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Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, China specialist at Georgetown University, dies at 64

By Bart Barnes,

Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, an authority on U.S. diplomatic relations with Taiwan and China and a professor of history at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, died of cancer Dec. 1 at her home in Potomac. She was 64.

Her husband, Warren Cohen, confirmed her death.

Dr. Tucker was the nation’s first assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards, a post she held in 2006 and 2007 while on leave from Georgetown.

She simultaneously served as the intelligence community’s analytic ombudsman. In an interview with United Press International, she said her role in that job was to provide “a release mechanism” for intelligence officers feeling pressured to reach certain conclusions in their work.

As a scholar, Dr. Tucker wrote hundreds of articles and was the author or editor of eight books, one of which, “Uncertain Friendships: Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States, 1945 to 1992” (1994), received an award from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

“Uncertain Friendships” is believed to have been the first book to report publicly that as early as 1965 future President Richard M. Nixon — for decades defined by his outspoken anti-communism — accepted the reality of the Communist takeover of China in 1949 and realized it was the nation with which the United States would have to deal. As president, Nixon made a landmark trip to China in 1972 that paved the way for official diplomatic recognition in 1979.

Dr. Tucker was “an outstanding scholar on China and Taiwan,” said Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador in Beijing and president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He described her approach as “meticulous” and “objective.”

Dr. Tucker’s other books included “China Confidential: American Diplomats and Sino-American Relations, 1945-1996” (2001), which consisted of oral interviews with dozens of former diplomats who specialized in U.S. relations with East Asia.

Writing in Pacific Affairs, David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, called “China Confidential” a “must read for scholars of Sino-American relations, specialists on U.S. and Asian diplomatic history, and anyone interested in the human dimension of diplomatic interaction.”

Nancy Bernkopf was born July 12, 1948, in New York City. She graduated in 1970 from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., and received a doctorate in history from Columbia University in 1978.

On a fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Tucker served on the China desk at the State Department and in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing before joining the Georgetown faculty in 1987. Early in her career, she taught at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and New York University.

As a writer, Dr. Tucker preferred to work at home, in an isolated and quiet location. She chose a two-acre lot in Potomac. What she did not anticipate, nor welcome, was the years-long running battle with 11 to 15 deer who dined regularly on her favorite shrubs.

In 1995 she was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “We’re desperate, and we don’t have a solution. We even talked about buying a bobcat or a mountain lion, . . . but I don’t think we’re allowed to.”

Hoping that another animal might send the deer packing, her husband bought Dr. Tucker a mule, which they named “Ma Fan,” a Chinese word for trouble. The plan did not work. “The mule and the deer loved each other,” Cohen said, so the result was just endless shoveling of mule manure. After five months, they sold the mule.

The story in The Post brought e-mails from hunters around the country offering to shoot the deer, but these were turned down.

Like his wife of 24 years, Cohen is a China scholar. He and Dr. Tucker’s stepsister are her only survivors. Her first marriage, to Bruce Tucker, ended in divorce.

At their home in Potomac, Cohen and Dr. Tucker developed over the years a tradition of a New Year’s gift exchange, in which guests would bring the most tasteless, ugly and tacky gifts they had received during the past year to exchange for the tasteless and tacky gifts others had received. The exchange ceremony always ended with a chocolate cake that Dr. Tucker prepared.

Dr. Tucker was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and in the years since she had undergone six lines of chemotherapy. Nonetheless, she continued working and writing. Her most recent book, “The China Threat: Memories, Myths, and Realities in the 1950s,” was published in May.

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