Hai-t'ao Tang (1931-2023)

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From the Princeton University Department of East Asian Studies newsletter (3/26/23):

Passing of Emeritus lecturer Hai-t’ao Tang

Emeritus lecturer, Hai-t’ao Tang passed away at his Princeton home on Sunday, March 26, 2023. He was born August 27, 1931, in Shanghai, China and completed his master’s degree in Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University. He joined the East Asian Studies Department as a Lecturer in Chinese language in 1974 and taught for 22 years, becoming Lecturer Emeritus in 1996.

Hai-t’ao Tang was recruited to teach at Princeton by Professors Frederick (Fritz) Mote and Ta-tuan (T.T.) Ch’en. Throughout his career he devoted his energy and intellect to teaching Chinese as a living language and encouraged each learner to adopt Chinese as one’s own language and nurture it to live and grow inside oneself. Hai -t'ao Tang co-authored nearly a dozen books including Classical Chinese — A Basic Reader and Readings in Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose.

He is survived by his wife Nai-Ying Yuan Tang who also spent her career in the Department of East Asian Studies as Chinese Language Lecturer.

Hai-t'ao Tang was one of the most blindingly brilliant men I have ever met.  He possessed a vast repository of knowledge about Chinese language, linguistics, and literature that he could call up instantaneously, not to mention that he could do extraordinary things like write Chinese characters backward and upside down.

As in the photograph above, he always had a sweet smile on his face, and he was unfailingly kind.

Once, as my younger brother Denis (Méi Dānlǐ 梅丹理) was hiking along the Appalachian Trail, he ran out of money when he got to Middlebury, Vermont, where Hai-t'ao and I happened to be that summer.  Hai-t'ao generously gave Denis $10 to help him on his way.  That was in the late 60s, if I recall correctly, when ten dollars was worth nearly a hundred of today's dollars.  Added to what I could spare, Denis was able to make it back home to Ohio.

It was Hai-t'ao, together with his wife, Nai-Ying Yuan, who gave me my Chinese name, Méi Wéihéng 梅維恒, which phonologically and semantically fits so perfectly.

R.I.P., Hai-t'ao.


  1. Pamela said,

    April 14, 2023 @ 8:30 am

    Thanks for this. What a brilliant scholar and teacher. I will never forget his first class at Middlebury summer program, acrobatically writing Chinese characters from every angle, with droll comments on "tired happy," "handstand happy," "leftist happy." When you were in the classroom with him, you were just happy.

  2. Anna Shields said,

    April 14, 2023 @ 9:39 am

    Thank you so much for posting this, Victor. If you or anyone has memories or stories of Professor Tang, we are hoping to do a longer piece for the Princeton EAS website this summer, so please feel free to send me any notes or photos that we might share.

    Anna Shields, ashields@princeton.edu

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 14, 2023 @ 10:00 am

    From a former Princeton student:

    I only had one real interaction with 唐老師. In my first week at Princeton in 1993 I went to his office for my Classical Chinese assessment. He asked me what I was planning to study, then pulled down from a shelf a volume of the 漢書, flipped to the middle of either the 西域傳 or the 匈奴傳, then had me start reading it out loud. In my recollection it was very old school and he did not ask me to translate or explain what I was reading. After a minute or two he stopped me, said “you pass,” and that was it. Unfortunately, I never had a need to take any of his classes or work with him.

  4. Paul Frank said,

    April 14, 2023 @ 11:54 am

    "to adopt Chinese as one’s own language and nurture it to live and grow inside oneself." Beautifully put. I also studied Literary Chinese with Prof. Tang's Classical Chinese: a Basic Reader. Any speaker of a European language who starts learning Chinese as an adult or young adult, as I did, has to nurture the language by working at it daily, or almost daily. Since I started learning Chinese in 1980, I've never gone more than a day or two without reading an article in Chinese without thinking that I'm neglecting the language and that I need to read or hear it tomorrow. I don't feel this way about any other language. YouTube is a treasure trove of Taiwanese political talk shows. I'd recommend them to anyone who is learning the language.

  5. Tonalle said,

    April 16, 2023 @ 3:29 pm

    梅維恒 is a name with three 陽平 tone. This name does not sound pleasurable or musical to a Cantonese speaker's ear. In the past, people would pay attention to this tonal affair too, provided that they had such knowledge.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    April 16, 2023 @ 7:42 pm

    The three successive 陽平 tones in 梅維恒 come out as three second tones in Mandarin, Méi Wéihéng. Tang Laoshi and Yuan Laoshi were quite aware of that, and cited historical precedents of others in the past, such as the famous Song poet, Méi Yáochén 梅堯臣 (1002-1060), who also had three successive second tones in their name. Nobody pronounces my name (or Mei Yaochen's) with three second tones in a row. By the rules of tone sandhi, the second one becomes first tone, hence Méi Wēihéng, which sounds just fine.

    "Mair's hypothesis on tonal repetition" (7/6/21)


  7. Tonalle said,

    April 17, 2023 @ 5:25 am

    If 梅維恒 is changed to 梅威恒, you will have a 陰平 tone in the middle, producing a "low-high-low" pitch effect. 威 for Victor also seems to be quite relevant. Another suggestion is 梅威德,which seems to be quite a good match with an expert in Chinese Buddhism.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    April 17, 2023 @ 5:50 am

    They wanted my Chinese name to reflect my whole English name, Victor Henry Mair, and what they perceived to be my character, 維+恒.

    I like my Chinese name just the way it is, and am grateful to Tang Laoshi and Yuan Laoshi for choosing it so carefully and thoughtfully.

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