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PASSINGS: Christoph Schlingensief, Franz Schurmann

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Christoph Schlingensief

Controversial German theater director

Christoph Schlingensief, 49, a controversial German theater director and performance artist, died of lung cancer Saturday. His death was announced by organizers of the Ruhr Triennale cultural festival in Bochum, Germany, where he was scheduled to present his latest production.

Often called the enfant terrible of Germany's art world, Schlingensief was notorious for casting neo-Nazi skinheads as actors in a 2001 production of "Hamlet," in which former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was burned in effigy. He staged a performance piece in Vienna in 2000 called "Foreigners Out," in which he presented a group of asylum seekers and asked audience members to decide which of them should be deported.

He also directed a provocative interpretation of Wagner's revered opera "Parsifal" at the Bayreuth Festival in 2004 that re-imagined the tale of medieval knights of the grail as a multicultural fable. The tenor who sang Parsifal denounced the production for its African tribal imagery, prompting Schlingensief to call him a racist.

This year Schlingensief began building an opera house in Burkina Faso, an impoverished, landlocked country in West Africa. Conceived after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, the project includes performance spaces, a theater and music school and a clinic.

Schlingensief was born Oct. 24, 1960, in Oberhausen, Germany. He dropped out of college to pursue filmmaking and made his first full-length film in 1984.

In 2000 he formed his own political party, called Chance 2000, and ran for chancellor. It had nearly 17,000 members by the day of the election, which was won by Gerhard Schroeder.

Franz Schurmann

UC Berkeley scholar of Chinese history

Franz Schurmann, 84, a UC Berkeley scholar of Chinese history who co-founded the Pacific News Service, died Friday at his home in San Francisco. He had Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Schurmann taught history and sociology at UC Berkeley for 38 years, leading the university's Center for Chinese Studies from 1963 to '67 and was said to be fluent in 12 languages. He wrote several books on China and U.S. foreign policy in Asia, including "China: An Interpretive History, from the Beginnings to the Fall of the Han" (1969), "The Logic of World Power" (1974) and "The Foreign Politics of Richard Nixon" (1987).

He and UC Berkeley colleague Orville Schell started the Pacific News Service in 1970 to provide alternative reporting on Southeast Asia, particularly the Vietnam War. Schurmann's partner, Sandy Close, had operated the news service with him since 1974.

Schurmann was born June 21, 1926, in New York City and raised in Bloomfield, Conn. His father was a tool and die maker from Slovenia, his mother a German immigrant who worked as a maid. He attended Trinity College before being drafted during World War II. With a gift for languages, Schurmann was sent to language school and served with the United States' occupying forces in Japan.

After the war, he enrolled in Harvard on the GI Bill and earned his doctorate in Asian studies.

-- Times staff and wire reports

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