Robert Benewick obituary

My friend Robert Benewick, who has died aged 90, was a political scientist who made major contributions to our knowledge of British and Chinese politics. He was also a soft-spoken fighter for social justice and international understanding.

He first visited China in 1975 and over the next 40 years held four visiting professorships at Remnin University of China. In collaboration with British, American and Chinese colleagues he produced seven books and scores of articles on China. As a critical friend of the country he had a leading role in the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding from the 1980s to the early 2000s.

Bob was born in the US, in Rochester, New York state, to Jewish émigrés, Polish-born Dorothy (nee Davidson) and Canadian-born Harry Benewick. After a first degree from Cornell University in 1956 and an MA in political science at Ohio State University, Bob went to Manchester University in 1958 to study for his PhD on London working-class politics.

While in Manchester he met Anne Stephenson, who as Anne Benewick went on to establish the award-winning State of the World Atlas series at Pluto Press; they married in 1961, then moved to Jamaica, where Bob became a research fellow at the University of the West Indies. He enjoyed playing cricket there; selected, he claimed, because of his prowess at catching in baseball.

In 1963 he was appointed lecturer in politics at Hull University, where he wrote Political Violence and Public Order (1969), a study of British fascism. He was appointed reader in politics at the University of Sussex in 1973, and became professor there in 1993.

Although Bob lacked personal ambition he served as dean of three schools within Sussex University – social sciences, English and American studies, and arts and social studies. That was a measure of his colleagues’ respect and his capacity to listen and mediate skilfully.

Bob’s commitment to progressive scholarship also informed his work with Myriad Editions, the publishing company founded by Anne in 1992. He authored three editions of The China Atlas and, following Anne’s death in 1998, became one of Myriad’s directors and played an active part in the company’s development. In 2006 he married again – to Joan Whittaker, whom he met through their shared love of early morning swimming.

Bob had an extraordinarily wide, international family of friends. He was superb company and a dazzling raconteur with a dry wit; his article Swiss Army Knife With Chinese Characteristics (with Gordon White) is a satirical classic.

Joan died in 2021. Bob is survived by her daughters, Louisa and Emma, and Anne’s niece, Kate.


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