Rafe de Crespigny

Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny (born March 16, 1936)[1], better known as Rafe de Crespigny, is an Australian sinologist and historian. He is an adjunct professor in the College of Asia and the Pacific and Australian National University. He specialises in the history, geography and literature of the Han dynasty and has been acknowledged internationally as a pioneer in the translation and historiography of material concerning the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period.

Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny
Born March 16, 1936 (age 82)
Adelaide, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Sinologist, historian
Spouse(s) Christa Boltz
  • Anne Young
  • Mark de Crespigny
  • Geoffrey de Crespigny (father)
  • Kathleen Cudmore (mother)
Awards Centenary Medal (2001)
Academic background
  • B.A. Honours History (1957)
  • M.A. History (1961)
  • B.A. ANU Honours Chinese (1962)
  • M.A. Oriental Studies Honours (1964)
  • PhD Far Eastern History (1968)
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Australian National University
Thesis The Development of the Chinese Empire in the South; a discussion of the origins of the state of Wu of the Three Kingdoms (1968)
Academic work
Discipline Sinology, Chinese history
Sub-discipline History, geography and literature of the Han dynasty
Notable works
  • China: The Land and its People (1971)
  • China This Century (1975)
  • Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire (1984)
  • Generals of the South (1990)
  • To Establish Peace (1996)
  • Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han 23–220 AD (2007)


De Crespigny received his tertiary education at the University of Cambridge (B.A. Honours History 1957; M.A. History 1961) and the Australian National University (B.A. ANU Honours Chinese 1962; M.A. Oriental Studies Honours 1964; PhD Far Eastern History 1968).

During his early years as a scholar and academic, he benefited from the guidance of Geoffrey Elton and sinologists such as Hans Bielenstein, Otto van der Sprenkel, Fang Chao-ying, Liu Ts'un-yan and Göran Malmqvist, and he developed an interest in the late Han dynasty through the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The title of his doctoral dissertation in 1968 was The Development of the Chinese Empire in the South; a discussion of the origins of the state of Wu of the Three Kingdoms, and this provided the basis for much of his later work.[2]


Some of de Crespigny's other publications include China: The Land and its People (Melbourne, 1971); China This Century (Melbourne 1975; 2nd Edition Hong Kong 1992), both discussions of modern China. However, undoubtedly, his most significant works are those in relation to politics in the late Han dynasty. Among these are Northern Frontier: The Policies and Strategy of the Later Han Empire (Canberra, 1984); and, To Establish Peace (Canberra, 1996), a partial translation of Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian. He has also written more than a dozen articles, published in such journals as Papers on Far Eastern History and Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia.

In 1990, de Crespigny published Generals of the South, which narrates the rise of the Sun clan and the formation of the Three Kingdoms tripartite. It builds on the broad range of his translation experience and is telling about his historical interests. Like Northern Frontier, the work focuses on the narrative of strategies, campaigns and personalities. The approach owes a great deal to the narrative tradition of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Generals of the South discusses the population and development of southern China from the second century AD onwards as well as the military defence of the south via the boundary of the Yangtze River. It contains the best discussion of the Battle of Red Cliffs and early Chinese riverine warfare available in English. The work also provides an important prelude to further research into the north-south division which occurred in the fifth century (see Northern and Southern dynasties) and the cultural divisions which endured long after that.

In the late 2000s, de Crespigny completed his Biographical Dictionary of the Later Han 23–220 AD (published by Brill in 2007), a continuation of Michael Loewe's biographical dictionary which deals with the Qin, Former Han, and Xin periods 221 BC – 24 AD (published by Brill in 2000). He is writing a chapter for a forthcoming volume in the Cambridge History of China series.

Personal life

De Crespigny's father, Richard Geoffrey Champion de Crespigny (1907–1966), and grandfather, Constantine Trent Champion de Crespigny, were notable physicians in South Australia. Geoffrey de Crespigny also served in the Second Australian Imperial Force and retired in 1959 with the rank of colonel. De Crespigny's mother, Kathleen Cudmore (1908–2013), married Geoffrey de Crespigny in 1933.[3][4]

De Crespigny married Christa Boltz in 1959. They have two children: Anne (born 1959) and Mark (born 1963). They also have five grandchildren: Peter, Charlotte, Nicholas, Alex and Sophia.[4]

Associations and appointments

De Crespigny is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is also a Fellow of the Oriental Society of Australasia and a member of the Australian Institute of International Affairs; the Asian Studies Association of Australia; the Historical Association (UK); the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia; and, the International Congress for Asian and North African Studies.


De Crespigny was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to Australian society in Asian studies.[5]


  1. ^ Rafe de Crespigny. (2014). In Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Accessed 7 May 2018.
  2. ^ de Crespigny, Rafe (2004). Generals of the South (PDF). Australian National University. p. 3.
  3. ^ "College Roll: Champion de Crespigny, Richard Geoffrey". Royal Australasian College of Physicians. 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b Young, Anne (22 December 2017). "Publishing a family history in Australia – my experience". Anne's Family History. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  5. ^ It's an Honour

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