William Theodore de Bary was John Mitchell Mason Professor and Provost Emeritus of Columbia University.
He began his career as a teacher at Columbia in 1949 when he undertook to develop the undergraduate general education program in East Asian Studies. For this he developed basic source readings in Asian Civilizations for India, China, Japan, (and now Korea). They have now been supplemented by over 140 other texts and translations for use in general education on Asia.
As chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures from 1960-66 and as first director of the National Defense Language and Area Center he led a major expansion of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean studies. From 1969-70 he was President of the Association for Asian Studies. From 1969-71 he served as the first chair of the Executive Committee of the University Senate. From 1971-78 as Provost of the University, among many other duties, Professor de Bary assisted in the renovation and expansion of the East Asian Library and established the Heyman Center for the Humanities.
In 1974 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1999 to the American Philosophical Association. Professor de Bary has received honorary degrees from St. Lawrence University, Loyola University, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University.
His scholarly work has focused on the major religious and intellectual traditions of East Asia, especially Confucianism in China, Japan, and Korea. In recent years he had dealt principally with the issues of civil society and human rights in China. The most recent of these books is Asian Values and Human Rights (1998) and Nobility and Civility: Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good (2004).
In 2010, Professor de Bary was named an Honorary Member of the Japan Academy.