On August 7, 2006, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and staff of Silkroad joined Stanford Professor Emeritus Albert Dien and the SPICE staff at the Art Institute of Chicago to offer the first of eight seminars on the Silk Road for teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. Dien spoke about the history of the Silk Road dating from the Han Dynasty, 206 BCE–220 CE. I recall many teachers commenting about what a youthful 79-year-old he was. Today marks the 94th birthday of Dien, and on June 29, 2021, SPICE had the honor of hosting his last lecture—focused on Chinese dynasties—which he gave to an audience of middle school teachers from across the United States. Several Chinese teachers were also in attendance with one participating from China. Once again, many of the teachers commented on how youthful he was.
Dien set the context of his lecture by noting that “In ancient China, there was a three-legged vessel type called the ding. Such tripod cauldrons made in bronze were among the most important shapes used in rituals.” Dien used the ding [image at right] as the symbol of his three-part talk, which he divided into “The Dynasty,” “Confucius and the Classics,” and “The States.”
As he has done countless times for SPICE’s teacher seminars, Dien made the extremely complex topic of Chinese dynasties accessible and fascinating. Dien kindly provided SPICE with permission to share his lecture notes with the teachers in attendance. For teachers who seek to incorporate his scholarship into their teaching, Dien's lecture notes can be downloaded here.
[Image at Left: Professor Emeritus Albert Dien with wife, Dora Shu-fang Dien]
The praise from teachers for Dien’s lecture was effusive. One of the teachers in attendance commented, “Thank you, Professor Dien, for the privilege of participating in your last presentation. I could listen to you forever. I enjoyed the organization of your thinking and the many tidbits you threw in that helped us relate to the broader concepts at play. Your notes will be very helpful, and I am grateful you were willing to share them.” Another noted, “Today’s session was highly informative! I admit that I have been sorely remiss in teaching about China in my social studies class—really, East Asia in general, which is why I am here and gratified to be learning so much. It was bittersweet to hear that we will be the recipients of Dr. Dien’s final lecture. He has so much to tell, and I do hope he will continue to tell it, even if informally.”
Dien served as the primary advisor for SPICE’s two-part curriculum series on Chinese dynasties, which was authored by Selena Lai and Stefanie Orrick Lamb. Jonas Edman introduced the series following Dien’s lecture. Edman noted, “The series helps to bridge academic scholarship on the Chinese dynasties such as Professor Dien’s and classrooms.” Chinese Dynasties, Part One introduces students to the first 2,500 years of Chinese history and offers students an in-depth view of Chinese civilization from the nascent years of the Shang Dynasty through the golden age of the Tang Dynasty. Chinese Dynasties, Part Two continues the exploration of dynasties, offering students an in-depth view of Chinese civilization from the Song Dynasty to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the end of the entire dynastic system. Dien is a foremost expert on the Six Dynasties Period, 220 CE–589 CE. His book, Six Dynasties Civilization, was published in 2007.
Dien’s last lecture was part of a four-day seminar that was organized by Edman and Sabrina Ishimatsu and co-sponsored by the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia and Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies.
The SPICE staff and SPICE teacher community extend a happy 94th birthday to Professor Dien and thank him for his many decades of teaching and unwavering support of SPICE. Given his youthfulness, we hope that he changes his mind and offers another lecture next year.