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Peter Alexis Boodberg

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Peter Alexis Boodberg

Peter Alexis Boodberg (Chinese: 卜弼德; pinyin: Bǔ Bìdé), also called Baron Peter von Budberg, originally Peter Alekseevich Budberg (Russian: Пётр Алексеевич Будберг) (April 8, 1903 – June 29, 1972), was a Russian-American sinologist who taught at the University of California, Berkeley. Boodberg was influential in 20th century developments in the studies of the development of Chinese characters, Chinese philology, and Chinese historical phonology.


Boodberg came from a Baltic German family, originally from Mainz, 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 was born in Vladivostok, where his father was commanding general of the Russian forces. At the outbreak of World War I, he was a cadet at a military school in St. Petersburg. In 1915, he and his brother were sent for safety to Harbin in Manchuria, where he began the study of philology. From there, he went to the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok and studied Chinese.

In 1920-21, the Boodberg family fled Bolshevik-controlled Russia and emigrated to the United States, settling in San Francisco. He enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, earning a BA in Oriental Languages in 1924 and a PhD in 1930. In 1932, Berkeley hired him as an Instructor in Oriental Languages. He became an Associate Professor in 1937, Chairman of the department in 1940, and full Professor in 1948, winning 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.

Selected Works

  • "Some Proleptical Remarks on the Evolution of Archaic Chinese". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 2 (1937), 329-372.
  • "'Ideography' or Iconolatry?", Toung Pao, 35 (1940), 266-288.
  • "The Chinese Script: An Essay on Nomenclature (the First Hecaton)". Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 39 (1957), 113-120
  • "The Language of the T’o-Pa Wei"
  • "Two Notes on The History of The Chinese Frontier"
  • "Marginalia to The Histories of The Northern Dynasties"
  • "Chinese Zoographic Names as Chronograms"
  • "Three Notes on the T'u-chüeh Turks", University of California publications in Semitic Philology, Berkeley and Los Angels, v.11, (1951)
  • "An Early Mongolian Toponym", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 19 (Dec. 1956), 407-408
  • "Philological Notes on Chapter One of The Lao Tzu"
  • Alvin P. Cohen (ed.), Selected Works of Peter A. Boodberg. University of California Press 1979 (Review)

See also

External links

  • University of California "In Memoriam" page, July 1975
  • Peter Boodberg and the ideographic myth


  • John DeFrancis: The Chinese language, fact and fantasy. Univ. of Hawaii Press, Honolulu 1989, 2005. ISBN 0-8248-1068-6
  • E. Schafer, A. Cohen, "Peter A. Boodberg, 1903-1972," Journal of the American Oriental Society 94(1974), 1-13.
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