Victor Mair

Victor Mair

Victor Henry Mair (born March 25, 1943) is a Sinologist, and holds the position of Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States. Among other accomplishments, Mair has edited the standard Columbia History of Chinese Literature and the Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. Mair is the series editor of the Cambria Sinophone World Series (Cambria Press), and his book coauthored with Miriam Robbins Dexter (published by Cambria Press), Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia, won the Sarasvati Award for the Best Nonfiction Book in Women and Mythology.

Mair received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1976. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania since 1979. He is also founder and editor of Sino-Platonic Papers, an academic journal examining Chinese, East Asian and Central Asian linguistics and literature.

Mair specializes in early written vernacular Chinese, and is responsible for translations of the Dao De Jing (the Mawangdui Silk Texts version), the Zhuangzi and The Art of War. He has also collaborated on interdisciplinary research on the archeology of Eastern Central Asia. The American Philosophical Society awarded him membership in 2007.

Three of Mair's former students characterize his wide-ranging scholarship.

Victor has always cast his nets widely, and he could routinely amaze us with observations far afield from the Chinese text we were reading in class. Today people often attempt to simulate this cosmopolitanism under the rubric of interdisciplinary study, but for Victor, it was quite untrendy: he simply had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and pushing boundaries. Indeed, border-crossing has been our mentor's dominant mode of scholarship, a mode that has constantly interrogated where those very borders are both geographically and categorically. Though never sporting fashionable jargon, Victor has always taken on phenomena and issues that engage aspects of multiculturalism, hybridity, alterity, and the subaltern, while remarkably grounding his work in painstaking philological analysis. Victor demonstrates the success of philology, often dismissed as a nineteenth-century holdover, for investigating twenty-first-century concerns. (Boucher, Schmid, and Sen 2006:1)

Pinyin advocacy

Mair is a long-time advocate for writing Mandarin Chinese in an alphabetic script (viz., pinyin), which he considers advantageous for Chinese education, computerization, and lexicography.

In the 巴 in traditional sorted- morpheme ordering (which is easier if one knows the character's appearance or radical but not its pronunciation) or under baba in single-sort alphabetic ordering (which is easier if one knows the pronunciation). The following example is adapted from DeFrancis (2000:10).

  • 1bābā 叭叭 on. ① crack! crack! ② snap
  • 2bābā 粑粑 n. 〈topo.〉 cake
  • 3bābā 吧吧 r.f. 〈topo.〉 loquacious
  • 4bābā 巴巴 suf. (of limited occurrence) very; intensely | gān∼ very dry ♦ n./v. poop; doodoo; poopoo ♦ attr. coagulated; forming a crust
  • bǎba 㞎㞎 n. 〈coll.〉 excrement (of a baby)
  • bàba* 爸爸 n. papa; dad; father
  • Bābāduōsī 巴巴多斯 p.w. Barbados
  • bābǎi* 八百 num. eight hundred
  • bābǎi Luóhàn 八百羅漢[--罗汉] n. 〈Budd.〉 the eight hundred Buddhist saints
  • bābàizhījiāo 八拜之交 n. sworn brotherhood
  • bābajiejie 巴巴結結[--结结] r.f. 〈coll.〉 haltingly; falteringly; barely succeed in handling sth.

In 1990, after unsuccessfully trying to obtain financial support for an alphabetically collated Chinese-English dictionary, Mair organized an international team of linguists and lexicographers who were willing to work as part-time volunteers. Under the editorial leadership of John Defrancis, they published the first general Chinese-English single-sort dictionary in 1996. According to the "Acknowledgments" (1996:ix), "This dictionary owes its genesis to the initiative of Victor H. Mair of Pennsylvania." A revised and expanded edition was published in 2000.

Works written or edited by Victor H. Mair

  • Sino-Platonic Papers

Works listed in Library of Congress (Chronological order)

  • Victor H. Mair, Tun-Huang Popular Narratives (Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Influences from India seen in texts from Dunhuang caves.
  • Victor H. Mair, Painting and Performance : Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988).
  • Victor H. Mair, Cheng Mei Bo Wang, Mei Cherng's "Seven Stimuli" And Wang Bor's "Pavilion of King Terng" : Chinese Poems for Princes (Lewiston, NY, USA: E. Mellen Press, 1988).
  • Victor H. Mair, T'ang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China (Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies Harvard University: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1989). Popular narratives of Buddhist motifs, known as bianwen (變文)
  • Laozi, Victor H. Mair, tr. Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way (New York: Bantam Books, 1990).
  • Victor H. Mair Yongquan Liu, Characters and Computers (Amsterdam, Netherlands ; Washington: IOS Press, 1991).
  • Victor H. Mair, The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).
  • Victor H. Mair, The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia (Washington, D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man Inc. in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications, 1998).
  • Zhuangzi Victor H. Mair, tr. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998).
  • Songling Pu, Denis C. Mair Victor H. Mair, tr. Liaozhai Zhiyi Xuan (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2000).
  • J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair,The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. (2000). Thames & Hudson. London. ISBN 0-500-05101-1
  • Victor H. Mair, The Columbia History of Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).
  • Songling Pu, Denis C. Mair Victor H. Mair, tr. Liao Zhai Zhi Yi Xuan (Beijing Shi: Wai wen chu ban she, Di 1 ban., 2001).
  • Victor H. Mair, Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, Paul Rakita Goldin, eds. Hawai'i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).
  • Victor H. Mair, Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006).
  • Victor H. Mair, tr. The Art of War / Sun Zi's Military Methods (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
  • Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh, The True History of Tea (Thames & Hudson; illustrated edition, 2009). ISBN 978-0-500-25146-1 (Hardcover).
  • Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair, Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010).


  • Boucher, Daniel, Neil Schmid, and Tansen Sen. 2006. "Asia Major Volume 19, part 1/2, 2006.
  • DeFrancis, John, ed. 1996. The ABC [Alphabetically Based Computerized] Chinese-English Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2766-X
  • DeFrancis, John, ed. 2003. ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Mair, Victor H. 1986. "The Need for an Alphabetically Arranged General Usage Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Review Article of Some Recent Dictionaries and Current Lexicographical Projects", Sino-Platonic Papers 1:1-31.

External links

  • Official homepage
  • Youtube (video)
  • WorldCat catalog)
  • Sacred Display - Award for Best Nonfiction Book in Women and Mythology