East Asian studies professor remembered for collaboration efforts

John “Jack” Wills Jr., professor emeritus of history, died on Jan. 13 in Pasadena, Calif. He was 80.

Wills was known for teaching Chinese history. He helped found the East Asian Studies Center in 1975, and he directed the center from 1990 to 1994.

“This is a man who grew intellectually more and more the longer he operated,” Professor Emeritus of History Gordon Berger told USC News. “He had this wonderfully original and creative mind.”

Wills published his book Mountain of Fame: Portraits in Chinese History in 1994. His book went through 5,000 years of history, illustrating the lives of the most important political figures of China. Wills’ other works included 1688: A Global History and The World from 1450 to 1700. Wills also wrote more than 50 articles about China, according to USC News.

Wills began teaching at USC in 1965. After retiring in 2004, he continued to be active on the USC campus. In 2006, Wills donated $50,000 for a graduate scholarship for those majoring in East Asian studies.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Wills received his Ph.D. in history and far Eastern languages at Harvard University after serving in the U.S. Army.

“He was a wonderful collaborator,” professor emerita of history Charlotte Furth told USC News. “He was a force to be reckoned with in the history department and in the University. He made my career at USC possible and that was very important to me.”

Wills is survived by his wife, Carolin “Connie” Wills; his children Cathy, Chris, Jeff, Joanne and Lucinda; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.