William Woodville Rockhill
Scholar-Diplomat of The Tibetan Highlandsby
Edited with an introduction by
2003. 254 pp., 1 colour plate, 10 sepia historic photographs, 4 maps. 24.5 x 17.5 cm., hardbound.
ISBN-10: 974-524-022-2 $28.95
On Forgotten Heroes
Book review by Karl Mayer
(World Policy Journal, Vol. XX, No. 3. Fall 2003)
The postbag brings from Bangkok the first biography in decades of a personal hero and unjustly forgotten American, William Woodville Rockhill: Scholar-Diplomat of the Tibetan Highlands. Rockhill (1854-1914) was the first American to learn Tibetan, explore its innermost highlands, and befriend a Dalai Lama (the Great Thirteenth). He did this between State Department postings in China. Born in Philadelphia, bred in France, Rockhill graduated from St. Cyr and became an officer in the French Foreign Legion, a cowhand in New Mexico, an explorer for the Smithsonian Museum and a scholar of the first rank. His talents were spotted and prized by Theodore Roosevelt, and while serving in Washington he became principal drafter and interpreter of the Open Door policy, all the while continuing his recondite Asian studies.
Now we have a new life of Rockhill by Kenneth Wimmel, himself a U. S. Foreign Service officer for 25 years, mostly in Asia, who regrettably died in 2000, before this handsome volume was published by Orchid Press. The good angel who edited and introduced Wimmel’s book is a retired businessman (industrial chemistry), linguist and scholarly authority on Tibet, Braham Norwick of New York. One hopes that this fresh book will begin to revive the memory of an exceptionally interesting figure.
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