Laurence G. Thompson

Laurence G. Thompson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California, died in Ventura CA on July 10, 2005.

Larry Thompson was born in Shandong province, China, in 1920 and lived in China until 1934. During World War II he engaged in combat in the South Pacific as a Japanese-language interpreter for the U.S. Marine Corps. He earned a B.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1942 and an M.A. and Ph. D. from Claremont Graduate School in 1947 and 1954. From 1951 to 1959 he served in the United States Foreign Service in Taipei, Tokyo, Manila, and Hong Kong and on the staff of the Asia Foundation in Seoul and Taipei. An accomplished classical violinist, he taught music at Taiwan Normal University from 1959 to 1962.  He was on the faculty of Pomona College from 1962 to 1965 and of USC from 1965 to 1986. He served as Chairman of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures from 1968 to 1970 and 1972-1976, and in 1972-1974 was the first Director of the USC East Asian Studies Center as an inter-departmental organization.

Larry Thompson sometimes insisted on his unfashionable commitment to Sinology. His first major publication was a translation of Kang Youwei’s Da Tong Shu, and his contributions to studies of Taiwan included several meticulous translations. His major intellectual commitment was to the study of Chinese religion, in which he was a pioneer. His Chinese Religion: An Introduction and The Chinese Way in Religion were models of many-sided and astute analysis. He translated several volumes of studies of religion by Wu Yaoyu. His bibliography of studies of Chinese religion in Western languages is a basic resource to the field, which he continued to update in retirement. He was the author of the article on Chinese Religion for Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition. He served as President of the Society for the Study of Chinese Religions for nine years and was honored with a festschrift in the Journal of Chinese Religion in 1992.

Larry Thompson had a gift for friendship and was a regular participant in regional and national scholarly meetings. He was a supportive mentor to students at all levels and to several junior colleagues. He is survived by Grace, his wife of 62 years, 5 children, 8 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and a host of devoted friends and colleagues.

Submitted by George A. Hayden, Gary Seaman, and John E. Wills, Jr., all of USC.