Rulan Chao Pian, an eminent scholar of Chinese music, an influential Chinese language teacher, and a mentor to students and younger colleagues in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and North America, died peacefully on November 30, 2013 at the age of 91 in her Cambridge home.
Much respected and dearly beloved, Pian shaped many academic careers and lives in America and China. Her seminal publications, public lectures, and personal guidance expanded the intellectual scope of Chinese music studies; her many decades of Chinese language teaching laid the foundation for a generation of scholars who went on to establish the field of Chinese studies in North America; her mentorship nurtured students inside and outside Harvard University, where she taught from 1947 through 1992.
Pian’s Sonq Dynasty Musical Sources and Their Interpretation (1967; 2003 reprint) was a path-breaking work in both Historical Musicology and Sinology, and it received the Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society as the best scholarly book that year on music history. Her extensive fieldwork in Taiwan on Peking Opera during the 1960s resulted in a series of critically important research papers in the early 1970s. When mainland China opened its doors to foreign scholars, she began fieldwork there on narrative songs and folksongs and published several seminal papers on those subjects. Other distinguished recognitions include selection as a fellow of the Academia Sinica (Taiwan, 1994) and honorary member of the Society for Ethnomusicology (2004), as well as numerous honorary professorships and fellowships in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.