Home


Lecture Archive

Speaker Bios

Past Councils

Annual Reports

Memorial Wall


0
            

In Memoriam
Charles Ralph Boxer (1904 - 2000)

Charles Ralph Boxer was born on the Isle of Wight, U.K., into a military family, and went to Wellington College and Sandhurst. He received a commission in the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1924, and was posted to Japan, 1930-1933, as a British language officer seconded to the Japanese army. Here he studied Japanese, practised kendo and developed an abiding interest in things Japanese. He was later posted to Hong Kong as an intelligence officer and in this capacity made several journeys through war-torn China. During the Japanese attack on Hong Kong in 1941, he was gravely wounded in combat, and his left hand remained crippled for the rest of his life. He spent the next four years as prisoner of war, but although suffering abominable treatment, he never bore resentment against the Japanese. Probably because of his physical handicap, Major Boxer retired from the army in 1947, and then began his remarkable academic career. As a young man he had been fascinated by European expansion in Asia and South America, and with his gift of languages learned to speak Portuguese, Dutch, and Japanese. By the early age of thirty, he had already published 13 learned articles. As a result of his scholarship he was offered and accepted the post of the Camoens Professor of Portuguese at King's College London in 1947, a position he held until 1967; two years later he was appointed Professor of the History of Expansion of Europe at Yale University. The extraordinary feature of Boxer's academic career is that he did not have a Ph.D., or an M.A.--not even a B.A-- but his international reputation for scholarly research among unpublished materials (many of which he possessed in his own fine library) made such qualifications (nowadays so necessary!) superfluous. To make up for this lack of conventional degrees, Boxer received various honorary doctorates from universities around the world and became a member of the British Academy in 1957. He published some 330 books and articles dealing with the Dutch and Portuguese in Asia and South America. One of his best-known works is "The Christian Century in Japan", 1951. Boxer married the American author Emily Hahn, 1905-1997, after his liberation from the POW camp. Emily was an unconventional lady who traveled widely through wartime China in the 1930s, had a fondness for monkeys, and smoked large cigars. They had two daughters, one of whom now lives in London, and other in New York. Boxer was a colourful character who did not suffer fools gladly. He enjoyed an active social life and had a wide circle of friends. He disliked pomp of any kind, was modest about his own achievements, and often used salty language in his blunt way of speaking. He was always ready to help colleagues and students with his encyclopedic knowledge and profound learning. He was one of a kind, the likes of whom we will not see again--and scholarship will be the poorer for it. On 24 February 2001, less than a year after Boxer's death, the London "Guardian" published an article compiled by Hywel Williams (but inspired by whom?) hinting that Boxer had collaborated with the Japanese and had betrayed his comrades in the POW camp. Anyone who had the good fortune to know Boxer personally would reject this accusation out of hand. On 10 March the same newspaper published a complete rebuttal by Professor Dauril Alden, University of Washington, which the "Guardian" admitted "sets the record right." This was a rather sad postscript to the life of a remarkable man and a remarkable scholar. In 2001 Dauril Alden, mentioned above, published a voluminous biography of Boxer titled "Charles R. Boxer: An Uncommon Life", Fundação Oriente, Lisbon. 

During his brief stint in Japan, Charles Boxer read three papers to the Society, all of which were published in Series II of the Transactions: "Jan Compagnie in Japan, 1672-1674: Anglo-Dutch Rivalry in Japan and Formosa" (Vol. 7, 1930); "Notes on Early European Military Influence in Japan - 1543-1853" (Vol. 8, 1931); "Rin Shihei and His Picture of a Dutch East-India Ship, 1782" (Vol. 9, 1932). He was also a guest speaker at the Society's centennial celebrations in October 1972, when his subject was "Japan and Macau in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries". He was also a frequent lecturer to the Japan Society in London, and received the first of the Japan Society Awards, instituted in 1994, "for his scholarship and contribution to knowledge about Japan". His published books include South China in the 16th Century, 1953, The Dutch in Brazil, 1957, and Race Relations in the Portuguese Empire, 1963. A fuller obituary was carried in The Times of London on May 1st, 2000. This information has been supplied by Dr. Michael Cooper, for whom Boxer was the supervisor of his doctoral thesis and also a good friend


Written by Michael Cooper.