Belgian scholar and the joint founder and executive director of the Big Apple Agency, Luc Kwanten, passed away peacefully on November 22, at his home in Shanghai, China. He was 78.
A learned man with a good head for business as well as a wry sense of humor, Luc was born January 8, 1944 in Berlin. He and his mother soon relocated to Belgium to escape from the Holocaust and they celebrated each Jewish religious holiday in secret. Educated by the Jesuits, he obtained three doctorates – in linguistics, philosophy, and mathematics --and was fluent in 12 languages, including English, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Dutch, Flemish, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, and Yiddish.
Around 1960, Kwanten joined the Belgian Air Force and piloted the F-104G and during a routine landing, he was seriously injured due to an aircraft failure. Post-recovery, he was assigned to the Belgian intelligence service. While working there, he studied at the Ghent University and the Sorbonne University in Paris. In 1968, Kwanten left Europe and went to work in the U.S. He founded the Xixia Research Center at Indiana University and wrote The Timely Pearl: A 12th Century Tangut-Chinese Glossary, which revived the Xixia dictionary that had been forgotten for nearly 800 years. In 1978, he joined the University of Chicago as a tenured professor as well as a director at the Far Eastern Library. During this period, he published Imperial Nomads: A History of Central Asia, AD 500–1500.
In 1987, Kwanten and his wife Lily Chen cofounded mainland China's first rights agency, Big Apple Agency, dedicated to bridging the Eastern and Western cultures. For more than 30 years, Kwanten introduced countless Chinese-language books of English-language titles to China and Taiwan. As an international friend who loved China and Chinese culture, he had also donated books and documents to many universities, libraries, and museums throughout China over the years.
In 1997, Forbes Asia honored Kwanten as “a cultural messenger.” In his later years, Kwanten continued to guide his team at the Big Apple Agency and mentored many students both at home and abroad. In the eyes of his relatives, friends, and mentees, Kwanten was a a selfless and kind teacher and a well-respected scholar.
Luc is survived by his wife Lily Chen and children, and his memories live on through his family members, staff at the Big Apple Agency, friends, students, and mentees.
The farewell ceremony was held at the Galaxy Hall of Shanghai Longhua Funeral Home on November 25. A video recording of the service will be made available at a later date.