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Peter Alexis Boodberg (Born Pyotr Alekseyevich Budberg; 8 April 1903 – 29 June 1972) was a Russian-American scholar, linguist, and sinologist who taught at the University of California, Berkeley for 40 years. Boodberg was influential in 20th century developments in the studies of the development of Chinese characters, Chinese philology, and Chinese historical phonology.

Peter A. Boodberg
Peter A. Boodberg.jpg
Peter Boodberg (c. 1938)
Native name
Пётр Алексеевич Будберг
Born(1903-04-08)8 April 1903
Died29 June 1972(1972-06-29) (aged 69)
NationalityRussian, Baltic German
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Scientific career
FieldsChinese language, history; Altaic languages
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
Notable studentsWilliam Boltz, Richard Mather, Edward Schafer, Fr. Paul Serruys, Alvin P. Cohen
Chinese name



Peter Alexis Boodberg was born "Pyotr Alekseyevich Budberg" (Russian: Пётр Алексеевич Будберг) on 8 April 1903 in Vladivostok, Russia, which was then still a part of the Russian Empire. The Budberg-Bönnibghausen family [de] was a Baltic German noble family, originally from the district of Budberg [de] in Werl, that had lived in Estonia since the 13th century. After Russia annexed Estonia in 1721, they became a prominent diplomatic and military family in Imperial Russia. Boodberg's father, Aleksei Pavlovich Budberg (1869–1945), was a baron and the commanding general of the Russian forces in Vladivostok. His father's position ensured that Boodberg enjoyed a strong education in the Latin and Greek Classics and in the major European languages.[1] Budberg was a cadet at a military academy in St. Petersburg until the outbreak of World War I, when Budberg's parents sent him and his brother to Harbin, Manchuria, out of concern for their safety.[1] Budberg attended the Oriental Institute (modern Far Eastern Federal University) in Vladivostok, where he studied Chinese, which he had begun learning as a teenager in Harbin, and learned several other Asiatic languages.[1]

The Budberg family fled Russia in 1920 due to the anti-aristocracy violence of the Bolshevik Revolution.[1] The family emigrated to the United States, changing their surname to Boodberg, settling in San Francisco.[1] Boodberg enrolled as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a B.A. in Oriental Languages in 1924.[1] Boodberg continued studying at Berkeley as a graduate student, earning a Ph.D. in Oriental Languages in 1930 with a dissertation entitled "The Art of War in Ancient China: A Study Based on the Dialogues of Li, Duke of Wei."[2]

In 1932, Boodberg was hired to teach at Berkeley as an instructor in the Oriental Languages department. He was made an associate professor in 1937, Chairman of the department in 1940, and was promoted to full professor in 1948. Boodberg's scholarship won him Guggenheim Fellowships in 1938, 1956, and 1963. In 1963, Boodberg also became President of the American Oriental Society. He continued to teach until his death from a heart attack in 1972. Boodberg influenced several generations of sinologists, notably Edward H. Schafer, who wrote a long obituary article in the Journal of the American Oriental Society that was followed by a full bibliography by Alvin P. Cohen.

Boodberg's only child, Xenia Boodberg Lee (1927-2004), was a concert pianist based in the San Francisco Bay area.[3]

Selected worksEdit

Boodberg authored a large number of studies and manuscripts that—for reasons that are not entirely clear—he did not publish publicly, but rather self-published and circulated mostly among his students and close colleagues. Additionally, he seems to have destroyed several manuscripts he had written relating to philology and Chinese frontier history in the years prior to his death.[4] The following are some of his better known publicly published works.

  • Boodberg, Peter A. (1930). "The Art of War in Ancient China: A Study Based Upon the Dialogues of Li, Duke of Wei". Ph.D. dissertation (University of California, Berkeley).
  • ——— (1936). "The Language of the T'o-ba Wei". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 1: 167–85. doi:10.2307/2717850.
  • ——— (1937). "Some Proleptical Remarks on the Evolution of Archaic Chinese". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 2: 329–72. doi:10.2307/2717943.
  • ——— (1938). "Marginalia to the Histories of the Northern Dynasties". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 3: 223–53. doi:10.2307/2717838.
  • ——— (1940). "'Ideography' or Iconolatry?". T'oung Pao. 35 (4): 266–88.
  • ——— (1943). Exercises in Chinese Parallelism. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • ———; Chen, Shih-Hsiang (1948). Twenty-five Chinese Quatrains, with Vocabulary Exercises. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • ——— (1951). Introduction to Classical Chinese. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • ——— (1957). "Philological Notes on Chapter One of the Lao-tzu". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 20: 598–618. doi:10.2307/2718364.
  • Cohen, Alvin P., ed. (1979). Selected Works of Peter A. Boodberg. Berkeley: University of California Press.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Honey (2001), p. 288.
  2. ^ Schafer (1974), p. 1.
  3. ^ Bancroft Library, Russian emigré recollections: life in Russia and California : oral history transcript / 1979-1983 (University of California Libraries 1986): Vernon 27. via Internet Archive 
  4. ^ Cohen (1974), p. 12.
Works cited
  • Cohen, Alvin P. (1974). "Bibliography of Peter A. Boodberg". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 94 (1): 8–13. JSTOR 599725.
  • Honey, David B. (2001). Incense at the Altar: Pioneering Sinologists and the Development of Classical Chinese Philology. American Oriental Series. 86. New Haven, Connecticut: American Oriental Society. ISBN 0-940490-16-1.
  • Schafer, Edward H. (1974). "Peter A. Boodberg, 1903–1972". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 94 (1): 1–7. JSTOR 599725.

External linksEdit