Full Citation

  • Title Dr. Hu Shih
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Date Monday,  Feb. 26, 1962
  • Issue Number 55325
  • Page Number 18
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Obituary
  • Publication Section People
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
-Obituary DR. nu SEII LITERARY REBIRTH IN CHINA Dr. Hu Shih has died at the age of 70, Reuter reports from Taipeh, Formosa. Hu Shih was one of the leading figures in the intellectual life of China during the past 50 years. and in the world of literature. perhaps the dominant one. He was a member of that younger generation whose revolt against a stultifying and conformist tradition burst into revolutionary flame during the period knoWn as the May 4th movement of 1919. Dr. Hu's part in this movement will be most remembered for his advocacy of a vernacular litera- ture, based on the ordinary spoken language (pai-hua) in place of the old classical written language. He had begun his campaign some years before while still a student in the United States; in Peking, where he returned in 1917 to be Professor of Philosophy and head of the department of English literature at Peking University, he soon became a leader in the Chinese renaissance. In these early years of intellectual revolution, politics and literature, social and e-ducational reforms were all confused, though fiercely debated. Among Hu's close friends at the time were Ch'en Tu-hsiu, first leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and among his admirers, the assistant clerk in the University library, Mao Tsetung. But the common feeling among this younger generation, anxious to kick off the traces of Chinese tradition, soon broke up; there were some attracted by revolutionary politics-soon to be Marxist in its emphasis-and others who pursued an intellectual revaluation in the attempt to absorb the inrush of western ideas in a Chinese context. Hu Shih emerged as the acknowledged leader of this latter group. His aim, he was later to write, was to see " the humanistic and rationalistic China resurrected by the touch of the scientific and democratic civilization of the new world ". He thus remained a liberal and a reformer, concentrating on social issues such as the emancipation of women and remaining a leader of the new movement in education. Having parted company with Marxist thinking, Hu was also unable to play any part in or bring much influence to bear on the Kuomintang Party. He preferred to remain out of politics and pursue his studies in philosophy though he was a prolific contributor to the many reviews which sprang aLp in China in the 20s. He founded his own iournal. The Independent Critic, in Pcking in 1932 and remained its editor until 1937. Bv then his international reputation was well established. At Chicago in 1933 he delivered a series of lectures later published. The Chiinese Renaissance, which first gave the outside world a picture of the intellectual revolution in which he had been so prominent. In Chin'a he published his autobiography until the age of 40, and several volumes of collected essays established him as the leading liberal thinker. But he had never been a political influence or sought especially to be so. With others he criticized the Nationalist Government for its temporizing against Japanese aggression and when war broke ouf and Peking was occupied he came to London for a time until asked to serve his country as Ambassador in Washington. After four years there he returned to the wartime capital of Chunzking as an accepted figure in government circkls though perhaps more accepted for his influence in America than as adviser of the inner circle of the government. PEKING UNIVERSTrY When the war ended he went back to Peking University as its head. TIhere he found his liberalism under fierce attack from a generation of students almost wholly communist in sympathy, and since the appointment was a government one and he was inevitablv associated with the stern and sometimes brutal suppression of student political activity, he was stigmatized as a reactionary and his reputation fell along with those others associated with the Nationalist Government during its decline. The truth was that Hu Shih had then become a prisoner in a political situation which he could not control and which he did not understand. He had always rejected political life and rejected any direct association with the Kuomintang Party because he detested political factions. In spite of the fact that he weakly accepted, and often was the instrument of government repression in these postwar years-repression of a kind he had attacked most fiercely only 20 years before-Hu's intellectual stature was too big to be extinguished bv his decline as a public figure. This was shown after he had left China to settle in New York. The Communists, among their many campaigns of persuasion and reorganization in China, devoted one campaign after the Korean War to an attack on Hu and his ideas, damning him especially as a mouthpiece of American ideas, capitalism and the submission of China to westernization. Such attacks had been made from the extreme left long before the war. but it was evident that his reputation in China must still have been considerable to have occasioned this especial campaign. He was born in Shanghai on December 17, 1891. of an established and scholarly family in Anhui province. He soon showed his brilliance at school and was selected in 1910 among the Boxer indemnity scholars to go to the United States as a student. He was thus one of that early generation of Chinese students in the west which first grasped fully the nature of westem civilization, accepted most of its values, and sought to import them into Chinese society. One of his most popular books was the diary he later published of his student days in America where he proclaimed himself a pacifist and confessed that he nearly became a Christian. He bad begun by studying agriculture but took his degrees at Cornell (M.A. 1915) and Columbia (Ph.D. 1917) in philosonhy and this remained his first interest in life. He wrote some poetry and plays in the vernacular manner but hic reouitation was justly earned as a writer on literary and philosophical problems, detached and sometimes magisterial in manner. He was never at home in political life-though a successful Chinese Ambassador in Washingtonand retired to New York in 1950. refusing the Foreign Ministry offered to him by the Nationalist Government in Formosa. He returned to the island only in 1958 as head of the Academia Sinicia but also. it seemed, as the intellectual spearhead of an American,supported attempt to inject more liberal colouring into the government of Chiang Kai-shek. In this he seems to have had little success. Among the many honorary degrees awarded to Dr. 'Hu by universities in Europe and America was the D.C.L. conferrsd at Oxford in 1945.