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                Qian, Zhongshu, 1910-1998.

from BigChalk

Qian Zhongshu (Ch'ien Chung-shu) 1910-1998

Modern writer and expert on classical Chinese literature. A native of Wuxi, Jiangsu, Qian studied foreign languages at Qinghua University. In 1935, he went to Oxford, and in 1937 went on to study French literature at the University of Paris. In 1941, he published a collection of essays entitled Xie zai renshengbian shang [Written at the edge of life] and in 1946 Ren¡Dshou¡Dgui [People¡Danimals¡Dghosts], a volume of short-stories. In 1947, he published his acclaimed novel Weicheng [Fortress beseiged]. After 1949, he concentrated mainly on literary research.

Works available in English:

Fortress Besieged (Jeanne Kelly and Nathan K. Mao). Bloomington: Indiana
   University Press, 1979.
Limited Views: Essays on Ideas and Letters (Ronald Egan). Cambridge, Mass.:
   Harvard University Asia Center: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1998

Yu Ying-shih, "Qian Zhongshu"

In Memoriam

Lu Wen-hu, "Qian Zhongshu -- the man and his life"

In Memory of Qian Zhongshu


Qian Zhongshu died at the end of December 1998. The author of Guanzhui bian (Limited Essays on Ideas and Letters), the author of a single great novel such as Wei cheng (Fortress Besieged) is no longer with us. Those who had the good fortune to meet him, to be invíted to his bome in Beijing, to meet his extraordinary wife Yang jiang (who translated Cervantes' masterpiece into Chinese), to converse with him, as I was able on several occasione, sadly participates in tbc bereavement at the loss of a major personality from the 20th century cultural scene. Speaking of him with Italian friends, I often used to compare his erudition with that of a Giambattista Vico or a Benedetto Croce; speaking of him instead with Chinese friends, I used to say that Qian reminded me of the more famous scholars of the Hanxue, although with a modern wit and sense of humour to boot. There is no doubt that be was the most complete and profound Chinese scholar of the 20th century.

He had a perfect knowledge of French, German and English, languages that he spoke fluently, and had a reading knowledge of Italian, Spanish and the ancient classical western languages. Qian Zhongshu was not a pure philologist or linguist: he used languages to roam at bis ease through most of western literature and philosophic thought. Years back, in a short review of his Guanzhui bian, I pointed out that be cited some seventy or so Italian authors, from the stil novo poets of the 14th century up to the contemporary writers. His work was not dedicated to Italian literature, but his knowledge of a good part of it was merely a means for carrying out bis rescarch. Some fifteen years or so ago, not knowing how to thank him for the numerous Chinese books be made me a present of each time I met him, I asked him what he would like me to send him from Italy. His reply was: "I would like to read Boiardo's Orlando innamorato". The following year, at his home, he showed me the Italian edition I had sent him - each page was crammed with his notes in Chinese characters. Today, in Italy Boiardo's work is read only by a small number of specialists.

His novel Wei cheng, published in 1947 and translated into the principal European languages, is partly autobiographic and, above all, a satire on many Chinese intellectuals of the first half of the 20th century. His foreign literature studies allows him to place, side by side, metaphors and literary figures of the West in order to facilitate a modern reinterpretation of traditional Chinese works. Guanzhui bian, written in classical Chinese language, is not easy to read, but its style is always aesthetically appealing and elegant.

Soon after 1949 he became a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and, in the late ‘seventies, became one of the Vice Presidents of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. During the "cultural revolution" he was persecuted and sent to a re-education camp together with his wife Yang jiang, who later narrated their vicissitudes during that difficult period in her book Ganxiao liuji (Six Chapters from my Life 'Down under').

He attended the 26th Conference of Chinese Studies (Ortisei, September 3-9, 1978) and his masterly communication on the subject of 'Classical Literary Scholarship in Modern China' was one of the most highly appreciated by all the other participants. This marked the beginning of a friendship that I considered an honour and which allowed me to meet him on several occasions in China, and to engage in pleasant learned conversation. I did not know which to admire more - his vast erudition or his great humility - the humility typical of a man who knows much and does not need to show off his knowledge.

China has lost an outstanding figure. […] I have lost a distinguished teacher and sincere friend.

Lionello Lanciotti, in "East and West", 48(1998), fasc. 3-4, Roma, IsIAO, p. 477-478