C.T. Hsia, 92; Established Chinese Literary Canon in West

By Yardley, William | International New York Times, January 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

C.T. Hsia, 92; Established Chinese Literary Canon in West


Yardley, William, International New York Times


Dr. Hsia provided close analysis of Chinese literature and the first English translations of writers who are now widely recognized.

C.T. Hsia, a scholar who helped introduce modern Chinese literature to the West in the 1960s, providing close analysis and the first English translations of writers who are now widely recognized, died on Dec. 29 in New York, where he taught at Columbia University for three decades. He was 92.

His wife, Della, confirmed the death.

Dr. Hsia arrived in the United States in 1947 with a plan to study English literature and then return to China to teach it. By 1951, he had earned his doctorate at Yale, writing his thesis on the realist poet George Crabbe.

But while Dr. Hsia was studying in the States, Mao Zedong was settling into power in China and purging it of dissent and Western influences. Dr. Hsia decided to stay in America.

Unable to find a job teaching English, he joined a Korean War propaganda project, overseen by Johns Hopkins University, to help write a manual on China. The research took him deep into a topic he had largely ignored as an ambitious undergraduate in Shanghai: Chinese literature. In 1961, he produced his seminal work, "A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, 1917-1957."

In 662 pages, the book offered extended English translations of novels that he then discussed using close textual analysis.

"It's a singular work," said Wei Shang, who teaches pre-modern Chinese literature at Columbia. "He was the first to write the literary history so that other scholars have something to rely on. Although they may disagree with him, they cannot ignore him."

To his critics, Dr. Hsia was improperly using Western standards to judge works produced in an ancient Asian nation. And the new canon of Chinese literature he sought to create, they said, was limited by his political biases.

Why, they asked, was he so dismissive of the leftists who supported the rise of Communism? Why did he pay so little attention to Lu Xun, who many consider the father of modern Chinese literature and who was much admired by Mao? Why so much praise for Eileen Chang, a largely nonpolitical and relatively low-profile writer at the time?

"He ignores the fact that new China is not just an unfortunate accident but the reckoning of history," A. …

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