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Delia Davin
Photograph courtesy of Barry Wilkinson

Emeritus Professor Delia Davin

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death of Delia Davin, Emeritus Professor of Chinese Studies, following a long illness.

As the resolution adopted by the Senate on her retirement notes, Delia was one of the few professors to have left school at 15 with few formal qualifications. With typical determination, she studied for her A-levels at evening classes and at only 19 left to teach in China at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute.  After two years, she returned in 1965 and joined the new Department of Chinese Studies at the University, gaining a first-class degree in 1968 in Chinese Studies. Postgraduate study in Hong Kong, Leeds and Paris followed, and then she moved to York as a Lecturer in the Department of Economics and Related Studies where she continued as an academic pioneer, becoming a founding member of the York Centre for Women’s Studies (only the second such centre in the country).  Her interest and participation in Chinese culture also continued - she returned to Beijing for a year in 1975, for example, with her five-year-old child, to work as a translator at the Foreign Languages Press.

Delia returned to Leeds in 1988 as a Lecturer in Chinese Studies.  Promotion quickly followed, and she was appointed to a Chair in 1999. She also served with great distinction as Head of the Department of East Asian Studies from 1997 to 2001; as Deputy Head of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures from 1999 to 2001; and, from 1999 to 2004, as the Head of the Centre for Chinese Business and Development, a joint venture between East Asian Studies and the Business School, set up with a grant from the HEFCE Chinese Studies initiative fund.

Delia was one of the very first foreign researchers working in China to examine the position of women in Chinese society and the policies of the Chinese Communist Party towards women.  She published widely, from 1967 onwards, drawing both upon her meticulous research and upon her own experiences embedded within Maoist and post-Maoist culture.  Her books set the framework for many years for scholarship in Chinese Studies.  A highly analytical and independent thinker with an insatiable intellectual curiosity, Delia always asked the difficult and unanticipated questions. She was not at all afraid to express a well-supported opinion, to share her observations, or to offer difficult and unanticipated answers – traits which won her not only great success in her field, but also the respect and loyalty of colleagues and students.

Delia made a huge contribution to the scholarship of the Department of East Asian Studies. Beyond her ground-breaking research, she was a very popular teacher at undergraduate and postgraduate level and she acted as a postgraduate tutor for many years, supervising a great variety of PhD subjects. Outside the University, she served as President of the British Association for Chinese Studies, was a member of the China Panel of the British Academy, and was a member of the Executive Council of the Universities’ China Committee.  She was a committed humanitarian, whose firm principles were coupled with huge personal generosity and a gift for engaging others.  She will be greatly missed by colleagues and students alike.

The funeral service will take place at 12.30pm on Tuesday 25 October at Headingley New Social Club, 56 St Michael’s Road, Leeds LS6 3BG.  As a mark of respect, the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast on the day of the service. Those wishing to make a donation in her memory are invited to contribute to Médecins sans Frontières and/or Manorlands Hospice.