Tsu-Lin Mei, age 90, passed away peacefully at Cayuga Medical Center on October 14, 2023.
Born on February 14, 1933, in Beijing, China, Tsu-Lin came to the United States with his parents in 1949, the year of the Chinese Revolution. He earned his B.A. in mathematics from Oberlin College in 1954, M.A in mathematics from Harvard in 1956, and Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale in 1962. He taught at Yale and Harvard before finally settling down at Cornell, where he was Associate, then Full Professor in Chinese Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Asian Studies, 1971-2001. He was named Hu Shih Chair in 1994 and retired in 2001 as Hu Shih Professor Emeritus.
His interest in linguistics was sparked when he took courses with Bernard Block as a graduate student at Yale. He was introduced to Chinese historical linguistics by Tung T’ung-ho, a visiting scholar from Taiwan at Harvard. However, it was Jerry Norman of University of Washington in Seatle, whom he met at Princeton in 1967 while on sabbatical, who entirely changed the way Tsu-Lin approached the Chinese language from a historical perspective. He felt deeply indebted to these three mentors and spoke often of them with the utmost respect.
Tsu-Lin was a leading scholar in Chinese historical linguistics, authoring many papers in Chinese academic journals. He was elected to the Academia Sinica in Taiwan in 1994. After retiring from Cornell, he served as a visiting professor at Stanford University, Beijing University, the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, Taiwan University, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, among others.
Tsu-Lin had a gentle, unassuming manner that belied his academic fervor. An avid sports fan who enjoyed playing tennis and biking in his younger days, he also appreciated a good pun. Tsu-Lin had a seemingly bottomless trove of the most obscure facts, ranging from the history of the tomato to nuclear physics. He was a lover of knowledge through and through.
Tsu-Lin is survived by his wife of over 50 years, Teresa; three children from his first marriage to Yu-shih Chen: daughter, Carol, M.D., and Jacqueline, real estate agent, and son, Eugene, City Attorney of Longmont, CO; and four grandchildren, Nicholas, Emily, Riley, and Liya.
A memorial service will be arranged at a date to be determined. Gifts in his memory may be made to Cornell University general fund.