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Reviewed by:
  • Yidai caizi Qian Zhongshu
  • Pei Huang (bio)
Tang Yan 湯晏. Yidai caizi Qian Zhongshu 一代才子錢鍾書 (Qian Zhongshu: A Great Literary Genius in His Day). Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press, 2005. 397 pp. Paperback RMB Yuan 26.00, ISBN 7–208–05669–2.

No student of Chinese studies can deny the versatility of Qian Zhongshu (1910– 1998) as a scholar, writer, and literary critic. His writings and commentaries cover classics, poetry, history, painting, and philosophy. Born into a family with a long literary tradition, he received a solid training in Chinese classics. From middle school, he had studied Western languages: Greek, Latin, German, and French, as well as English. With this linguistic training, he was able to cite freely from Western works, medieval and modern, and juxtaposed such citations with Chinese passages, to which he then compared them. In this way, as Ronald Egan points out, Qian struck a connection between Chinese and Western cultures.1 The case can be made with his On the Art of Poetry (Tanyi lu 談藝錄) and, in particular, Limited Views: Essays on Ideas and Letters (Guazhui bian 管錐篇). Consequently, his writings are always characterized by breadth and depth that many others cannot attain. He was a well-rounded literary man fitting the Renaissance ideal and known in the circles of Chinese studies.

There are numerous articles and books on Qian's life and scholarship. Tang's book is by far the best biography of Qian.2 It consists of sixteen chapters, each chronicling a stage of Qian's life. The first three chapters concern his family background and boyhood. The fourth chapter examines his college life (1929–1933) at National Qinghua University. There he studied foreign languages and literature under noted professors and devoured books from the university's rich collection. The next chapter covers his teaching career at Guanghua University in Shanghai. It also treats Yang Jiang, a beautiful and talented lady who married Qian in 1935. She later became an accomplished writer and translator.

Qian's education abroad is the focal point of chapters 6 and 7. With a Sino British Boxer Indemnity Scholarship, he boarded a ship for England with Yang Jiang, who studied there at her own expense. He studied at Oxford University (1935–1937) and obtained his bachelor of letters degree. He also became the proud father of a baby girl, their only child. After Oxford they enrolled at the University of Paris. In addition to studying, they made many friends with fellow Chinese students. In 1938 they returned to China and thus ended their student life abroad.

The subsequent four chapters (8–11) detail his life in wartime China until 1949. Qian accepted an offer from National Southwest Associated University and became a respected teacher. At his father's insistence, however, he taught there for only one year and joined the faculty of National Normal College, a rather obscure institution, in western Hunan province. It was at this college that he began to [End Page 562] write his On the Art of Poetry and formed the plot for his novel Fortress Besieged (Wei-cheng 圍城). After two years in Hunan, he left for Shanghai, a place with which he was familiar. Under Japanese control, especially after the Pearl Harbor attack, life in Shanghai was very difficult. He taught at colleges while his wife once even worked in an elementary school. The raptures about Japan's surrender proved ephemeral, for China immediately fell into a civil war. Like other Chinese, they continued suffering.

Chapter 12 covers the period of 1949–1978. With the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Qians went to Peking. At first he taught at National Qinghua University, but beginning in 1952, he worked in the Institute of Chinese Literature, a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. His Annotated Anthology of Song Poetry (Songshi xuanzhu 宋詩選注) came out in 1958. Despite their aversion to politics, the Qians were helplessly swept into the vortex of the Cultural Revolution. They were accused, humiliated, and finally sent to the May 7 Cadre School for reeducation for about three years (1969–1972). There they underwent Sisyphean political sessions and performed senseless assignments. Mrs. Qian's Ganxiao liuji 幹校六記 (A cadre school...