John DeFrancis

Picture of John DeFrancis

John DeFrancis

Editor of the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary

John DeFrancis, born August 31, 1911 and passed away January 2, 2009. He continued his dictionary and textbook work until the end of his long life. Those of us who had the honor and pleasure of working with him will do our best to follow in his footsteps. He was a great friend, leader, and inspiration. -Tom Bishop, Wenlin Institute

John DeFrancis, emeritus professor of Chinese at the University of Hawaii, began his career in Chinese immediately after graduating from Yale in 1933 by spending three years studying and traveling in China. Apart from academic study, his learning experience included grassroots contact with the language and people in the course of a 4,000-mile trip in Northwest China and Mongolia that involved trekking 1,000 miles across the Gobi Desert by camel and floating 1,200 miles down the Yellow River on an inflated sheepskin raft. He returned to the United States for graduate work leading to M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia and embarked on a teaching career at several institutions. He is the author of scores of articles and two dozen books, including the widely used 12-volume set of materials for teaching spoken and written Chinese and works on Asian sociolinguistics such as Nationalism and Language Reform in China and Colonialism and Language Policy in Viet Nam. [Source: back cover of The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy (University of Hawaii Press, 1986)]

DeFrancis was Associate Editor of the Journal of the American Oriental Society from 1950 to 1955, and of the Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association from 1966 to 1978.

Volumes by John DeFrancis in the Yale Language Series

  • Beginning Chinese
  • Character Text for Beginning Chinese
  • Beginning Chinese Reader (Parts I and II)
  • Intermediate Chinese
  • Character Text for Intermediate Chinese
  • Intermediate Chinese Reader (Parts I and II)
  • Advanced Chinese
  • Character Text for Advanced Chinese
  • Advanced Chinese Reader
  • Annotated Quotations from Chairman Mao

Some More Writings by John DeFrancis

  • In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan (University of Hawaii Press, 1993)
  • Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems (University of Hawaii Press, 1989)
  • The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy (University of Hawaii Press, 1986)
  • Colonialism and Language Policy in Vietnam (Mouton, 1977)
  • Things Japanese in Hawaii (University Press of Hawaii, 1973)
  • Chinese-English Glossary of the Mathematical Sciences (American Mathematical Society, 1964)
  • Chinese Social History, by E-tu Zen and John DeFrancis (American Council of Learned Societies, 1956)
  • Bibliography on Chinese Social History, by E-tu Zen and John DeFrancis (Far Eastern Publications, 1952)
  • Talks on Chinese History (with Elizabeth Jen Young) (Far Eastern Publications, 1952)
  • Report of the Second Round Table Meeting on Linguistics, Language Teaching Monograph Series on Languages and Linguistics, No. 1 (Georgetown University press, 1951)
  • Nationalism and Language Reform in China (Princeton University Press, 1950)
  • Chinese Agent in Mongolia, translated from the Chinese of Ma Ho-t'ien (Johns Hopkins Press, 1949)

DeFrancis also was Editor of Supplementary Readers for Intermediate Chinese Reader (Far Eastern Publications, Yale University, 1976):

  • Volume I: The White Haired Girl by Chi-Yu Ho
  • Volume II: The Red Detachment of Women by Chi-Yu Ho
  • Volume III: Episodes From the Dream of the Red Chamber by Louise H. Li
  • Volume IV: Sun Yat-sen by Yung Teng Chia-Yee
  • Volume V: Wu Sung Kills a Tiger by Yung Teng Chia-Yee

Many books by DeFrancis are available from on-line bookstores or from University of Hawaii Press.

Photos of John DeFrancis on this website

John DeFrancis Memorial at

John DeFrancis photos at