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ZHU BOATIAN ZHU Baotian Zhu, an anthropologist and expert on the Naxi minority people of southwest China whose work included translating collections of Naxi documents housed at the Library of Congress and Harvard University, passed away on February 4, 2013 in Chino Hills, California after a brief illness. He was 82-years-old. Born on April 13, 1931, in Bo Ping City, Shandong Province, China Professor Zhu earned a degree in Naxi Language from the Beijing Central Institute for Nationalities in 1956 and did his postgraduate studies in Ethnology at the Central Institute for Nationalities, also in Beijing, where he was awarded the equivalent of a Master's Degree for his studies of the Naxi written language. He spent the preponderance of his career working as an Assistant Professor at Yunnan Museum in Kunming, China. His life's work was devoted to the study of the Naxi, an ethnic group based in the Himalayan valleys of Yunnan Province in southwestern China whose written language is pictographic and almost hieroglyphic. Professor Zhu was one of the few non-native people able to speak, read, and write in Naxi, skills he mastered not only from classroom studies, but also from living with the Naxi during his college years and early in his career. Professor Zhu was so proficient in his Naxi language skills, and so immersed in his understanding of the Naxi culture, he was referred to by many in the Naxi community as "The Han Dongba", a nickname which combined reference to his own ethnicity and the title of a Naxi priest. As a result of his very unique expertise, Professor Zhu would eventually have the privilege of living in many locations in Europe and the United States, working with universities and research institutions to translate, exhibit, and highlight the Naxi language and culture. In 1986, he traveled to Vienna, Austria where he established an exhibition of Bronze Age Culture of Yunnan Province. In 1988 he was invited to Edinburgh University to translate its collection of Naxi Pictograph texts. The Harvard-Yenching Library brought Professor Zhu to Cambridge in 1995 to work on a similar project, one that resulted in the 1997 publication of An Annotated Catalog of Naxi Pictographic Manuscripts in the Harvard-Yenching Library. His last major effort began in 1998, when he came to the Library of Congress, under a grant provided by Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, to translate the Library's collection of Naxi manuscripts, the largest outside of the People's Republic of China. The Library of Congress has digitized his translations and posted them to their website where they are available to researchers and those interested in learning more about the Naxi language. During his career, Professor Zhu published more than two-dozen essays and books exploring the Naxi language and culture. Professor Zhu, who retired to southern California in 2008, had a passion for studying Naxi that truly lasted his whole life. To shortly before his passing, Professor Zhu would devote a portion of each and every day to keeping his Naxi language skills sharp, either reading books and manuscripts he had acquired over the years, or practicing his writing skills. His dream was that the Naxi language would never disappear and that future generations of scholars would be able to use his works to expand their understanding of this unique ethnic minority. He is survived by his wife of 51-years, Baozhu Huang, of Chino Hills, California; his son Haoming Zhu of Chino Hills, California and Kunming, China; and his daughter, Hong Zhu DeCrosta, of Fairfax, Virginia. He had five grandchildren. His remains will be interred during a private ceremony at Fairfax Memorial Park in Fairfax, Virginia on April 4, 2013His remains will be interred during a private ceremony at Fairfax Memorial Park in Fairfax, Virginia on April 4, 2013
Published in The Washington Post on Mar. 25, 2013