Ching-yi Doughtery, a pioneer in English-Chinese machine translation application, has passed away at her home in Oakland on October 13. She was 96 and a key figure in Chinese Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Mrs Dougherty was a founding fellow of Merrill College and one of its first Resident Preceptors. Her career at the University of California at Santa Cruz began in 1967. She was the first chair of the University’s interdisciplinary East Asian Studies committee. She also served as Chair of the Faculty at Merrill. Following a reorganization in 1979, she was a Cowell fellow before she retired in 1981.
Ching-yi was born in her native China in 1913 in the capital city, Beijing. She attended her undergraduate degree from the prestigious Yenching University, which was later incorporated into Peking University. Her father was one of China’s first western-educated dentists but still did not approve of Ching-yi attending a mixed college, and preferred that she attend an all-women teacher’s college. Ching-yi arranged her own intensive preparation program and demonstrating the self-reliance that would be evident throughout all her life, she quietly followed it, and finally sat for the difficult entrance exam. She used to speak about the look of astonishment that soon turned into pride on her father’s face when he glanced at the exam results in the newspaper one morning and found, at the very top of the list of successful candidates, her daughter Ching-yi’s name.
Ching-yi arrived in the United States before World War II (in 1938) with the aim to graduate at Mills College in Oakland, California. Japan had occupied Northern China for several years. She met her future husband, Ellsworth C. Dougherty while attending Mills College and living at International House in Berkeley. He graduated from Berkeley with an AB in Zoology in 1939 at the early age of 18, and at the time was then working on his PhD in Biology (awarded 1944). He would continue to get his MD degree at 25.
In the 1940′s, during World War II, Ching-yi taught Chinese to American servicemen on their way to the war in the Pacific .
Ching-yi and Ellsworth had to go to Seattle to marry because California enforced had anti-miscegenation laws. Their marriage attracted some press attention at the time within the US and abroad. Japan used the story in China to prove that Americans did not view Asians and Chinese in particular as equals. Mr. Dougherty was considered a visionary and prolific researcher in comparative biology before his early death in 1965.
While at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Mrs. Ching-yi Dougherty soon gained a reputation among her peers as a pioneer in Chinese studies for teaching both the simplified Chinese characters adopted by the People’s Republic of China and the pinyin romanization system. She left behind the complex traditional Chinese kanji still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong and the until then popular Wade-Giles romanization. Other Chinese language programs followed her lead, after more than 10 years. She also led in the introduction and regular use of Chinese characters beginning with the first lesson, a practice considered too difficult until then for beginners – but widely adopted nowadays in foreign language teaching.
After the war ended, Ching-yi taught Mandarin at the Department of Oriental Languages at University California Berkeley until the birth of her son, Brian. During the 1950′s, she took time off to run a small retail business in Berkeley. From 1960, until her arrival at University California Santa Cruz, Ching-yi was an instrumental part of the Berkeley Chinese-English Machine Translation Project. At the time, and due to the computer limitations of the time, the input of Chinese characters was an extremely cumbersome process. It required the operator to recall almost 10,000 different telegraphic codes for individual kanji characters. The University team developed a system allowing computer operators to improve accessibility and efficiency through computerization. Her contributions in syntactic coding for word combinations were pivotal for the computerization of the Chinese language and the writing of Chinese recognition grammar for machine translation. Other researchers included Sydney M. Lamb, and Samuel E. Martin, who co-edited Chinese Character Indexes.
She was known as an easily approachable person among students throughout her career, living on campus a great deal of time. Mrs. Ching-yi took great pride in the large number of prestigious fellowships and awards her students obtained during her career, although she never claimed any special skills for herself. A remarkable number of her students went on to their own distinguished careers in Chinese language and literature or related fields.
In her fourteen years at UCSC, she shaped the lives and careers of generations of UCSC students, and is remembered with special fondness by UCSC faculty, staff, and alumni.
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