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Victor H. Mair

Victor H. Mair
Born (1943-03-25) March 25, 1943
Nationality American
Fields Chinese literature, history, Buddhist texts
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
Alma mater Harvard University (Ph.D.)
SOAS, University of London (M.Phil.)
Dartmouth College (B.A.)
Academic advisors James Robert Hightower
Known for Dunhuang manuscripts, Tarim mummies
Spouse Chang Li-ch'ing (Zhang Liqing) (m. 1969; wid. 2010)
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 梅維恆
Simplified Chinese 梅维恒

Victor Henry Mair (; born March 25, 1943) is an American sinologist and professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania. Among other accomplishments, Mair has edited the standard Columbia History of Chinese Literature and the Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. Mair is the series editor of the Cambria Sinophone World Series (Cambria Press), and his book coauthored with Miriam Robbins Dexter (published by Cambria Press), Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia, won the Sarasvati Award for the Best Nonfiction Book in Women and Mythology.


  • Life and career 1
  • Pinyin advocacy 2
  • Selected works 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Life and career

After completing high school, Mair matriculated as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth College, where, in addition to his studies, he was a member of the men's basketball team. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1965, then joined the Peace Corps and served in Nepal for two years. After leaving the Peace Corps in 1967, Mair enrolled in the Buddhist Studies program at the University of Washington, where he began studying Buddhism, Sanskrit, and Classical Tibetan.[1] In 1968, Mair won a Marshall Scholarship and moved to the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London to further study Chinese and Sanskrit, receiving an honorary B.A. in 1972 and an M.Phil. in 1974.[1] He then moved to Harvard University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1976 with a doctoral dissertation entitled "Popular Narratives From Tun-huang", a study and translation of folk literature discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts.

After completing his Ph.D., Mair joined the faculty at Harvard as an assistant professor and taught there for three years. In 1979, Mair left Harvard to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he has remained ever since. He is also founder and editor of Sino-Platonic Papers, an academic journal examining Chinese, East Asian and Central Asian linguistics and literature.

Mair specializes in early written vernacular Chinese, and is responsible for translations of the Dao De Jing (the Mawangdui Silk Texts version), the Zhuangzi and The Art of War. He has also collaborated on interdisciplinary research on the archeology of Eastern Central Asia. The American Philosophical Society awarded him membership in 2007.

In 1969, Mair married Chang Li-ch'ing (Chinese: 張立青; pinyin: Zhāng Lìqīng; 1936–2010), a Chinese-Taiwanese scholar who taught Mandarin Chinese at the University of Washington, Tunghai University, Bryn Mawr College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Swarthmore College.[2] Together they had one son, Thomas Krishna Mair.

Three of Mair's former students characterize his wide-ranging scholarship.

Victor has always cast his nets widely, and he could routinely amaze us with observations far afield from the Chinese text we were reading in class. Today people often attempt to simulate this cosmopolitanism under the rubric of interdisciplinary study, but for Victor, it was quite untrendy: he simply had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and pushing boundaries. Indeed, border-crossing has been our mentor's dominant mode of scholarship, a mode that has constantly interrogated where those very borders are both geographically and categorically. Though never sporting fashionable jargon, Victor has always taken on phenomena and issues that engage aspects of multiculturalism, hybridity, alterity, and the subaltern, while remarkably grounding his work in painstaking philological analysis. Victor demonstrates the success of philology, often dismissed as a nineteenth-century holdover, for investigating twenty-first-century concerns. (Boucher, Schmid, and Sen 2006:1)

Mair is a contributor to the linguistics blog Language Log.[3]

Pinyin advocacy

Mair is a long-time advocate for writing Mandarin Chinese in an alphabetic script (viz., pinyin), which he considers advantageous for Chinese education, computerization, and lexicography.

In the Sino-Platonic papersfirst issue of (1986), he suggested the publication of a Chinese dictionary arranged in the same familiar way as English, French, or Korean dictionaries: "single-sort alphabetical arrangement" purely based on the alphabetic spelling of a word, regardless of its morphological structure. Most Chinese words are multisyllabic compounds, where each syllable or morpheme is written with a single Chinese character. Following a two-millennia tradition, Chinese dictionaries – even modern pinyin-based ones like the Xinhua Zidian – are regularly ordered in "sorted-morpheme arrangement" based on the first morpheme (character) in a word. For instance, a Chinese dictionary user who wanted to look up the word Bābāduōsī 巴巴多斯 "Barbados" could find it under ba 巴 in traditional sorted- morpheme ordering (which is easier if one knows the character's appearance or radical but not its pronunciation) or under baba in single-sort alphabetic ordering (which is easier if one knows the pronunciation). The following example is adapted from DeFrancis (2000:10).

  • 1bābā 叭叭 on. ① crack! crack! ② snap
  • 2bābā 粑粑 n. 〈topo.〉 cake
  • 3bābā 吧吧 r.f. 〈topo.〉 loquacious
  • 4bābā 巴巴 suf. (of limited occurrence) very; intensely | gān∼ very dry ♦ n./v. poop; doodoo; poopoo ♦ attr. coagulated; forming a crust
  • bǎba 㞎㞎 n. 〈coll.〉 excrement (of a baby)
  • bàba* 爸爸 n. papa; dad; father
  • Bābāduōsī 巴巴多斯 p.w. Barbados
  • bābǎi* 八百 num. eight hundred
  • bābǎi Luóhàn 八百羅漢[--罗汉] n. 〈Budd.〉 the eight hundred Buddhist saints
  • bābàizhījiāo 八拜之交 n. sworn brotherhood
  • bābajiejie 巴巴結結[--结结] r.f. 〈coll.〉 haltingly; falteringly; barely succeed in handling sth.

In 1990, after unsuccessfully trying to obtain financial support for an alphabetically collated Chinese-English dictionary, Mair organized an international team of linguists and lexicographers who were willing to work as part-time volunteers. Under the editorial leadership of John Defrancis, they published the first general Chinese-English single-sort dictionary in 1996. According to the "Acknowledgments" (1996:ix), "This dictionary owes its genesis to the initiative of Victor H. Mair of Pennsylvania." A revised and expanded edition was published in 2000.

Selected works

  • Sino-Platonic Papers

Works listed in Library of Congress (Chronological order)

  • Victor H. Mair, Tun-Huang Popular Narratives (Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Influences from India seen in texts from Dunhuang caves.
  • Victor H. Mair, Painting and Performance : Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988).
  • Victor H. Mair, Cheng Mei Bo Wang, Mei Cherng's "Seven Stimuli" And Wang Bor's "Pavilion of King Terng" : Chinese Poems for Princes (Lewiston, NY, USA: E. Mellen Press, 1988).
  • Victor H. Mair, T'ang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China (Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies Harvard University: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1989). Popular narratives of Buddhist motifs, known as bianwen (變文)
  • Laozi, Victor H. Mair, tr. Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way (New York: Bantam Books, 1990).
  • Victor H. Mair Yongquan Liu, Characters and Computers (Amsterdam, Netherlands; Washington: IOS Press, 1991).
  • Victor H. Mair, The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).
  • Victor H. Mair, The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia (Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man Inc. in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 1998).
  • Zhuangzi Victor H. Mair, tr. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998).
  • Songling Pu, Denis C. Mair Victor H. Mair, tr. Liaozhai Zhiyi Xuan (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2000).
  • J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair, The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. (2000). Thames & Hudson. London. ISBN 0-500-05101-1
  • Victor H. Mair, The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).
  • Songling Pu, Denis C. Mair Victor H. Mair, tr. Liao Zhai Zhi Yi Xuan (Beijing Shi: Wai wen chu ban she, Di 1 ban., 2001).
  • Victor H. Mair, Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, Paul Rakita Goldin, eds. Hawai'i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).
  • Victor H. Mair, Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006).
  • Victor H. Mair, tr. The Art of War / Sun Zi's Military Methods (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
  • Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh, The True History of Tea (Thames & Hudson; illustrated edition, 2009). ISBN 978-0-500-25146-1 (Hardcover).
  • Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair, Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010).
  • Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender (editors). The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).


  1. ^ a b Science Hotline - Dead Men's Tales: Victor Mair, PBS - Scientific American.
  2. ^ Li-ching Chang, 1936-2010, Pinyin News.
  3. ^ Language Log posts by Victor Mair


  • Boucher, Daniel, Neil Schmid, and Tansen Sen. 2006. "The Scholarly Contributions of Professor Victor H. Mair: A Retrospective Survey", Asia Major Volume 19, part 1/2, 2006.
  • DeFrancis, John, ed. 1996. The ABC [Alphabetically Based Computerized] Chinese-English Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2766-X
  • DeFrancis, John, ed. 2003. ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Mair, Victor H. 1986. "The Need for an Alphabetically Arranged General Usage Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Review Article of Some Recent Dictionaries and Current Lexicographical Projects", Sino-Platonic Papers 1:1-31.

External links

  • Official homepage
  • 'The Tarim Basin Mummies' by Victor Mair on YouTube, University of Pennsylvania Museum (video)
  • Works by or about Victor H. Mair in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Sacred Display - Award for Best Nonfiction Book in Women and Mythology
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