Monday, December 27, 2010

Frank Bessac, Asian Specialist, Crosses the Divide

Earlier this month Frank B. Bessac passed away at age 88 (1922-2010).  He had been professor of Anthropology at the University of Montana.  He was my mentor there and the lead professor on my Masters thesis.

Obits can be found here and here and suddenly there is a brand new Wikipedia essay here.  There had not been one yesterday, the 26th

Bessac is mostly being remembered for his service as an OSS agent in Inner Asia during WWII and after.  He was also a member of a party that fled Inner Asia into Tibet that ended in tragedy.  That story is one of the great ones of the mid 20th century, related here, here, and here.  Bessac certainly deserves all the honor given to him.

His autobiography is here.

I remember him in two other ways.  First, he was a great teacher and mentor.  In the early 1980s when I was there he was the sage of the department.  Kind, gentle and affable, he always nudged me in the right direction.

Second, he was an excellent Anthropologist and Asian specialist.  He would have us poor grad students work our way through the details of Chinese kinship; he’d get excited and start writing Chinese in the air with his fingers.  I’d have this dull look in my eyes and he’d start over.  I never really got all the fancy kinship stuff but he was a master of it all.

I tip my hat to the Old Master…

Selected Bibliography:

Frank B. Bessac
1963   Culture Types of Northern and Western China.  PhD Dissertation, U. Wisconsin.

1964  Some social effects of land reform in a village on the Taichung plain.  J. Ch. Soc. IV., pp. 15-28. (not sure what the journal abbreviation refers to).

1965. Co-variation between Interethnic Relations and Social Organization in Inner Asia.  Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, v. 50, pp. 373–92.

1965  Revolution and government in Inner Mongolia, 1945-50.  Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, v. 50, pp. 415-429.

1966   Social Consequences of the Land Reform in Taiwan.  Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences, v.26, pp. 76-81.

1967   An Example of Social Change in Taiwan Related to Land Reform. Contributions to Anthropology, No 1, University of Montana.

1969  The Effect of industrialization upon the allocation of labor in a Taiwanese village.  J. Ch. Soc., VI. , pp 13-51. (not sure what the journal is)

1969   Notes on the Restudy of the Land Reform in a Village in Taiwan. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences, v.29, pp. 151-156.

1974   East Asian Cultures.  Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition, pp.122-130.

1981   The Rise and Fall of Landlord Families in Central Taiwan.  Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Asian Studies, pp. 19-45. Asian Research Service, Hong Kong.

1982   The Mother’s Brother in Taiwan. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences, v.41, pp. 131-136.

1982   Some Notes on Chinese Kinship.  Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Asian Studies, pp. 9-20. Asian Research Service, Hong Kong.

1984   Probable Geographic Influences on China.  Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences, v. 43 p. 217-220.

1991   Stalin vs. Bukharin: the Taiwan Case.  Selected papers in Asian studies, new ser., paper no. 38, Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, 1991.

Frank Bagnall Bessac and  Susanne Leppmann Bessac
2008  To a soldier returning from Iraq, chapter in The tao of anthropology, edited by A. J. Kelso, Gainesville : University Press of Florida.

S. Bessac and F.B. Bessac
1982 American Perceptions of Hmong Ethnicity: A Study of Hmong Refugees in Missoula, Montana, in Studies of Ethnic Minority Peoples, Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography Singapour, no 1, pp. 56-71.


  1. Thank You Larry! With all the hubbub about the Chang Tang story, Dad's strengths as a teacher and gentle man get lost.
    I hope that you can join us at the memorial on 18 July at the Native American Studies Center on UofM campus:

  2. Thanks. I'll see if I can make it.