The Corner


A (Good) Great Helmsman

Jerome A. Cohen (Photo: Joan Lebold Cohen)

I first wrote about Jerry Cohen — Jerome A. Cohen — in 2012. That piece was “Scholars with Spine: Notes from the field of China studies.” I have now done a piece about him on the homepage, here.

Cohen is not only a China scholar — and an important one — but a friend to dissidents and democrats. He has led an extraordinary life. He clerked for both Earl Warren and Felix Frankfurter. (Cohen was the first person ever to serve two Supreme Court clerkships.) With John K. Fairbank, he had a four-hour meeting with Zhou Enlai, back in 1972. In my piece, I both sketch Cohen’s life and ask him key questions about China today.

National Review fans will like to know about Jerry and WFB. I will quote from my piece:

In January 1979 — just after normalization — Deng Xiaoping made an historic visit to Washington. In anticipation of this event, William F. Buckley Jr. invited Professor Cohen to be a guest on his television show, Firing Line. “I had just broken my arm skiing,” Cohen recalls. “When I walked into the studio, Bill said, ‘That’s the way you should look when I get done with you!’” (Here we have a classic example of WFB’s mixture of competitiveness and good humor.)

Cohen adds, “I told him I did not want my mother, who would be watching, to know about my arm, so would he please tell the cameramen not to descend below my neck? He did this, and a good time was had by all.”

Bernard Lewis, the dean of Middle East scholars, is known as “the Imam” by his students and friends. Similarly, Cohen is known as “the Great Helmsman” — but, unlike the original, he wants only the best for the Chinese people.


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