Remembering Hu Shih: 1891-1962

black and white photo of the face of Hu Shih (胡適)

Hú Shì
17 December 1891 — 24 February 1962

Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Hu Shih (Hú Shì/胡適/胡适), I’d like to say a few things in his memory. This is, after all, someone I regard as a hero in many ways. I even keep a photo of him in my office.

The opening of the preface to a splendid new biography of Hu Shih covers the basics:

Hu Shi (1891–1962), “the Father of the Chinese Renaissance,” towered over China’s intellectual landscape in the first half of the twentieth century. Among other achievements, he is credited with having made everyday speech respectable as a medium of written communication. Groomed as a traditional scholar-bureaucrat in his father’s footsteps, he had already turned into an iconoclastic renegade by the time he left Shanghai at the age of eighteen to study in the United States. In John Dewey, whose approach to philosophy was to treat all doctrines as working hypotheses, Hu felt he found “the proper way to think.” He and his associates who studied with Dewey at Columbia University established the framework of China’s modern educational system. A dedicated humanist, social reformer and promoter of women rights, he was, at different periods of his life, president of Peking University, president of the Academia Sinica, and ambassador to Washington.

To return to the most important point, at least in terms of the focus of this site, it was he, more than anyone else, who helped break the stranglehold of Literary Sinitic (a.k.a. classical Chinese). The vernacular movement he spearheaded is of far greater significance and has had a much greater impact on Chinese culture and people’s lives than so-called character simplification. Yet it receives relatively little attention, perhaps because many do not understand — or do not want to admit — how very different Literary Sinitic is from modern standard Mandarin.

Hu Shih is also the one who, more than anyone else, popularized the use of modern punctuation in Chinese texts, such as through his book Zhōngguó Zhéxuéshǐ Dàgāng and his editions of earlier works. That alone should be enough to earn him the eternal gratitude of all who read texts written in Chinese characters.

There’s so much more to the man than this, though most of it falls outside the bounds of this site. So rather than go into it here I will just encourage people to read more by and about him.

Shortly after Hu Shih’s death his son wrote:

father passed away during a cocktail party in honor of the members of the Academia Sinica after the completion of the members’ meeting. He passed away without any pain, and from every one present at the party, I gathered that he died happy, for the last words he said was, “Let’s have some drinks!”

I lift my glass.

Further reading:

dàdǎn jiǎshè

xiǎoxīn qiúzhèng
Nǐ bùnéng zuò wǒ de shī,
zhèngrú wǒ bùnéng zuò nǐ de mèng.

—Hú Shì
from “Mèng yǔ Shī” (夢與詩)

Whither Taiwan’s English renamings?

Those working in the new administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (Mǎ Yīngjiǔ) are people with priorities. For example, they certainly didn’t waste any time removing the Chinese characters for “Taiwan” from the Web site of the presidential office, as this happened on his first day in office. On the other hand, they didn’t bother with other things, like having the current year be 2008 instead of “108.”

From a screen shot taken a couple of nights ago:
screenshot from the website of the Office of the President, showing that the date script *still* hasn't been fixed (with the year given as '108' instead of '2008')

From a screen shot taken about two-and-a-half years ago:
screenshot from the website of the Office of the President, showing that the date as '106-01-02' for January 2, 2006

(FWIW, I told a meeting of government webmasters three years ago that the date script needed fixing — or, better still, deletion. Are they really under the impression that lots of people visit the presidential office’s Web site or that of any other Taiwan governmental agency to check the date and time?)

Also, given what the head of the ruling party recently said in the glorious motherland China, perhaps they might want to replace “Office of the President” with “Office of Mr. Ma.”

At any rate, how things are named is a concern of the current administration, just as it was for the previous one. I’ve given up trying to follow the twists and turns of the name of Revere the Bloody Dictator Shrine Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. Someone let me know when the dust finally settles.

And then there’s the airport. The last time I was on a highway in Taoyuan I noticed that the signs that previously said “CKS Airport” had the “CKS” covered, so they read simply “Airport”. Maybe the new administration can live with that, regardless of what it does about the signage of the airport itself.

But what is to become of the official names that weren’t changed in Mandarin but only in English? Please note that I’m not talking about romanizations but about real English names. I’m referring to how the English names of several ministries and other government agencies were changed during President Chen Shui-bian’s two terms in office, though the Mandarin names remained the same.

For example:

Mandarin Name English Name
Pre DPP Current (March 2008)
Yuánzhùmín Wěiyuánhuì Council of Aboriginal Affairs Council of Indigenous Peoples
Guóyǔhuì Mandarin Promotion Council National Languages Committee
Zhōnghuá Mínguó Duìwài Màoyì Fāzhǎn Xiéhuì China External Trade Development Council (CETRA) Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA)
Qiáowù Wěiyuánhuì Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission

None of the above revised names have been revoked or changed as of today (June 12, 2008 — or 108-06-12, as the Presidential Office would have it).

What about the addresses of the Web sites of these ministries and agencies?

name URL comments
Council of Indigenous Peoples APC? According to someone I spoke with at the council, this stands for “Aboriginal People’s Commission” (or maybe “Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission”), a name that dates back to 1996. But I can’t find any search results for that name within .tw domains. Also, neither nor leads to anything. But lately the APC site has often been unresponsive. I mentioned to the council that they might want an updated URL; the person I spoke with said she’d look into it.
National Languages Committee This is under the Ministry of Education, which has changed the URL a few times over the years but has yet to revise the focus in the address on Mandarin (i.e., “MANDR”). Not even under the DPP was this address subject to rectification (zhèngmíng, 正名 ).
Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) The old URL of leads to nothing, not even a redirect. mirrors the address. This doesn’t have a address because it’s a semi-governmental organization.
Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission “Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission” and “Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission” share the same abbreviation. One URL fits all.

Thus, so far the new English names have survived.

Hongshan culture: SPP

Just out from the archives of Sino-Platonic Papers is The Development of Complexity in Prehistoric Northern China, by Sarah M. Nelson of the University of Denver.

This deals with Hongshan culture (Hóngsh?n wénhuà / ???? / ????), a neolithic culture that flourished in what is now northeastern China more than 5,000 years ago.

From the introduction:

Far to the north of the Central Plain of China (the Zhongyuan), in Liaoning province and Inner Mongolia, nearly two millennia before the florescence of the Shang dynasty, a complex society known as the Hongshan culture arose, with a mixed economy of herding and agriculture. Some two dozen major sites are known, along with many smaller ones, spread over about 100,000 square km. Hongshan presents a puzzle for Chinese archaeologists because of its amalgam of non-Chinese traits (for example nude female figurines and the “Goddess Temple” featuring over-life-sized statues of women) with some early manifestations of such quintessentially Chinese characteristics as round and square outdoor platforms for altars, the use of jade for emblems of power, and possibly dragon iconography.

Sino-Platonic Papers no. 63 was originally published in December 1994.

neolithic female nude figures from Hongshan culture in northeastern China

image of stone carved in the shape of a pig dragon