Du Zhongyuan (1895-1943) is an object lesson in the fickleness of fame. For a few years, in the 1930s, he was one of the best-known journalists in China. His weekly editorial columns lambasted his political opponents, praised his friends, and provided a read so riveting that his magazine sold more copies than any other in prewar China, and also resulted in his being prosecuted for causing a diplomatic incident. Yet he is almost unknown in the west, and even in China, although his name remains known, he has been under-recognized as an actor in that country’s turbulent twentieth-century history.
Nonetheless, Du Zhongyuan used his brief period of notoriety to help shape understanding of perhaps the greatest of all the traumas in China’s twentieth-century history: the war against Japan which raged from 1937 to 1945. The war killed some 20 million Chinese, and turned another 80 million into refugees. Its after-effects traumatized Chinese society for decades afterwards, and it is still a subject of controversy today (as recent news reports on diplomatic rows between China and Japan about abandoned biological weapons demonstrate). In the early months of this massive conflict, Du became one of the most prominent of the frontline war reporters who brought the reality of the war experience home to his readers, and helped them make sense of the terrifying turn that their lives had taken.
Who was Du Zhongyuan? He was born in Manchuria, China’s bleak Northeastern provinces, and although his family was not well-off, it became clear that he was bright, and he did well at school, eventually gaining a scholarship to study in Japan. His period in Japan helped shape two of his lifelong fixations. One was a nationalistic conviction that China must fight back against imperialist encroachment from powers such as Japan. Another was that the path to China’s salvation lay in developing its own industries. After completing his studies, Du became a prominent businessman in Manchuria, running one of the most successful porcelain factories in the region. His success, though, came to a brutal end on the night of 18 September 1931, when Japan launched its invasion of Manchuria. Prominent Chinese in the region either had to collaborate with the new rulers – and many did – or, like Du Zhongyuan, leave behind their lives and possessions and go into exile in unoccupied China.
Du carved out a new career for himself, becoming a famous, indeed notorious, editorialist on the best-selling weekly news journals of the era, based in Shanghai. His columns, unsurprisingly, were virulently anti-Japanese, and in 1935, he was successfully prosecuted by the government of Chiang Kaishek for allowing the publication of an article which insulted the Japanese emperor. Yet shortly after his release, war broke out between China and Japan in 1937, and Du’s journalistic talents were now turned to reporting the horrors of war. His journalism of the period still powerfully evokes the sounds, sights and smells of the devastating conflict unleashed on China. Reporting to his newspaper twice a week, Du gave the intricate details of his trek to the ever-moving battlefront. Du’s war, though, was not witnessed on the battlefields. Instead, it comes across as ever-growing distortions and disorientations in everyday life. Transport is one of his obsessions: delayed trains, hitched rides on military trucks, commandeered cars which sink up to their axles in the muddy, flooded roads of rural China. Air raids are also a constant threat: Du tells in detail the stories of cities where the population had to hide all day in damp, claustrophobic caves because Japanese bombers made it too dangerous to be seen outside in daylight. Through his writing, Du not only transmitted the news, but reflected people’s own experiences back to them in accessible, often earthy language. Popular mass journalism, which had little more than half a century of history in China, came into its own in wartime China through the work of Du and those like him.
Du’s next career change was his downfall. He accepted a job offer from a friendly warlord to become head of the main university in Xinjiang province, in China’s far west. But Du’s patron turned against him, becoming suspicious of his contacts with the Chinese Communists. He was arrested in 1941, and executed in prison in 1943. As China went through the war against Japan, the civil war between Nationalists and Communists, and the shocks of the People’s Republic period, memory of Du Zhongyuan faded. But he did not disappear permanently. In recent decades, his story has been revived, particularly in his home provinces in the Northeast of China: in the newly nationalistic atmosphere that marks contemporary China, he is portrayed as a patriot who spoke out at China’s time of greatest need. As China becomes obsessed, after more than sixty years, with its war against Japan, Du’s place in history seems likely to become more assured.
OBITUARIES Stuart Wilson 1923 – 2003
Stuart Wilson retired 20 years ago, but he will be well remembered by the older generations of alumni, particularly those from the decades following the Second World War. Stuart was one of that stalwart band that carried the Engineering Department through the years when it was much smaller than it has since become, and much less valued in the University than it is now.
Stuart Swinford Wilson was born on 11 August 1923, the son of an electrical engineer, and educated at William Hulme’s Grammar School in Manchester. He won a scholarship to Brasenose, and read Engineering Science there from 1941 to 1944, leaving with a First. He then spent about sixteen months working at the Admiralty Experimental Works, Haslar, Gosport, mainly on means for sweeping up a new type of naval mine then being laid by the Germans.
But in 1946 he returned to Oxford to teach in the Department, and except for vacation periods in industry and a sabbatical in Australia, remained here until his retirement in 1984. His interests were wide, within the broad field of mechanical engineering, and with a strong practical bias. He was a sailing enthusiast, and designed for the University Yacht Club one of the first fibre-glass sailing dinghies, the 12 ft Alpha, when the wooden Fireflies which the Club had been using were showing structural distress under punishing use by undergraduates at Port Meadow. The Alpha, which was built locally by Bossoms, had some of the faults which might be expected in a pioneering design, but it was a trend-setter, and fibre-glass is now the norm in this application.
In the 1950s the University debated whether its tiny Department of Engineering Science should be abolished or enlarged. It plumped for enlargement, and the result was the Thom Building, completed in 1962/3. Stuart was responsible for the planning of the Heat Engines and Fluid Mechanics laboratories. He also took a lead in the “revolt” by the academic staff when the architect proposed to put some rather pathetic (as was thought) murals on the exterior walls of Lecture Rooms 1 and 2. The University authorities at first backed the architect, but the revolt was ultimately successful, and the murals gave way to the charcoal-coloured bricks that are there today. A few years later Stuart was influential in the founding of the joint school of Engineering and Economics. This was a forerunner of the triple school of Engineering, Economics and Management which we have today.
His undergraduate lectures were usually on thermodynamic cycles or heat engines, and had a practical flavour. This field inspired many of his research activities, e.g. small “Rankine-cycle power packs” using high-molecular-weight fluids such as monochloro-benzene, water-injected diesels, combined-cycle power plants and combined-heat-and-power (these last two well before their present vogue). Younger academics in this field have expressed appreciation of his practical engineering advice. He was also very active over many years in the field of “appropriate technology”, believing that there were many ways in which good engineering design could significantly improve the quality of life at quite modest cost. He was a particular advocate of the proper use of pedal power in under-developed countries. His improved version of the pedalled rickshaw was frequently seen on the streets of Oxford in the 70s and early 80s. It was unfortunate that it never got into significant production.
He tutored undergraduates from Brasenose (and many other colleges) in the days when a tutor was generally expected to be able to teach two-thirds or more, sometimes all, of the syllabus. Brasenose never elected him to a tutorial fellowship, but he became one of the Founding Fellows of St. Cross, when it and another college (now Wolfson) were founded in the early 60s to tackle the problem of the numerous tenured academics who were not fellows of any college.
He and Elsie, whom he married in 1953, and with whom he spent a very happy 50 years, spent their retirement mainly in Somerset and Dorset, but he was a regular visitor back to Oxford, and a strong supporter of the SOUE. In his last years he had written the typescript of a book, “Small Expectations – a wide-ranging survey of the value of human scale”. It reflects a dissatisfaction, which many of us might share, with numerous aspects of modern life arising from urbanisation and centralisation, and from, as he puts it “the separation of the thinking from the doing”. It perhaps loses some force by taking on too many targets at once.
Stuart died on 6 October 2003, aged 80. He leaves his widow, Elsie, and a son and two daughters.
Ben Pimlott 1945–2004
Ben Pimlott established his reputation as a historian of the British Labour movements, but probably became best known for his highly-acclaimed biography of the Queen, first published in 1996.
By the time he ventured into this, for him, unusual territory, Pimlott was already considered an outstanding biographer. His Hugh Dalton (1985), a life of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Attlee’s post-war government, had already won the Whitbread prize for biography, and had been followed by another substantial work, Harold Wilson, in 1992.
As a historian of the Left, and a socialist by conviction, Pimlott’s decision to write about the Queen surprised some. Pimlott himself, according to one colleague was “mortified that he might be mocked by his friends”.
In fact, Pimlott had a more serious purpose than most royal biographers. The pomp and circumstance, the personalities and the scandals, interested him only in so far as they touched on matters of constitutional importance; believing that the aim of a biographer was not just accuracy, but also “understanding”, Pimlott’s main aim was to examine the Queen’s position and performance in the political process.
The book was more a history of modern monarchy than a straightforward biography of its subject, and it won widespread praise. John Grigg called it “the best all-round study of the Queen so far”; Denis Judd, a biographer of Prince Philip, wrote: “The book is based upon as good a foundation of primary material … as anyone is likely to get, short of interviewing the Queen herself.
Benjamin John Pimlott was born on July 4 1945. His father, John, was a Fabian and a senior civil servant in the Home Office who was once private secretary to Herbert Morrison and helped to establish the polytechnics. John Pimlott was also a social historian who wrote studies of the English at leisure – in 1978 his Englishman’s Christmas: a Social History was updated by Ben, who included a moving memoir of his father.
At Worcester College, Oxford, to which he won a scholarship, Pimlott read PPE and took a BPhil in Politics; in 1970 he was offered a Lectureship in history at Newcastle University, where he also took a PhD. In 1975 he was in Lisbon to witness the Portuguese revolution.
At this stage in his life, Pimlott had hopes of a political career. In February 1974 he contested Arundel for Labour; and in October of that year, he stood against Leon Brittan at Cleveland and Whitby, failing to win by 1,500 votes; he stood unsuccessfully in the same constituency in 1979.
Pimlott left Newcastle in 1979 for a two-year research post at the LSE. Then in 1981, he moved to Birkbeck college, London, first as a lecturer (until 1986) and then as reader (1986–1987), before being appointed Professor of Politics and Contemporary History in 1987, a post he held until 1998. At Birkbeck he was a conscientious teacher held in great affection by his students. In 1998 Pimlott was appointed Warden of Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he successfully raised money for new projects.
Ben Pimlott was an unassuming man, noted for his kindness and courtesy. Politically he remained at the centre of the Labour Party, last year defending Tony Blair against the charge of not being sufficiently radical: “He never presented himself as someone who was going to transform society.” He was a member of the Fabian Society’s executive from 1987, and its chairman in 1993–1994.
He was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1993 and a Fellow of the British Academy in 1996.
Abridged from the Daily Telegraph obituary, 13th April 2004
NEW ALUMNI AND DEVELOPMENT OFFICE FOR ST CROSS
In June 2004, the College established an Alumni & Development Office to foster closer links between the College and its alumni. It will be the point of contact for all former students getting in touch with St Cross, and will keep an up-to-date and accurate record of St Cross alumni.
The Alumni & Development Office aims to organise Gaudies, reunions, and other social events; provide networking opportunities for alumni and current students; manage the production of the College Record and Newsletter, and develop the St Cross website.
The Alumni & Development Office will also take a lead in seeking support for the development of the College and the implementation of plans to increase its membership and expand the accommodation and facilities St Cross is able to provide for its students and visiting scholars.
Joëlle Hoggan has been appointed as Development Executive, and is the person to get in touch with if your details change, or if you have any ideas about reunions or events in College or elsewhere, or if you would like to submit items of personal or professional news for inclusion in the Newsletter.
Joëlle said “I am delighted to join the College at such an exciting time in its history, as we look ahead to the 40th anniversary of its founding in 2005 with plans for expansion and celebration. I look forward to meeting as many alumni and friends of the College as I can in the months and years ahead.”
Joëlle can be contacted at St Cross College on +44 1865 278480 or by email at email@example.com
ST CROSS ALUMNI ASSOCIATION All St Cross students automatically become members of the Alumni Association on leaving College, without payment of any joining fee or subscription. The Alumni Association is working closely with the newly established Alumni & Development Office to compile as full and up-to-date record former members of College as possible.
We hope to maintain close contacts with all members of the College and would still like to trace all former students and Fellows with whom we may have lost contact over the years.
The Record and other College publications are sent to all alumni and friends on our list, as well as invitations to events and reunions, and news from the College.
If you know of anyone who should receive a copy of the Record and who does not do so, please ask them to get in touch with Joëlle Hoggan at the Alumni & Development Office.
A form is enclosed with this copy of the Record for you to send any updated information, changes in title, name, address or employment, or if the address we sent the Record to is incorrect in any way. We look forward to hearing from you.
If you have any enquiries or suggestions, please contact:
Joëlle Hoggan, Development Executive, Alumni & Development Office,