Born in South Dakota, John King Fairbank attended local public schools for his early education. From there he went on first to Exeter, then the University of Wisconsin, and ultimately to Harvard, from which he received his B.A. degree summa cum laude in 1929. That year he traveled to Britain as a Rhodes Scholar. In 1932 he went to China as a teacher and after extensive travel there received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1936. Between 1941 and 1946, he was in government service---as a member of the Office of Strategic Services, as special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to China, and finally as director of the U.S. Information Service in China. Excepting those years, beginning in 1936, Fairbank spent his entire career at Harvard University, where he served in many positions, including Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and director of Harvard's East Asian Research Center. Fairbank, who came to be considered one of the world's foremost authorities on modern Chinese history and Asian-West relations, was committed to reestablishing diplomatic and cultural relations with China. He was also committed to the idea that Americans had to become more conversant with Asian cultures and languages. In his leadership positions at Harvard and as president of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Historical Association, he sought to broaden the bases of expertise about Asia. At the same time, he wrote fluidly and accessibly, concentrating his work on the nineteenth century and emphasizing the relationship between China and the West. At the same time, his writings placed twentieth-century China within the context of a changed and changing global order. It was precisely this understanding that led him to emphasize the reestablishment of American links with China. More than anyone else, Fairbank helped create the modern fields of Chinese and Asian studies in America. His influence on American understanding of China and Asia has been profound.
Edwin O. Reischauer was born in Japan in 1910, the son of Protestant educational-missionary parents, founders of Japan's first school for the deaf. After being educated in Japanese and American schools, he received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1931 and his M.A. from Harvard in 1932. Four years later he received a Ph.D. in Far Eastern Languages from Harvard. In 1938 he joined the faculty at Harvard, where he rose to the position of professor and acted for an extensive period as director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute. His academic career was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, and he held civilian posts first in the War Department and later in the Department of State. In 1961 he again took leave from Harvard to accept a position for which he had been hand-picked by President John F. Kennedy---ambassador to Japan. The Japanese accepted him as one of their own; one editorial writer welcomed him by writing that he was well informed about Japan, "having no equal among foreigners on that point." Another remarked how satisfying it would be to "write an editorial and know that the American Ambassador will actually be able to read it." Reischauer was a prolific writer and an energetic speaker who saw his role as introducing Japan to America. In his writings and in his activities in other media such as film, he was committed to reaching as broad an audience as possible. At Harvard he led in training the first generation of true American scholars of Japan. As U.S. ambassador to Japan, however, his role became reversed as he sought to educate Japanese about America and Americans. In the wake of the war in the Pacific, Reischauer hoped to show Americans and Japanese that the two countries could and should be close allies and friends. His assessment of Japan's history emphasized the nonrevolutionary character of its modern history and its outward-looking development. In his view Japanese war and aggression were aberrations in a long emerging liberal tradition. His positivist interpretation has been a leading influence in defining America's postwar vision of Japan.