In Memory of Rulan Chao Pian · 懷念趙如蘭教授 (1922-2013)

Rulan Pian with drumWe are all saddened that Rulan Chao Pian (Professor Emerita, Harvard University), an eminent scholar of Chinese music, an influential Chinese language teacher, and a mentor to students and younger colleagues in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and North America, had passed away peacefully on November 30, 2013 at the age of 91 in her Cambridge home. [See the full obituary at the CHINOPERL website.]

Here, family, friends, colleagues and students of Professor Pian are welcome to share your memories and/or to express your condolences.

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23 thoughts on “In Memory of Rulan Chao Pian · 懷念趙如蘭教授 (1922-2013)

  1. Writing the essays on Mrs. Pian along with my colleagues has been a healing and carthatic experience, and also made me feel closer to Mrs. Pian and to my colleagues.

  2. Prof. Pian was the most important teacher in my life. When I was a student barely surviving on $1 a day, she and her husband Ted welcomed me to their home. They not only housed me, fed me, but more importantly, provided me a nourishing environment where I was able to search for my spiritual and cultural homeland. At this sad moment, I am so very grateful for and proud of her extraordinary life! — Lei Liang (UC San Diego)

  3. I was both sad to hear that Rulan Pian had died and very thankful for her presence in my life a long time ago, when I was a graduate student. At that time, I was a TA in world-music courses, although I did not stay in ethnomusicology, and she was *wonderful* to me: warm, funny (she had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh), always teaching and in the gentlest way. She taught us all not only how to broaden our scope to include non-Western music but how to be a good person as well as a good scholar.

  4. I was a student in the Middlebury summer Chinese Language School in the late 1970s when Dr. Pian visited. At the time I was a college violin major who had just discovered ethnomusicology (after hearing a lecture on Japanese music by William Malm in the Cleveland Museum of Art). I told her how the field seemed to pull together everything I was interested in. I had already read articles by her on Song Dynasty music and Jingju opera lyrics. There didn’t seem to me, at that time, to be anyone else paying attention to Chinese music, so her showing up at Middlebury that summer was an amazing coincidence. She struck me as so brilliant, so natural, and so easy to talk to. If I had not already decided to become an ethnomusicologist, meeting her was probably what made me go for it.

    Afterwards, as I began my pursuit at the University of Hawai’i, I began to understand what she was writing about (I really didn’t understand it when I was a violin major in college). It was clear that everyone knew her. Her name was in the mimeographed text books we used in Shanghai Conservatory of Music when I was a research student there in the 1984. And I would never have expected Dr. Pian to show up at Shanghai Conservatory that year! As an American overseas student, I was privileged to be in the room, and watched her treated as a VIP by the school’s top administration and officials. She was the same person I had seen before, brilliant, so pleasant, so naturally drinking tea and talking in a straightforeward way.

    The next time I met her in person after I had earned my PhD in ethnomusicology from Kent State University. I was working in fast food at the time, so attending the SEM meeting in Cambridge in 1989 stretched the budget. My friend, Dr. Larry Witzleben, suggested I stay in Dr. Rulan Chao Pian’s home and he assured me that there would be many young ethnomusicologists and students doing so. It was such a wonderful, humbling experience. Having breakfast in the morning with everyone hanging around, talking, and listening to Dr. Pian as comfortably as family made a profound impression on me. I remember, of all the conversations flying back and forth in the Harvard-style, being transfixed by her describing driving on steep streets in San Francisco. The conversation turned to food, and I mentioned going to the Joyce Chang restaurant when I was a child because my parents studied her cook book the way I studied ethnomusciological literature. As it turned out, she knew Joyce Chang and talked about her as only a friend could. I thought, how could someone who knows so much about Chinese music history and language also know about anything that might fall out of my mouth like that? I felt my sense of intimidation melting as I sat in her home. Ever after, I held that standard of brilliance and humanness whenever I met any “famous” ethnomusicologist.

    I had not seen her in a long time, but I am ever grateful for those unforgettable encounters.

    Terry Liu
    Washington, DC

    • Your description of their home reminds me much of the stories my father told me about her parents. Her mother had an open door for all the students. Iris followed in their example.

      I remember her voice on all the language lab tapes and was all so familiar to me as I heard her in our Rho Psi Winter Convention at the Cathalia in Elenville, NY where she led us in song and it was there that I learned from her the difference between movable and fixed Do.
      Mei Mei
      Chevy Chase, MD

  5. Some of you China people may not realize that a previous writer, Susan Youens, is an eminent scholar of Western music history, the author of many highly respected books on German lieder, particularly Schubert and Wolf, and an Honorary Member of American Musicological Society (2012). Her words are particularly meaningful.

  6. As a retired faculty member from Harvard, I always remember Professor Rulan Pian’s warmness of heart and her cheerful smile. I was the one who inherited her office on the second floor at 2 Divinity Ave., and during the ten years of my teaching there (1994-2004) I always felt the shadowy presence of her books. Not to mention the many happy moments at her “porridge soirees” –an indelible memory we all shared! Her passing has left an immeasurable void in us all. My she rest in peace and beatitude with her beloved Chinese music.

    Leo Ou-fan Lee

  7. I am sure I am not alone in this camp: as the one person at Harvard with a serious interest in Asian performance during the 1980s, Professor Pian had a decisive influence in my career as a professor international theatre.

    This was a time of huge interest in Asia, with sushi all the range, the Asian-Influenced minimalism of Glass etc dominating the classical airwaves, and the newly-established ART was busy creating and importing large-scale, intercultural theatre works with Asian roots– the Knee Plays from Robert Wilson’s the CIVIL warS, King Stag, Good Woman of Szechwan. I was interested in where the forms manifest in these productions originated, and taking Professor Pian’s undergraduate course on Chinese music helped to provide an answer.

    I knew I would not get a grant to go to China or Japan (everyone around me as busy studying Chinese and Japanese, and I lacked the language skills for funding) and so Professor Pian kindly suggested I explore the possibility of going to study theatre in Indonesia and join the Boston Village Gamelan in preparation. By the end of the course I was writing a scenario for a Chinese opera based on a Borges story, and was playing gong in the BVG. I left for Indonesia in 1988 as a Fulbright. A turning point in my life.

    Professor Pian will be missed.

  8. Like all of you, I have many sweet memories of Mrs. Pian. May I share one that always brings tears to my eyes. It captures so profoundly Mrs. Pian’s humility, thoughtfulness, and genuine care and support for her students.

    In 1979, I was teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Mrs. Pian was also there as a visiting professor. She returned from a trip to China, and gave me a book called 民族音樂研究論文集(第一集,1956). This is her inscription:

    Dear Bell–
    It is not so important to put my name in the volume as it is to let you remember where it came from.
    Yang Yinn-liou took this off his shelf together with several other books and gave them to me when I visited him this January. I won’t say he has as much hope in me as I have in you. At least I am giving it to you with the same earnestness.
    With love
    April 4, 1979
    Shatin, HK

  9. Although my own links with Mrs. Pian were relatively distant — I remember seeing her at events and in the halls of Harvard-Yenching, I feel I have a more intimate acquaintance with her through observing the devoted teacher-student relationship she enjoyed with my colleague Bell Yung. The lifelong attachment that she inspired in Bell and Joseph Lam is a wonderful testimony to the kind of mentor that she was. I am writing to express my condolences on her loss.

  10. I know if Kate Steven’s memory were in good shape, she would have something moving to say about the wonderful contributions Professor Pian made to her life and so many others. Rulan Pian was her mentor and friend for many years.

  11. I took “Chinese B” with Rulan in 1963-64, and it turned out to be the most important course I ever took. What substitute is there for a good start in language? In the late 60s she hired me to be one of her teaching assistants; in the mid 70s I dedicated my PhD dissertation in history to her; in the mid 80s she was my partner in a xiangsheng performance; in the early 90s I went to her retirement party and recited her father’s translation of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (I used bent white candles for the walrus tusks); in March of this year I went to bow to her once again at her home, and to give her a copy of the book I had just published, which I had dedicated to the spirit of her father. Now she has joined him, as well as her inimitable mother, and they wait for the rest of us, toes tapping.

    • Perry this note and the article you wrote for Harvard on Aunt Rulan captured the essence, presence and dynamism vividly and in your case in a lifelong personal way. all who encountered her over the years (and my times with her spanned from summer of 1953 a few months old to May 2013) understand the regard you have for her life and personality. Tom Pian

  12. I will always be grateful to Rulan Pian, who paved the way for ethnomusicology in the Harvard Music Department. She was always a gracious and welcoming colleague from the time of my first arrival at Harvard as a visitor in 1991. When I joined the faculty on a full-time basis in 1993, I moved into the office Rulan had long occupied before her retirement in the old section of the building beneath Paine Hall. Today the Harvard memorial card announcing her passing hangs on my door. I value greatly the many hours we spent together at lectures, parties, and other events private and public over the years in Cambridge. Both Rulan and Ted Pian were an integral part of the Cambridge/ Boston ethnomusicology community over the years. I have always been touched by the manner in which Rulan Pian supported and nurtured her students until the end of her life and know that she will be sorely missed by many. I will surely remember with great fondness and affection.

  13. In the fall of 1962, my freshman year at Radcliffe, I began the study of Mandarin with Mrs. Pian. At that time, a woman, and an Asian-American, at the head of the class was unique at Harvard. (She finally was promoted to a full professorship several years later.) I remember asking her why her married surname was spelled “wrong” according to the romanization system we were using, and she laughingly said her in-laws wanted it that way. While I was studying for my Ph.D. orals, I audited her class on Chinese music. Kay Stevens gave a dagu performance based on a story from Sanguo yanyi. One evening Mrs. Pian invited a group of us over for a jiaozi party. She secretly set up a tape recorder behind the sofa and after dinner played it back to general merriment. The last time I saw her (and Kay) was at an AAS meeting in the 1990s. A truly remarkable and inspiring person. Hilary K. Josephs, Syracuse University, Professor of Law emerita

  14. I had the extraordinary privilege of taking fourth-year Mandarin with Mrs. Pian at Harvard in the mid-1970s. It was a tiny class, almost a tutorial. She had us read plays by Cao Yu and write short plays of our own in Mandarin, which seemed impossible to me at first but– thanks to her confidence in her students– almost possible by the end of semester. She was a beautiful, elegant woman, and a gentle teacher with a great sense of humor. Years later I wrote to her with a question about a research project, and she not only remembered me but wrote back at length and most helpfully. I remember her with affection tinged with awe.

  15. Professor Pian was a major inspiration for me as one passionately interested in Chinese music and musical theatre. Unfortunately, I met her only once when in the late 1970s I visited the United States, including Cambridge, Mass. Like everybody here I was struck by her encouraging, positive and pleasant personality and by her extraordinary learning, which she carried lightly and with grace and humility.

    Her contribution to scholarship was immense, and she was a wonderful person. We all stand in her debt and we shall all miss her.

  16. I was so fortunate to have a brief experience learning directly from Professor Pian during my early graduate school training. When I was a master’s student at the University of Texas at Austin, I translated her father’s Preface to Songs of Contemporary Poems (1928) into English, as part of my extended preparation for a semester project that turned to be my first SEM (Society for Ethnomusicology) conference paper. She was so kind to hand-write corrections on half of the essay I mailed from Austin to her place in Cambridge, Mass., and mail the essay back to me afterward. Reading this document again, her elegant handwriting touches me tremendously. Each word and marking reflects the rigor of her scholarly mind and her nurturing heart. This document and her rigor are treasures to keep forever. And I look forward to using the Preface and acknowledging her edits in a future publication.

  17. I am deeply saddened to learn about Mrs. Pian’s passing. She was the most gracious, beautiful scholar and individual I have known. She took me in at a time when I was lost and without a direction in life. Although I left the graduate program after a year, I have followed my passion, as Rulan had inspired in me. I am so very grateful. She mentored me and touched me in a very profound way as a scholar and a human being and a woman. I bow to her deeply and respectfully. Keiko Ikeda Irie

    • My sincere condolence to the family of the Pian’s and the Chao’s on your bereavement. Being a member of the big “family ” of Institute of History and Philology/Academia Sinica, Rulan was a senior sister. Our seniors at Nankang have left. Now those of her and my generation are also leaving, one after another. It is sad, indeed.

  18. [Professor Chen Yingshi 陈应时of Shanghai Conservatory of Music, an esteemed scholar whose specializations are the theories of intonation, scale, and mode in Chinese music history, asked me to submit his tribute to Mrs. Pian. BY]

    I had never heard of Professor Rulan Chao Pian before the end of the 1970s, as Mainland China was isolated from the West. In the summer of 1979, I chanced upon her book Sonq Dynasty Musical Sources and Their Interpretation in Beijing Library (now National Library), and with the help of the New English-Chinese Dictionary, I read the entire book, and boldly wrote a letter to her. I told her what I learned from reading it, and raised a number of queries to seek her clarification and advice. Within a month I received her reply, in which she wrote: “In the 13 years since I published the book, no one has read it as closely as you did.” She answered all my queries, and invited me to be a visiting scholar at the Yenching Institute of Harvard University to collaborate with her on further research in Sonq dynasty music. Before I even had a chance to respond, a formal letter of invitation from the Institute arrived. Due to political reasons at the time, I could not get a passport, hence was not able to apply for a visa. But I was very grateful to Prof. Pian for her interest and care for my work and for the invitation; even though I was not able to join her, my research was inspired greatly by what I learned from her book. For example, my lifelong work on the Dunhuang Pipapu敦煌琵琶譜that I subsequently began was based upon information I learned from the Preface of her book. My theories on “wey-diaw、 jy-diaw” “为调、之调” in Yanyue Ershibadiao燕乐二十八调were also inspired by her book.
    In August of 1980, I met Prof. Pian in person for the first time in Beijing when she visited Chinese Mainland with her father Yuan Ren Chao. Subsequently, she and I met many times in Beijing and Shanghai when she and her husband Professor Theodore Pian visited China. Each time we met, she would tell me about musicological news and academic developments from abroad, which greatly helped my research. Now that she has left us, I want to say to her with my deepest feeling and most profound respect: “Thank you so much for your help in so many ways!”

    Chen Yingshi 陈应时, Shanghai Conservatory of Music

  19. Tenderly we treasure the past
    With memories that will always last!

    I still remembered vividly in mid-April 2006, I brought the donation agreement from the Chinese University of Hong Kong to Prof. Pian’s home in Cambridge for her to endorse. It was already past 10 p.m. , Prof. Pian’s three former students, Prof. Bell Yung, Prof. Joseph Lam and Prof. SW Yu were all there. It was Prof. Yung who said it was getting late. Prof. Pian had another look at the agreement and asked me to add in that she hoped her humble donation would encourage others to make similar donations not only limited to music but all related studies in East Asian studies. From her eyes, I could see a great woman, her whole life devoted to teaching and research in music and her love of the arts and culture of East Asia.

    She will be dearly missed.

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