Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

A New Biography of Qian Zhongshu: Re-Evaluation of His Cultural Significance for Contemporary China

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

A New Biography of Qian Zhongshu: Re-Evaluation of His Cultural Significance for Contemporary China

Article excerpt

LIFE AND CAREER OF QIAN ZHONGSHU: A SHORT BIOGRAPHY

It is appropriate to assume that no student of Chinese literary theory, Chinese intellectual history, or sinology could ignore the influence of Qián Zhongshu (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.), whose erudition and versatility have brought him wide recognition as a major representative scholar, writer, literary critic, and polyglot translator in modem China. Bom into a family with a scholarly tradition in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, on 21 November 1910, Qian received rigorous training in traditional learning from a very early age under the tutelage of his father Qián Jibó (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) , a famous historian and educator who worked as a professor at a number of thenrenowned universities including Saint John's University in Shanghai (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) , the National Tsinghua University in Beijing, and the war-displaced National Normal College in Western Hunan (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) (today's Hunan Normal University in Changsha, Hunan Province).

When Qian was one year old, his father decided to give him a formal name by following a custom of lot-drawing. Thus Qian was left alone in a room with a display of deliberately selected items. To the joyful surprise of his father, the one-year-old grabbed at a book; hence his name Zhöngshü (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.), meaning "fondness for books." (Tang 2005, p. 34) As the first son of the family, Qian was given to his sonless elder uncle for adoption, which was a custom [of son-sharing within close kin] not uncommon before 1949. Qian spent a carefree childhood under the loving care and tutoring of his uncle until the latter's death in 1919. When Qian was brought back to his parents' home, his father found him to be quite naughty and loquacious. So he gave his son a new courtesy name, Mocún (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.), an allusion to The Classic of Changes2 meaning "to retain a measure of reticence," and proceeded with a more sophisticated and systematic training in traditional learning. It was during this period that Qian's prodigious memory and precocious literary talent began to stand out to the surprise of his learned elders.

While a pupil at a local primary school, Qian expanded his interest to Western fiction by voraciously reading Lin Shü's3 (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) translations. His father, though a traditional Confucian scholar himself, had a vision for modem liberal education, and sent Qian to middle schools in Suzhou and Wuxi run by US Episcopalians. Qian thus became a member of the privileged group of his time that received an English language education at a very young age. The five-year-old training at the missionary schools not only enabled Qian to read British and US literatures in their original languages, but also facilitated his later command of other Western languages such as French, German, Latin, Greek, Spanish, and Italian (Lanciotti 1998, 48 (3/4), p. 447). In 1929, Qian Zhongshu enrolled in the Department of Western Languages and Literatures at Tsinghua University. Rumor had it then that Qian got a "zero" for mathematics in the matriculation exams (but the other version, supported also by his wife, was that Qian got "15" out of "100") (Tang 2005, pp. 63, 67; Zhang 1993, p. 15). This, however, was never confirmed to be true, but what is certain is that a decision about his admission was specially made on the basis of his exceptional performance on the exams in Chinese and English. Qian was quite a legendary personage at Tsinghua, not only for his language and literary talent or extensive reading, but more often for the fact that he always received top grades in final exams even though he had buried himself in unrelated books the whole semester. (Tang 2005, pp. 80-81) Even the renowned Tsinghua Professor Wú Mi (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted. …

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