liaoning. He received a B.A in sociology from the University of Shanghai and worked as a social worker in the Peking Union Medical College Hospital after graduation. In 1937 Hsu was awarded a Sino-British Boxer Indemnity Fund Scholarship which allowed him to study at the London School of Economics. Hsu studied under the renowned Bronislaw Malinowski and in 1940 he received a PhD in Anthropology. After receiving this degree Hsu returned to China to conduct fieldwork in Southwestern China and to teach at the National Yunnan University in Kunming, China.

Hsu came back to the United States in 1944 at the invitation of Columbia professor of anthropology Ralph Linton. Hsu was a lecturer at Columbia for one year (1944-1945) and an assistant professor at Cornell University for two years (1945-1947) before he joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 1947. Melville Herskovits offered Hsu the appointment and Hsu became the fifth member of the Anthropology Department. Hsu was the first Chinese faculty member at Northwestern and although the dean at the time told Herskovits that the school did not have confidence in a Chinese teaching college students in an American university, Herskovits supported Hsu because he had seen him present excellent lectures. Hsu proved the dean wrong and remained at Northwestern until his retirement in 1978. From 1957-1976 Hsu was the chair of the anthropology department and on his retirement was named Professor Emeritus.

Throughout his career Hsu was a keen observer of life and human behaviors. His main research emphasis was the unifying psychological factors which underlie the behavior patterns in a culture and which distinguish one culture from another. Hsu's research was concentrated in two areas - psychological anthropology and the comparative study of large literate civilizations, namely, China, Japan, India, and the United States. Hsu published many works during his career including sixteen books and over 130 articles.

At Northwestern Hsu began to write one of his best known works, Americans and Chinese: Two Ways of Life, which was first published in 1953 and later updated twice for new editions. Americans and Chinese used many examples from Hsu's life and experiences to highlight the cultural differences between the two countries. The second edition of the book, Americans and Chinese: Purpose and Fulfillment in Great Civilizations was one of the books President Richard Nixon read before his historic trip to China in 1971.

In 1949 Hsu received a grant from the Social Service Research Council to do fieldwork in South China, but because of the Chinese political situation Hsu could not enter the country, so he did his fieldwork in Hawaii instead. The result was extensive interviews with Chinese in Hawaii and a 1951 article entitled “The Chinese in Hawaii: Their Role in American Culture” published in Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Nearly two years later Northwestern granted Hsu a two year leave to undertake field work in India, which was made possible by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Northwestern University's Graduate Committee on Research. Hsu's field research in India resulted in Caste, Club, and Clan: A Comparative Study of Chinese, Hindu, and American Ways of Life, which was published in 1963.

Hsu next turned his attention to Japan to prepare for another research trip. Supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, Hsu studied Japanese culture and especially role and affect patterns in Japanese society from 1964-1965. Hsu's year in Japan resulted in the book Iemoto: The Heart of Japan, which was published in 1975. The book was a non economic explanation of Japan's rise to world power.

Hsu also traveled extensively as a visiting professor. He was visiting Professor of Psychological Anthropology at Kyoto University in Japan (1964-1965), visiting Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii (1969-1971), and visiting Professor of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1975-1976). In addition Hsu lectured all over the world to both academic audiences and the general public. Hsu was a member of several professional organizations and in 1977 was elected president of the American Anthropological Association. In 1976 he became a member of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

When Hsu retired from Northwestern in 1978 he moved to San Francisco and accepted a job as professor and director of the Center for Cultural Studies in Education at the University of San Francisco. He also served as senior specialist at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. Hsu retired from the University of San Francisco in 1982, but he continued to be an active member of the anthropological field as a lecturer, consultant, and author.

Hsu married Vera Yi-nan Tung in 1943. The couple had two daughters Eileen Hsu-Balzer (1945) and Penelope Hsu-Prapuolenis (1951). Eileen also received a PhD in anthropology and Penelope (Penny) received a master's degree in education from Northwestern University. After quadruple bypass surgery and several strokes, Hsu's health deteriorated for several years before his death on December 15, 1999 at age 90.

SEE ALSO Hsu's memoir, My Life as a Marginal Man: Autobiographical Discussions with Francis L.K. Hsu, interviewed and recorded by George L.T. Hsu and Francis Hsu's family (Taipei, SMC Pub., 1999).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Francis L. K. Hsu (1909-1999) Papers

Identifier: 11/3/2/5

Dating from 1940-2000 and filling 45 boxes, the Francis L. K. Hsu Papers document Hsu's prominence as an anthropology professor and scholar specializing in kinship patterns and cultural comparisons between large, literate societies, namely, the United States, China, India, and Japan. The papers consist of biographical materials, correspondence, teaching files, student files, research files and notebooks, interview transcripts, lecture/conference notes and records, and publication files.

Dates: 1940-2000