John Young, interpreter for Gen. Douglas MacArthur and language scholar, dies at 93

September 14, 2013

John Young, an Asian-language scholar at Georgetown and other universities, who was an interpreter for Gen. Douglas MacArthur after World War II and later the co-author of widely used textbooks for teaching the Japanese language, died Sept. 8 at a hospital in Livingston, N.J. He was 93.

He had congestive heart failure, his daughter Alice Young said.

Dr. Young had been affiliated with Seton Hall University in West Orange, N.J., since 1974, but his early years were marked by upheaval and a cross-cultural education unusual for his time.

He was born in China and spent much of his youth in Japan, where his father was a Chinese diplomat. He was fluent in both Asian languages, as well as French and English, from an early age.

During World War II, he returned from Japan to China when much of it was under occupation by Japanese forces. Dr. Young’s family said he undertook an arduous three-month journey on foot to reach the provisional capital of Chongqing, a Chinese Nationalist stronghold.


John Young, scholar of Asian languages at Georgetown and other universities, died Sept. 8 at 93. (Family Photo)

He was in demand as a multilingual interpreter and a broadcaster during the war, encouraging the Chinese to resist the Japanese and calling on Japanese troops to lay down their arms.

After the war, when Japan was occupied by allied forces led by MacArthur, Dr. Young worked as an interpreter for the general. He participated in the collection of evidence for prosecuting Japanese war crimes and was part of a team that created a draft of a new Japanese constitution. In his role as an interpreter, he also met Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong.

Dr. Young came to Washington in 1946 as a member of a Chinese delegation to an international commission to determine postwar policies in Japan. He stayed on to pursue his academic career.

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1949 and 1951, respectively, and a doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University in 1955. He taught Japanese history and language at Georgetown until 1962, then spent two years teaching in Japan at a branch of the University of Maryland.

Dr. Young in the 1950s and 1960s published several scholarly studies of Japanese and Chinese history. He also began in the 1960s to publish the first of a series textbooks on the Japanese language. The books, written with several authors, included instruction for elementary through college-level students and were used in hundreds of schools throughout the United States. Dr. Young was known for emphasizing a country’s cultural context when teaching languages.

He taught at the University of Hawaii from 1964 to 1974, when he joined the faculty at Seton Hall. He also directed an Asian bilingual curriculum development program for the U.S. Department of Education.

After retiring from Seton Hall in 1990, Dr. Young returned to Georgetown for a year in 1994.

Yang Jue Yong was born March 6, 1920, in present-day Tianjin, China. After coming to the United States, he went by the Anglicized version of his name.

He attended a French-language school in Tokyo, where his father was serving in the Chinese diplomatic service before World War II, and graduated from a Japanese high school. Dr. Young graduated in 1942 from what was then known as Tokyo Imperial University.

Dr. Young’s first wife, Elizabeth Jen, died in 1957 after seven years of marriage.

Survivors include his wife since 1960, Byoung-Hye Chang of West Orange, N.J.; three children from his first marriage, Alice Young of Little Falls, N.J., and Nancy Young and Peter Young, both of New York; two brothers, Jackson Yang of Highland and George Yang of San Gabriel, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

In recent years, Dr. Young was a founding member and executive director of the Committee of 100, an organization of prominent Chinese Americans that provides a cultural and intellectual forum for Chinese concerns.

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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