QIAN ZHONGSHU (1910—1998)
QIAN ZHONGSHU (1910—1998). Born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, Qian studied literature at Qinghua University. In 1935, he went to England with his bride, Yang Jiang, and two years later earned a baccalaureus litterarum (bachelor of literature) degree from the University of Oxford with a thesis on the image of China in English literature of the 17th and 18th centuries. Soon after, the couple moved to France for further study and research. They returned to China in 1938 and began a long career in academia. Called “the most learned man in 20th-century China,” and famous for his extensive knowledge of both Western and Chinese literature and thought, Qian acquired the reputation of an erudite scholar bent over books in his study, showing no interest in the outside world.
Qian saw himself foremost as a scholar and devoted his entire career to studying literary works, both Chinese and Western. His scholarly publications include an exegetical book on Song dynasty poetry, Song shi xuan zhu (Annotated Poetry of the Song), a study of poetry Tan Yi Lu (On the Art of Poetry), and the voluminous Guan zhui bian (Studies of the Classics), which evaluates the Chinese classics from a comparative perspective, drawing contrasts with Western classics. Written in classical Chinese in the style of reading notes, Guan zhui bian represents the author’s accumulated wisdom resulting from a lifetime study of literature, history, and philosophy. Qian’s creative endeavors, on the other hand, resulted in a relatively small body of works: a novel, several short stories all written before 1949, a collection of essays, and poems composed in the classical style. Hardly prolific, Qian is nevertheless a household name, thanks to the television movie based on his novel, Wei cheng (Fortress Besieged). The novel makes fun of Chinese intellectuals, particularly those who have returned to China from abroad, for their lack of self-awareness and their failures at everything from marriage to career in a tumultuous country struggling for survival under Japanese occupation. In the protagonist, a college professor, Qian casts an image of the Chinese intellectual with good intentions whose downfall is assured because of his selfish, lowly, and petty nature. See also NEW CULTURE MOVEMENT; SINO-JAPANESE WAR.