HU SHI (1891—1962)
HU SHI (1891—1962). Poet. Hu Shi was one of the most prominent leaders of the May Fourth New Culture Movement. Born and raised in rural Anhui Province, Hu won a government scholarship in 1910 to study in the United States. Initially enrolled at Cornell University to study agriculture, he soon changed his major to philosophy. In 1915, he was admitted to Columbia University and studied under John Dewey. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1917, Hu returned to China to take up a teaching post at Beijing University and to edit Xin qingnian (The New Youth), an influential progressive journal. He soon became a prominent leader in the campaign to reform Chinese literature and language. As an ardent and tireless promoter of a new literature, Hu published numerous articles championing the vernacular language. His ideas for reforming Chinese poetry were based on his knowledge of Chinese and Western literary history. He argued that all great poets had broken away from established traditions and that this was true for Li Po or William Wordsworth. Furthermore, he believed, any transformation in poetry had to start with form and language. The fixed rhyming schemes, which had once been revolutionary, had gone stale and fossilized. Likewise, he told his readers, classical Chinese, which had been used for thousands of years, was equally confining and restrictive. Just as Dante Alighieri had broken away from Latin in favor of a living speech, he proposed that Chinese poets should adopt the vernacular as the language of poetry. While proselytizing through essays and articles, Hu wrote poems that experimented with new forms and styles. Changshi ji (Experiments), a collection of poems published in 1920, established his reputation as the first vernacular poet in modern Chinese literature. He also wrote Zhongshen dashi (A Marriage Proposal), a play based on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
Hu had a distinguished career as a scholar of Chinese philosophy, literature, and intellectual history. His scholarly publications, including Zhongguo zhexue shi dagang (An Outline of the History of Chinese Philosophy), Baihua wenxue shi (History of Vernacular Literature), and The Development of the Logical Method in Ancient China, which was written in English, are wide-ranging. He also had a long-lasting relationship with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, serving, among other official capacities, as its ambassador to the United States from 1938 to 1942 and the president of the Academia Sinica from 1957 until his death in 1962. See also SPOKEN DRAMA; TAIWAN.