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Obituary of James Liang
Prof.dr. James Liang passed away peacefully on 30 January 2020, at the age of 83, at home with his loving wife Cynthia. James, son of Liang Tsung Sheng and Chao Shiu Ying, was born in Hubei, China on the campus of Wuhan University in 1936. This was a period of several wars that forced James and his family to move many times over. In the midst of this turbulent period as the communist troops moved in, James at the age of 13, was separated from his family. To reunite with them, he walked for a month through the winter enduring starvation, shootings and hungry wolves. He finally found his family in Tianjin. Thereafter, he and his family moved to Shanghai and Nanjing before arriving in Taiwan in 1948. Other challenges awaited James in Taiwan. At age 15, his mother fell ill. To save her life, he carried her on his back for four hours to reach a hospital to receive medical assistance. Soon after, his siblings fell ill and he carried each of them on his back to the hospital. Despite these difficulties, James succeeded in completing his studies at Taiwan Normal University. In 1961, he received an invitation to travel to America to further his education. He completed his Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and was retained as a faculty member. In 1977, James moved to the Netherlands at the invitation of Leiden University. With his extensive teaching experience at the University of Pennsylvania, he was soon put in charge of reorganizing the Chinese language program in Leiden. At that time, Leiden was still struggling with the transition from classical European philology to a more pragmatic approach in language teaching. James was familiar with the most modern American textbooks and was himself co-editor of one of the newer Chinese-English dictionaries. He soon succeeded in setting up a well-integrated series of courses. Leiden University’s systematic instruction produced such good results that it attracted students from several other European countries. On the administrative side, James had early experience as a liaison officer in the Nationalist Chinese army. At the University of Pennsylvania, despite his foreign background he was appointed to crucial committees during a sensitive period of retrenchment. In the 1970s when China finally opened its doors to foreign students in the post-Mao era, naturally it fell to James to help organize a Leiden presence in China. For decades to come, he would be a key link in Leiden’s academic exchange with China and Taiwan. His role in representing Leiden became so important that eventually he was named Pro-Rector for International Affairs of Leiden University in its collaborations with institutions in China and Taiwan. James’ public prominence did not prevent him from impacting his own students in a memorable and inspiring way. His annual, very humorous and unorthodox pep talk for the newly arrived freshmen became legendary. He was a living example of how it is possible for one person to bridge two cultures. His wide tolerance was evidenced by the way he refused to share in the anti-Japanese sentiment that was still widespread in China, despite the fact that as a child he had twice narrowly survived when a house he was in was shattered by a Japanese bomb. James retired in 2006. Leiden University bestowed a special honor on him for his excellent work that stood to benefit students and faculty members of the distinguished university for many years to come. After his retirement, James moved to Copenhagen, Denmark and thereafter to Iowa City, U.S.A. James is survived by his wife Cynthia; his children Mark, Karin and Eric; his grandchildren Jordan, Jennifer, Jackson, Jamie, Ryan, Julian, Maya and Luca; and his siblings Xiao Yu (Helen), Chao Min, Xiao Jia and Chao Jun (Robert). James was preceded in death by his parents. Family and friends are invited to James’ funeral which will take place on Sunday 9 February 2020 at the First Presbyterian Church in Iowa City. Visitations from 2-3 pm, worship service led by Reverend Sam Massey from 3-4 pm and a fellowship reception from 4-5 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you consider a memorial contribution that will be channeled to causes that mattered to James.