Open main menu

Rafe de Crespigny

Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny (born 1936)[1], also known as Zhang Leifu (Chinese: 張磊夫), is an Australian sinologist and historian, currently an adjunct professor in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. He specialises in the history, geography, and literature of the Han dynasty, particularly the translation and historiography of material concerning the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period.

Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny
Born1936 (age 82–83)
Adelaide, Australia
OccupationSinologist, historian
AwardsCentenary Medal (2001)
Academic background
  • B.A. Honours History Cambridge (1957)
  • M.A. History Cambridge (1961)
  • B.A. Honours Chinese ANU (1962)
  • M.A. Oriental Studies Honours ANU (1964)
  • PhD Far Eastern History ANU (1968)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Australian National University
Thesis"The Development of the Chinese Empire in the South; a discussion of the origins of the state of Wu of the Three Kingdoms" (1968)
Academic work
DisciplineSinology, Chinese history
Sub-disciplineHistory, geography, and literature of the Han dynasty
Notable works
  • China: The Land and its People (1971)
  • China This Century (1975)
  • Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire (1984)
  • Generals of the South (1990)
  • "The Three Kingdoms and Western Jin: A History of China in the Third Century AD ~ I" (PDF). East Asian History. 1 (1). 1991.
  • To Establish Peace (1996)
  • A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23–220 AD (2007)
  • Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD (2010)
  • Fire over Luoyang: A History of the Later Han Dynasty 23-220 AD (2016)


The son of Richard Geoffrey Champion de Crespigny, OBE (1907-1966),[2][3][4] and Kathleen Cavenagh Champion de Crespigny (1908-2013), née Cudmore,[5] Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny was born in Adelaide on 16 March 1936.[6] He married Christa Boltz in Turner, Australian Capital Territory on 19 May 1959.[7]


De Crespigny received his tertiary education at the University of Cambridge (B.A. Honours History 1957; M.A. History 1961) and the Australian National University (B.A. Honours Chinese 1962; M.A. Oriental Studies Honours 1964; PhD Far Eastern History 1968).

During his early years as a scholar and academic, de Crespigny benefited from the guidance of Geoffrey Elton and sinologists such as Hans Bielenstein, Otto van der Sprenkel, Fang Chao-ying, Liu Ts'un-yan,[8] and Göran Malmqvist, and he developed an interest in the late Han dynasty through the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. His doctoral dissertation of 1968 on the development of the Chinese empire in the south and the origins of the Three Kingdoms state of Wu has provided the basis for much of his later work.[9]


De Crespigny's publications include China: The Land and its People (Melbourne, 1971); China This Century (Melbourne 1975; 2nd Edition Hong Kong 1992), both discussions of modern China. His most significant works, however, are those concerned with the Later Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period. Among these are Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire (Canberra, 1984); while Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling and To Establish Peace (Canberra, 1996) provide an annotated translation of the chronicle for the years 157 to 189 (chapters 54 to 59) and 189 to 220 (chapters 59 to 69) from the Zizhi Tongjian of Sima Guang respectively. He has also published more than twenty articles in Australia and overseas.

Generals of the South, published in 1990, narrates the rise of the Sun clan and the formation of the Three Kingdoms tripartite. It builds on the broad range of his translation experience and is telling about his historical interests. Like Northern Frontier, the work focuses on strategies, campaigns, and personalities. The approach owes a great deal to the narrative tradition of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms but Generals of the South also discusses the population and development of southern China from the second century AD. In dealing with the military defence of the south via the boundary of the Yangtze River, it presents the best discussion of the Battle of Red Cliffs and early Chinese riverine warfare available in English. The work also provides an important prelude to further research into the political and cultural divisions of the Northern and Southern dynasties.

In 2007, A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms 23–220 AD was published by Brill as a companion to Michael Loewe's biographical dictionary dealing with the Qin, Former Han, and Xin periods 221 BC – 24 AD (Brill 2000).

De Crespigny's more recent publications include Imperial Warlord, a biography of Cao Cao (Brill 2010), which was awarded the Stanislas Julien Prize for 2011 by the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. In 2016 Brill published Fire over Luoyang, a narrative and analytical history of Later Han.

Associations and appointmentsEdit

De Crespigny is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He has also been President of the Chinese Studies Association of Australia, a Fellow of the Oriental Society of Australasia, a vice-president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs; and a member of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, the Historical Association (UK) and the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.


De Crespigny was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to Australian society in Asian studies.[10]

See alsoEdit

  • C. T. C. de Crespigny, Rafe de Crespigny's grandfather, includes details of the Australian branch of the Champion de Crespigny family



External linksEdit