Ping-ti Ho, renowned scholar of China, 1917-2012

Ping-ti Ho, a prominent scholar of Chinese social and economic history, died June 7 at his home in southern California. He was 95.

Ho, the James Westfall Thompson Professor Emeritus of History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations, made his mark with two landmark studies of Chinese culture: The Ladder of Success in Imperial China: Aspects of Social Mobility, 1368-1911 and The Cradle of the East: An Inquiry into the Indigenous Origins of Techniques and Ideas of Neolithic and Early Historic China 5000-1000 B.C. The Cradle of the East argued that China’s early cultural achievements in areas such as agriculture, language and metallurgy were developed with little outside influence from other cultures.

His other publications included Studies on the Population of China, 1368-1953 and China in Crisis, Vol. 1, as well as numerous publications in Chinese.

Ho was born in Tientsin, China, in 1917. He received his BA in 1938 from the National Tsinghua University, before coming to the United States, where he earned his PhD from Columbia University in 1952. He began his career studying European history, before shifting his focus to the demographics and social history of imperial China, and, later, ancient Chinese culture.

In Ho’s memoirs, his student Mark Lewis praised Ho’s “exemplary and inspirational” willingness to delve into new fields, and described him as “the very model of a mentor, in terms of both intellectual guidance and constant academic support.”

Ho received numerous honors throughout his distinguished career. He was elected to the Academic Sinica in 1966 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1979. He also served as president of the Association for Asian Studies from 1975 to 1976 and vice president of the National Association of Chinese Americans from 1977 to 1980.

Ho received honorary degrees from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lawrence University and Denison University and honorary membership in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Ho retired from UChicago in 1986 and was a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine until 1990.

Ho continued his scholarly work throughout his active retirement; at the time of his death, he was at work on a new article on the work of the ancient philosopher Laozi.

A sports enthusiast, Ho enjoyed following basketball and tennis.

Ho is survived by his two sons and was preceded in death by his wife, Ching-lo. A memorial service was held on June 29.