Rafe de Crespigny

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Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny (born 1936 in Adelaide, Australia), better known as Rafe de Crespigny, is an Australian sinologist and a retired adjunct professor with the China and Korea Centre, Australian National University. He specialises in the history, geography and literature of the Han Dynasty and has been acknowledged internationally as a pioneer in the translation and historiography of historical material concerning the late Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period.


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. ANU Honours Chinese 1962; M.A. Oriental Studies Honours 1964; Ph.D. Far Eastern History 1968).

During his early years as a scholar and academic, he benefited from the guidance of sinologists such as Hans Bielenstein, Patrick Fitzgerald, Hsü Cho-yün and Miyazaki Ichisada, and developed an interest in the late Han Dynasty through the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. His seminal dissertation in 1964 was "The Development of the Chinese Empire in the South; a discussion of the origins of the state of Wu of the Three Kingdoms", which provided the basis for much of his work later, including his most well-known monograph Generals of the South: the Foundation and Early History of the Three Kingdoms State of Wu.


Some of de Crespigny's other publications include China: The Land and its People (Melbourne, 1971); China This Century ( Melbourne 1975; 2nd Edition Hong Kong 1992), both discussions of modern Chinese history. However, undoubtedly, his most significant works are those in relation to politics in the late Han Dynasty. Among these are Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire (Canberra, 1984); and, To Establish Peace (Canberra, 1996), a partial translation of Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian. He has also written more than a dozen articles, published in such journals as Papers on Far Eastern History and Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia.

The defining work of de Crespigny's career would have to be Generals of the South, which 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 the narrative of strategies, campaigns and personalities. The approach owes a great deal to the narrative tradition of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Generals of the South discusses the population and development of southern China from the second century CE onwards as well as the military defence of the south via the boundary of the Yangtze River. It contains 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 north-south division which occurred in the fifth century (see Northern and Southern Dynasties) and the cultural divisions which endured long after that.

Associations and appointments[edit]

De Crespigny is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is also a Fellow of the Oriental Society of Australasia and a member of the Australian Institute of International Affairs; the Asian Studies Association of Australia; the Historical Association (UK); the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia; and, the International Congress for Asian and North African Studies.

  • Congress for Asian and North African Studies [formerly International Congress of Orientalists]:
  • Secretary-General of the 28th Congress at Canberra 1971
  • Member of Consultative and Executive Committees, 29th Congress at Paris 1973
  • Consultant to the 30th Congress at Mexico City 1975
  • Member of the Executive Committee of the 32nd Congress at Hamburg 1986
  • 1971-72 Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge University
  • 1972 & 1984 Academic Exchange Visitor of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) to *the Federal Republic of Germany
  • 1978 Visiting Professor, Asian Studies Program, University of Hawaii
  • 1978 Guest Professor, College of Chinese Culture, Taiwan
  • 1983-97 Hon. Treasurer, Australian Committee for the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust
  • 1986 Visiting Fellow, Sinologisch Instituut, University of Leiden, The Netherlands
  • 1991-2001 Master of University House, ANU


De Crespigny has recently completed his Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han 23–220 AD (published by Brill in 2007), a continuation of Michael Loewe's biographical dictionary which deals with the Qin, Former Han, and Xin periods 221 BC – 24 AD (published by Brill in 2000).

He is writing a chapter for a forthcoming volume in the Cambridge History of China series.


De Crespigny was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to Australian society in Asian studies.[1]


External links[edit]