To Regain Self-Affirmation: Qian Mu and his Exile Scholarship
Gad C. Isay
The appearance of exile intellectuals generally indicates periods of radical political movements and cultural decay. In the history of modern China, this development was related to the emergence of contesting political powers. Qian Mu 錢穆 (1895–1990), whose scholarly career spanned the period from 1918 to 1990, was an established scholar before he left China in late 1949 to live in exile in Hong Kong, and later, in 1968, in Taiwan. The consistency of his views throughout his career makes it perhaps even more challenging a task to trace an exilic element that pervaded his thought. In the early 1940s, Qian had acknowledged a shift in his scholarly concerns from history to culture — a concern he continued to pursue. Some forty years later, reflecting on the period when he lived in Hong Kong and then in Taiwan, he wrote: ‘In the last 30 years, historically speaking, what I wrote from the perspective of history, all is focused on cultural [questions]’.
Yet, consistency in his case should not undermine his relevance to a study of exilic thought. Living at a time when the Chinese intellectual scene experienced radical shifts, what worried him most, both before and after he moved to live in exile, were calls for a new culture to take the place of traditional Chinese culture. Rather than raise one polarity against the other, his scholarship was particularly concerned with the axis of Chinese history and culture or, in other terms (discussed below), the Way of the Masters (shidao 師道) — an axis he defined in terms of balance. Accordingly, since his [exilic] act of 1949, while physically distanced from the political centre of the Chinese world, he persistently engaged with much the same scholarship that characterised his earlier work. Being away from his family and from the natural and human landscapes he was used to constituted his exile. It is equally present in the dynamic distance between his consistent scholarly concerns and proximity to an imagined axis of Chinese history and culture on the one hand, and developments of perceptions in that field on the other. Furthermore, commitment to balance allowed him to relate with the China he cared so much for notwithstanding the radical circumstances that had overtaken her.
The first part of what follows aims to capture Qian’s exile experience through a study of his understanding of the course of events leading, among other consequences, to his exile. For that purpose, this study focuses on his preoccupation with the question of how China came to take a path that forced exile on people, and how to understand his own role. I discuss Qian’s reasoning about the importance of the learning of history in solving the cultural dilemma of modern China, and I introduce the application of his ideas to historical events such as the New Culture movement and the rise of the communists, and to issues such as the status of Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130–1200) within the line of the transmission of the Way of the Masters. My first concern, however, is to argue that Qian Mu the scholar cannot be separated from the living person and family man that he was. This essay begins with a preliminary discussion of the separation from his family.
Family Separation and Reunion
The following quote from 1949, when he stayed in Guangzhou, just before moving to Hong Kong, reveals Qian’s state of mind when he was on the verge of exile:
During the war of resistance, troops occupied the frontier, the government moved to the middle (Chongqing), and the intellectuals and world of education moved to the rear (Kunming). Now, the Japanese threat is over, the frontier troops collapsed … . The government is in retreat … [Now is the time for] the intellectuals and the world of education [to determine the future path of the Chinese people] … .
Education and intellectual activity were, to him, the right means to re-establish the cultural identity of China and its people. Equally significant here is the exclusion of politicians from this project.
Concerned as he was with the fate of China and its people since the communist takeover, he felt he had to leave home. His position within the political turmoil of the late 1940s was different from that of scholars such as Chen Yinke 陳寅恪 (1890–1969), Xiong Shili 熊十力 (1883–1968), and Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 (1893–1988), who were his friends and remained in mainland China in spite of the communist takeover. Indeed, earlier in 1949 Mao Zedong (1893–1976) had referred to Qian Mu along with Hu Shi 胡適 (1891–1962) and Fu Sinian 傅斯年 (1896–1950), as ‘running dogs of the imperialists’, who were represented in China by the nationalists. Thus Qian was considered one of the villains in recent history. The first rectification campaigns in the liberated areas were still fresh in mind. Exile was unavoidable in his case. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, Qian’s most important accomplishment was the establishment of the New Asia College (Xinya shuyuan 新亞書院) that was by the early 1950s the only Chinese-speaking institution for higher education there. Both the institute and the numerous works he wrote in Hong Kong clearly confirmed Qian’s leadership as a historian of Chinese culture.
In August 1974, Qian Mu published his Bashiyi shuangqin 八十憶雙親 and during the next few years he published parts of his Shiyou Zayi 師友雜憶. A complete edition of both appeared in 1983. These sources reveal the vital role of family in his life. The relative absence of this aspect from Qian’s writings after 1949 does not mean that he was unconcerned. This is the less obvious side of his personality that completes the picture of his scholarly work. Qian repressed this private side as a commitment to what he saw as the cultural needs of China. In terms that were mentioned in the introduction above and are discussed below, personal concerns were marginalised for the sake of the collective.
Qian Mu the scholar, who went into exile in late 1949, was a married man and father of three sons and two daughters. In his BSSZ he wrote that, as national affairs underwent great changes, so did his family. At the time, he recalled, everything was hasty, and ‘these people’ were not yet adults. He was most emotional about never being able to spend sufficient time with his youngest daughter. When she was born in 1940, Qian had already left home for Chengdu in Sichuan. With the war of resistance won in 1945, he went to Kunming in Yunnan. When he moved to Guangzhou and then to Hong Kong, she was not yet nine years old. ‘My greatest misgiving,’ he wrote, ‘is about being absent from her growing up and education.’ Note that even before the exilic act Qian was regularly absent from home.
In the late seventies, Qian remarked that for more than thirty years, the two parts of the family — husband, and wife and married children with grandchildren — lived in different worlds, and information about their lives was rarely communicated. It seems as though Qian the scholar and Qian the family man lived worlds apart. According to his own account, he did not include ‘those people’ in the earlier part of his BSSZ (1974). But it does not mean that they were not on his mind. Rather, he continued, ‘Now [all] I desire to say, [is] only about those people’. His third wife, Hu Meiqi 湖美琦, whom he married in 1955 in Hong Kong, was involved in this decision not to discuss the children. He wrote: ‘… in a disordered world, life (shengming 生命) is limited to one’s person, and living (shenghuo 生活) is limited by one’s wife, and I cannot be an exception’.
Did he have regrets? Did he miss his family? In a latter part of his BSSZ, Qian referred to Tao Yuanming’s 陶渊明 (365–427 AD) poem to express his feelings about the absence of his children: ‘Watching southern mountain from a distance, by the end of the day the mountain’s qi is fine, in this there is a true idea, when I want to express this the words disappear’. Qian explains that forgetting the words, just as wanting to express them, and being unable to stop expressing, ‘indeed this is how I feel’.
In 1980, after thirty-two years, a reunion was arranged by Hu Meiqi, with whom the 86-year-old Qian travelled from Taiwan to Hong Kong, to meet his former wife, Zhang Yiguan 張一貫, three sons and the youngest daughter. The latter was then more than 40 years old. Qian’s eyesight had been too poor since 1978 to recognise faces. They were together for about seven days, ‘in a hurry and unable to part’ (congcong biequ 匆匆別去). Thereafter, Qian occasionally met others from the family as well.
Toward the end of the latter part of BSSZ, Qian wrote the following about his life:
I am a poor scholar; my original intention was to make my living in the country, to live together with my family in harmony. This was all I wanted. I never figured it would be that difficult. The years that are left to me are not many. I do not know when I will meet those whom I did not yet meet. It is said that the mandate of heaven is ruthless, and I do not wish to ask for more than my share. Whatever year whatever month, when the day comes, this [to meet old acquaintances] is my only wish. The ancients said that those who are old and do not die are robbers. I am already old, and have nothing to contribute to the world, but I am still willing to rob this ordinary [thing] of life, I look forward to that day.
Qian Mu lived until 1990, and two years after he died he was buried in China in a location that overlooks Taihu, the lake near the area where he grew up in Jiangsu province.
Explaining the Course of Events Leading to Exile
A cursory reading of Qian Mu’s writings, starting with the 1950s, reveals that he was preoccupied with the question of how China was led to take the path that eventually forced some into exile. To be sure, the larger part of his work shows the concern with the path rather than with exile. In several places, Qian reflects on what happened in the recent 100 years or so, apparently since the First Opium War (1839). He ascribes the fall of the imperial order to several interdependent developments, all of which are related to the intensification of China’s encounter with the West. His narrative of Chinese history since the late nineteenth century suggests a break with the past, a deterioration in the present, and yet confidence with regard to the future. This temporal distinction corresponds to his understanding of the modern history of China in terms of a transition that began in the late nineteenth century and continued in his day; from a state of self-affirmation to self-denial and, expectantly, a return to self-affirmation via the study of Chinese history and culture.
Qian’s historical analysis of the modern Chinese transition from self-affirmation to self-denial and back to self-affirmation proceeds as follows. To him, simultaneous with China’s break from its past, was Chinese intellectuals’ lack of respect toward their own past in the beginning of the twentieth century. An early indication appeared when scholars started to prefer Western-style academic learning over the learning of the scholar-officials. In 1958, Qian argued that, unlike the period when Zeng Guofan 曾國藩 (1811–72) was active in his contemporary world of learning, the attention of the leading scholars was oriented toward the academic (boshi 博士) at the expense of the tradition of the scholar-officials (shidaifu 士大夫). This transition turned the world of learning into a special kind of life within a specialised environment, and it separated learning from society. Consequently, the succession of the Way of the Masters ceased. We trace here an early departure from the axis of traditional scholarship. By the time Liang Qichao 梁启超 (1873–1929) rose to prominence in the early twentieth century, Qian continues, the Way of the Masters was lost and destroyed (lunwang 淪亡). The succession of the Way of the Masters came to a halt. None, he writes, could any longer be heir to the ancient sages by becoming a teacher of posterity (chengxian qihou 承先啓後).
The intellectuals’ biased preference for the academic model that came from the West alienated subsequent generations from their own culture and tradition. In 1980, Qian wrote that scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as the reformers Kang Youwei 康有為 (1858–1927), Liang Qichao, and the revolutionary Zhang Taiyan 章太炎 (1869–1936), still searched for the means to affect national and cultural change within the nation’s body. But the leaders of the May Fourth movement (1919), Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu 陳獨秀 (1879–1942), and their followers, sought the means outside the nation’s body. According to Qian, both Chen and Hu still discussed Chinese problems within the nation’s body but their approaches became increasingly radicalised. Hu and Chen upheld the foreign in order to reconstruct China. Thereafter, the foreign was used to construct a new China. The allusion to self-denial and a break from the past is unmistakable.
The essential point of reference is the New Culture movement (Xinwenhua yundong 新文化運動) that started in 1915 and, according to Qian Mu, turned the political revolution of 1911 into a cultural revolution. Whereas the iconoclast phrases that for many represented the spirit of the May Fourth movement, are ‘Much noise amid a cloud of dust’, the approach that made future progress dependent on the destruction of the past is harmful. Qian condemns those who declared the death of the old literature a requirement for the new literature. Referring to Chen Duxiu and Hu Shi’s more radical accomplishments, he asks: Did they really have to identify the traditional literature as dead? If their objective was to establish a workable literature, did they really need to differentiate between new and old and to define the old literature in rigid terms, and wholeheartedly attack it and subdue it, and then be happy? Qian specifically associates self-denial and break from the past with a false polar distinction that posits old vs. new, past vs. future, and death vs. life. If traditional literature (wenyanwen 文言文) is already dead, he observes, from where did vernacular literature obtain its life?
Remarkably, in 1980, Qian makes a personal accusation: he calls Hu Shi an irresponsible intellectual and disputer. According to Qian, Hu was not as accomplished a Chinese historian as claimed, and several accomplishments that were eventually attributed to him were, in fact, others’ ideas. During the period of transition from the Qing to the Republic, Hu was leading those intellectuals who sought to replace the traditional design of the culture and nation of the people by a Western design. For the sake of progress, he ignored the Chinese tradition.
The charges against Hu, which offer us a glimpse of hostility among exile intellectuals, are remarkable for two main reasons. First, Hu was targetted by the communists and lived in exile like Qian. Secondly, in accordance with the ideas of John Dewey (1859–1952), Hu’s scholarly works self-consciously stipulated the need to preserve the Chinese past. To be sure, it seems absurd to assume that it was Hu’s neglect of Chinese history that infuriated Qian. Rather, it must have been his selection of which sources to preserve within the tradition. The disagreement among the two scholars can be seen in Hu’s understanding of Qing scholarship as a break from the Song and Ming, in a style comparable to the European enlightenment. Qian emphasised its continuity with the Song and Ming. The definition of the history and the nature of Chinese tradition on its own terms or in foreign terms was an existential question to these scholars.
Scholarly achievements apparently prevailed regardless of the above mentioned shift toward academic learning and the New Culture movement. Qian proposes that, like himself, there were others who opposed the New Culture movement. Among those who at the time criticised the New Culture movement, he lists Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培 (1868–1940), the Xueheng 學衡 scholars in Nanjing, Ma Yifu 馬一浮 (1883–1967), Xiong Shili, Zhang Junmai 張君勱 (1886–1969), and Chen Yinke. With all of them, Qian Mu discussed the New Culture movement, and all expressed their dissatisfaction with Hu and his ideas. Qian singles out the period preceding the Japanese invasion as a time when these more responsible scholars extensively studied Chinese culture and thought and reached a deeper understanding of Chinese history and culture. Unfortunately, he observes, during the war of resistance against the Japanese, the scholars had to be on the move to survive. There was no longer the leisure for thorough research and scholarship.
In 1951, Qian presented in his article on ‘Chinese Culture and the Fate of the Nation’ an account of the communist takeover that was more abstract and yet consistent with the above. According to this account, two great currents are interrelated in the recent 100 years of Chinese history: one is the deep and hidden underground stream (fuliu 伏流); another is an opposing, manifest stream (xianliu 顯流). The underground stream represents the positive quest of the consciousness of the Chinese nation. The manifest stream represents the propensity, present in Chinese culture since antiquity, to cause ruin. These two streams separated and intermingled with each other in the past one hundred years and created the tragedy of recent Chinese history. As long as these two streams were related to each other, self-affirmation prevailed, and the history and culture of China was still self-sufficient.
Eventually, the intrusion of ‘the West’ changed this situation. Since the success of the 1911 revolution, the past history and culture of China has been forgotten and the manifest stream and the underground stream disengaged from each other. Due to this disengagement, the underground stream lost its power. Concomitantly, the New Culture movement, which is synonymous with the manifest stream, called to abolish everything in order to create the new. The ‘normal’ course of separation and intermingling ceased and the two streams collided. At the point of collision, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and communism began to rise.
This account suggests a problematic picture of China’s situation but also an optimistic confidence and a vision of the future. According to Qian, the new power that the CCP embraced was still the power of the common people of China, which is synonymous with the underground stream. The communist leadership thus collided with the internal quest of the common people of China. The power in the underground current was (and is) misused by the leadership. Yet, the apparent call for denial of the historical past and denial of the cultural past, cannot last indefinitely. Qian states that the communist leadership’s ignorance of the fact that in history there is nothing that does not change, nothing that is not renewed, nothing can last long. If the past is disconnected from history, unchanged and not renewed, death and destruction are bound to follow.
A prophetic association of the New Culture movement and the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) is suggested here. According to Qian Mu, the New Culture movement provided the necessary ground for the communists to grow roots and flourish in China. His criticism of the approach of the May Fourth protagonists to determine the death of the old culture as a precondition for the growth of the new is mentioned above. Accordingly, the radicalisation of the New Culture movement continued and even accelerated with the communists. In 1950, Qian remarked — as if aware of future developments such as the Great Leap Forward (1958) and Cultural Revolution — that the communist revolution is a failure that inflicts further troubles and leads China toward a great tragedy. According to him, the communists followed the tide of radicalisation and imposed on China a kind of religion (zongjiao 宗教) that corresponded to modern man’s exaggerated confidence in natural science. In 1951, he wrote that the materialistic view of history and communism became the faith of many people, and turned into a kind of religion. Indeed, a similar accusation was suggested by the critics of scientism during the May Fourth period.
Qian’s analyses of the communists’ road to power and their control of China often end on an accusatory note. In 1975, he stated that during the last 50 years, communism posed the greatest threat to the Chinese people. Communism, which, according to him, is the most heterodox, most violent and most radical political and social doctrine, stealthily grew and developed and eventually became modern China’s most troubling phenomenon, for in the Chinese world of thought of the last 130 years the communists are the most radical and violent and they strive to demolish China. However, the most extreme point has been reached and the change in the people’s hearts is not far in the future.
But from the perspective of the history of modern Chinese culture, the communists are merely the victims of their times. In 1952, Qian maintained that the real problem is the cultural problem, and this applies to the world as a whole and not only to China. Communism, he wrote, is a symptom. In a book that should be considered an extension of his earlier outline of Chinese culture, Qian asserted that the problem in China as well as of the world is neither military nor economic, neither political nor a question of foreign relations; it is the problem of the culture of the world as a whole. And problems created by culture should be fixed by culture. Earlier, in 1951, Qian had also referred to the Chinese commitment to the culture of the world as a whole. Hence the Chinese cultural tradition actually can solve not only the current predicament of China, but can also lead the way for a new culture of the world.
Qian’s claim for a transition from the state of self-affirmation to self-denial applies to both the intellectual world of the May Fourth period, roughly 1915–25, and after, and to the political world of communist rule since 1949. In 1951, he observed that after the 1911 revolution, Chinese intellectuals opted to overthrow the old system and covet other people’s systems, yet they did not create their own new system. Referring to communist rule, he opined that the great flaw in China in 1951 was that it neglected its own social order, and, as an alternative, misused some empty Western framework, and ‘stubbornly insists on calling on China to become a [cultural and political] colony (zhiminde 殖民地) of others’. In 1980, he wrote that whereas the past Chinese honoured themselves, his contemporaries regard self-esteem as ultra-conservative. Criticism is directed at scholars and movements, both intellectual and political, explicitly for approaches and policies that radically depart from what he considers as the Way of the Masters.
There is a deeper level to his thought that needs to be considered in this regard. Rather than counter one polarity with another, Qian seeks a middle way, and for that purpose one method is to avoid factions — positions or views that are one-sided due to their being directed by personal and group interests alien to the specific issue involved. As has already been observed, whether in his earlier more historical works or in his later studies on culture, Qian self-consciously avoided factions. An example of his awareness regarding the virtue of avoiding factions can be seen in the ‘neither science nor metaphysics’ stance he presented in his contribution to the ‘Science vs. Metaphysics’ controversy regarding the view of life in 1923. His contribution is entitled ‘Pangguanzhe yan’ 旁觀者言. As Yu Yingshi further notes, Qian always took his departure from a historical point of view. That is, the point of view of the scholar who considers the historical facts. Yu quotes Zhang Xuecheng 章學誠 (1738–1801), who wrote, ‘Scholars cannot avoid having great teachers, but they should avoid having factions’. The faults of the New Culture movement and the communists mentioned above can all be traced to their upholding factional positions.
The idea of seeking similarity and convergence rather than difference and divergence elaborates on the same approach. This idea reflects an understanding of the correct relations between the source and its later developments. We recognise that the similar and the convergent are earlier in time, while the different and the divergent are later developments. In the beginning, the similar and the convergent dominate the scene. Later, the different and the divergent appear. To the extent that a scholarly work follows the similar and the convergent, it inevitably corresponds to the main line of transmission. Scholars who subscribe to factions, invest their emotions in the commitment to a definite side, and contrast their ideas with others’. They advance a narrow cause and diverge from the main line — they upset the inherent balance.
It remains to be seen, however, what Qian’s criteria were when he defined the similar and the convergent in the various cultural issues that he takes up later. A case for consideration is his refusal to add his scholarly weight to the 1958 Wei Zhongguo jinggao shijie renshi xuanyan 為中國敬告世界人士宣言. Qian’s proclivity to avoid factions has been mentioned. Another, not unrelated, reason for his refusal to sign the 1958 declaration was disagreement with the so-called New Confucians over their preference for a view that was, to him, disturbingly different and divergent. The most important message of the declaration was the point made earlier by Xiong Shili, ‘The essence (shensui 神髓) of Chinese culture lies in the learning of mind and human nature (xinxing 心性)’. This point indicated a tendency of the supporters of the declaration to side with the Lu–Wang school of mind. Overemphasis on the mind and its capacities, such as the innate knowledge of the good (liangzhi 良知), may lead the scholar to depict a quality of existence that is other than the present. A radical emphasis on the mind creates a distinction between the subjective and the objective that is too sharp to maintain and incompatible with this-worldliness — this-worldliness being a definitive feature of Confucian learning. The same problem that marked the New Culture proponents and the communists — their self-denial approach, the threat to overturn an inherent Chinese balance and depart from the so-called Way of the Masters — also marked some New Confucian scholars.
Recently, scholars debated the relationships of Qian Mu to the so-called New Confucians. Methodologically, the scholars are concerned with his entire scholarship and particularly his approach to the 1958 declaration. My approach is somewhat different; I prefer to examine a text he wrote in 1948. The Hushang xiansilu favours Confucian thought over Daoist, Buddhist, and Western thought, and Zhu Xi’s understandings are specified as the correct transmission. This preference rests essentially on Qian’s appreciation of the virtue of balance. In chapter fourteen of the Hushang xiansilu, Qian observes how in ancient China the Confucians, unlike the Mohists and the Daoists, avoided radical forms of a life of leisure and utilitarianism and represented the middle way in Chinese society. According to him, this authentic Chinese course should not be abandoned due to Buddhist and Western challenges. In chapter eight of the same book, Qian criticises the tendency inherent in the Wang Yangming school to seek an original substance deep in the mind and to subordinate reality to it. At the same time, he praises Zhu Xi’s attention to a person’s need to cultivate the mind by means of learning. Qian labels the Wang Yangming school as elementary education and the Zhu Xi school as advanced education.
To criticise the Lu–Wang school and to uphold Zhu Xi, as Qian did, was not a popular position at the time among scholars who valued Confucian ideas. The 1960s saw the publication of several works on Zhu Xi’s philosophy aside from those published earlier by Feng Youlan 馮友蘭 (1895–1990). Fan Shoukang 范壽康 (1896–1983) published a book on Zhu Xi’s philosophy in 1964, Tang Junyi 唐君毅 (1909–78) discussed Zhu Xi in his book on Chinese philosophy in 1965–68, and Mou Zongsan 牟宗三 (1909–95) published his study of Zhu Xi’s thought in 1968. These works presented Zhu Xi as a scholar of principle (lixue 理學) rather than a scholar of mind (xinxue 心學). These studies also made a sharp division between the Cheng–Zhu and the Lu–Wang transmissions, and applied Western categories to the study of Chinese thought.
Qian Mu began his Zhu Xi project in 1964. When completed, his 1971 five-volume study argued that the Southern Song master’s teaching was consistent with the teaching of Confucius and Mencius. In a style that was markedly independent of ‘Western’ categories and equally devoted to balanced perseverance of the Way of the Masters, he showed that although Zhu Xi identified human nature with principle (xing ji li 性即理), he made the mind the centre of his learning. Rather than being merely a representative of the school of principle, he was just as much concerned with the mind. The novelty of Zhu Xi’s learning, according to Qian, rests in the balance it advocates between the cultivation of the mind and critical learning. Lu Xiangshan and then Wang Yangming and his followers neglected to preserve this balance. They shifted toward an uncritical, and individually construed, world of mind. Qian Mu’s Zhu Xi assigned a priority to the culture of society rather than the culture of the individual. Qian Mu’s study of Zhu Xi, consistent as it was with his approach to avoid factions, explained the latter’s central status within the Confucian transmission, and redirected contemporary scholarship in accordance with this understanding.
To be sure, Qian Mu’s interpretation that identified Zhu Xi’s learning with the main line of the Confucian transmission is open to criticism. But regardless of the adequacy of his interpretation, we must note that he called attention to the problem of balance in Chinese culture. Using the balance criteria as ground for Zhu Xi’s relevance to the modern discussion of culture in China, he established a direct linkage between the Song master and himself due to the importance of the Confucian transmission. An implicit consequence of Qian’s advocacy of non-factionalism and classification of Zhu Xi with the main line of the Confucian transmission was to establish his own contribution in this line.
Essentially, Qian’s approach is all about balance. Balance is established as a major attribute of the ‘correct’ transmission of the Way of the Masters mentioned above. Those who maintain this approach include some early Confucians, later joined by Song-period Confucians such as Zhu Xi, and now by scholars such as Qian. The balance criterion implies the existence of an axis throughout the transmission. Balance with regard to the axis is maintained by those who seek the similar and the convergent and avoid factions. The logic of such an understanding implies that to uphold factions and, equally, to seek the different and divergent is to proceed through self-denial, while authentic growth rests on internal resources. Balance, on the other hand is, in this context, synonymous with self-affirmation.
Considered against the background of Qian’s commitment to the history and culture of China (the Way of the Masters), the motivation to avoid factions and to seek the similar and the convergent, as well as the relevance of these approaches to his perception about China’s need to regain self-affirmation, becomes contextualised. The ‘similar and convergent’ approach required that Qian realised his commitment to China’s transformation from self-denial to self-affirmation by maintaining his contact with the history and culture of China as direct as can be. Apparently, he believed that growth that is comparable to modernity is possible for China without her leaving her historical and cultural axis — that is, the thread along which emphasis on mind is balanced with learning, social co-operation is not sacrificed for the sake of extreme individuality, and so on.
Inasmuch as self-denial impedes the construction of the new, self-affirmation is a precondition for a worthwhile modernity. For self-affirmation to be regained, the Chinese need to actively exploit their historical and cultural resources. ‘Let us know our own theatre,’ Qian wrote in late 1951, ‘and then play our own role.’ In the same book, he wrote that if the Chinese people (Zhongguoren 中國人) wish to solve their problems they need first to know themselves (xian renshi ziji 先認識自己). And, according to him, self-knowledge of a people, which is a precondition for their self-affirmation, requires learning their history and culture. Earlier that same year, he proposed that in order to establish the path ahead, the Chinese people needed to learn their history. Qian further associated the historical character of the Chinese people with the term translated here as ‘nation’. The Chinese people, he wrote, are not the product of one day; they developed over the past four or five thousand years. Hence, the Chinese people have the Chinese people’s ‘historical character’ (lishixing歷史性), and the historical character of the people is associated with the Chinese nation (Zhongguo minzu 中國民族).
What makes a nation is essentially history and culture. According to Qian, a nation (minzu) must have its past and present history and must have a culture. The terms of history, culture and nation, he argued, are all of one body. He acknowledged that his usage of the term ‘Chinese people’ refers to the people who were formed by Chinese culture, and those who were formed by Chinese culture subscribe to the history of China and to the Chinese nation. In the same essay, Qian concluded that, in the case of China, history, culture, and the consciousness of the nation and the spirit of the nation, correspond to the vitality (yuanqi 元氣), the life (shengming 生命), and the soul (linghun 靈魂) of the Chinese people.
In his concern for China, the land and its people, Qian highlighted history and culture rather than territory and race. Territorial and racial connotations of ‘nation’ are associated with the same self-denial that was mentioned above. In 1951, he introduced history as the narrative of a play and the geographical setting as the stage. The stage that is synonymous with territory is not to be dispensed with, but it should not be regarded as top priority. Neither should blood relations. In 1960, Qian argued that the ancient Chinese ‘concept of nation’ (minzu guannian 民族觀念) was centred not on blood relations (xuetong 血統) but on culture. The contemporary Chinese, he complained, took the wrong way and adopt the view of Western people who value national blood relations more than transmission of culture.
This account of China’s future self-affirmation and worthwhile modernity is based on a circular logic. According to Qian, in their capacity to master their history and re-enact their own way forward, the Chinese are selfsufficient. As early as 1951 he stated that, first, the problem of China should be solved by the Chinese people. Second, only the Chinese people are capable of solving the problems of China. Third, the destiny of China is in the hands of the Chinese people. Conversely, the creation of Chinese history, culture and nation (minzu) serves as evidence of the capacity of the Chinese people to always solve their problems. Indeed, this sort of circular logic draws its life from and equally represents Qian’s commitment to the history and culture of China, and all circular logic systems involve faith.
Qian’s commitment to unveil the original course of Chinese history and reconnect it with the present was charged with what he called a religious faith (xinyang 信仰). In 1951, he observed that in the beginning his lifelong concern with the fate of China, or rather the possibility of its extinction, to save the nation was only what he wished (xiwang 希望) for. Later, it became his faith. He recalled that his concern with the fate of China and its people occupied him since his early youth. As a young child, he considered the saving of the nation to be the main problem of his time. This problem was so significant to him, that as long as it remained unsolved it cancelled all other concerns. Now, after more than 40 years, Qian believed that this problem still preoccupied his mind. His scholarly activity was, accordingly, not merely a career: ‘My approach to the history of China,’ he wrote three months earlier, ‘is a kind of religious faith’ (zongjiaobande yizhong xinyang 宗教般的一種信仰). The practical aspect of this faith is Qian’s tireless dedication to study, teach and present Chinese history and culture. In 1960, he again observed that faith should be complemented by learning and the instruction of others. He also reaffirmed his strong personal faith and explicitly associated it with life in exile: ‘… [A]broad in exile, it is most important to have faith in Chinese culture; if there is no faith than there is no hope, and hence no method to live’.
The high level of his involvement and concern is revealed when his scholarly commitment is juxtaposed with his vision of always seeking the similar and the convergent and avoiding factions. Wilfred Cantwell Smith wrote that ‘… religiousness lies not in [the various religious traditions], but in the orientation that persons have to them’. As observed above, Qian confined himself to draw order and meaning exclusively from within the body of Chinese history and culture. At the same time, he constantly attended to the balance of that tradition, balance being his interpretative understanding of what is an essential and definitive quality of that tradition. The first part of the present discussion provided a glimpse into the emotional price he paid, living apart from his family and, indeed, away from China. Accordingly, Qian’s religious faith is to be understood in terms of the strength of his commitment — a commitment that is broad and all encompassing as much as it is self-dependent, never ceasing and deep. One can hardly imagine a higher level of devotion.
Within the framework of such a strong commitment, the fate of the CCP determined the optimist or pessimist modes of Qian’s exilic life. According to his account, the CCP was about to terminate its existence, and, when this happened, China’s path would be rich with opportunities. ‘Therefore,’ he wrote, ‘I do not subscribe to pessimism.’ Acknowledging his optimism for the future of China, he wrote in 1951 that he had a strong faith in the Chinese nation and its ‘great bright future’. The evidence for this, he further observed — repeating his formerly mentioned circular logic — is to be found in the history of China. Note that to Qian, the communists represented a major deviation from the axis of the Chinese cultural tradition. Here, it is in order to recall that in Chinese society, in the past and in the present, a general sense of religiosity has always been interdependent with government institutions. Much as the prospect of the demise of communist rule was to him a step forward in a process that leads China to regain self-affirmation, the pessimist and optimist moods he associated with that process further reveal the extent of his commitment.
Qian’s historical account of the course of events that in his case led to exile depicts a process in which radical, and — in his opinion — irresponsible intellectuals took an erroneous path and eventually swept nation and society to self-denial and the break from their past. He saw this break in terms of an extension of the crisis suffered by China since its modern meeting with the West. The core of the problem is loss of historical and cultural continuity. Qian agreed with fellow scholars among whom opposition to the New Culture movement and similar tendencies prevailed, but the communist successors of the radical wave eventually had the upper hand. The break from the past, as he perceived it, is a great misfortune that casts a shadow on the recent history of China. His own role, Qian believed, was to revitalise the continuity between traditional China and its modern change. His account further suggests that his commitment to this cause contained the strength of a kind of religious faith.
This kind of religious faith, on Qian’s part, involved no transcendent providence and was this-worldly and self-sufficient. Committed as he was to overturn self-denial back into self-affirmation, he drew his faith in the future of China and its people from his faith in the history and culture of China and its people. The same sort of circular logic that supported Qian’s commitment to the history and culture of China and its people is applicable to his faith. Indeed, his faith was identical to his scholarly work and this is reflected in his commitment to avoid factions and to always seek the similar and the convergent. Qian’s exile scholarship was distinguished by the way this pattern — with balance as its overriding quality — was applied to current affairs with the purpose of securing continued proximity to the axis of the history and culture of China and to disallow divergences. In this respect, Qian was a religious man. This is seen in the way his personal axis, kept intact in spite of the break in family life — and a glimpse into the emotional depth he experienced due to the break in family life reveals that indifference was never the case — intersected with the axis of the history and culture of China. Against the context of the radicalisation that engulfed culture and nation in twentieth-century China, Qian’s preoccupation with balance communicate the exilic element in his thought.
When Qian Mu’s exile scholarship is considered against the background of the split of Taiwan from China, one has to take into account the development of the Cold War mentality and the consequent tendency to polarise views. Admittedly, Qian sympathised with the Taiwan nationalists. But in his scholarly approach he self-consciously sought to avoid factions and to seek the similar and the convergent, rather than the different and the divergent. He thus maintained what he considered to be the authentic Chinese tradition and, like Confucius’s (551–479 BC) Lunyu VII:1, the axis of his scholarship is in his efforts to transmit the past to the present and to avoid innovation for its own sake. That is not to say that he was not creative. This observation applies both to Confucius and Qian. In conclusion, I argue that his reluctance to identify with any particular post-1949 school made his exile an external facet, problematic as it was, of an independent internal continuity. And the better one understands Qian Mu’s faith-motivated commitment to cultural nationalism, the less one will accept arguments that attribute his involvement in educational projects in Taiwan to blind co-operation with the Guomindang nationalist government.
An earlier version of this study was read in August 2005, at the International Conference ‘Chinese Diasporic and Exile Experience’, The University of Zürich. I thank Brigit Knuesel from The University of Zürich, Thomas Fröhlich from The University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and Irene Eber from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for suggestions, corrections and inspiration. Later, anonymous reviewers for the East Asian History contributed their comments from which I greatly benefitted. Thanks are due as well to Lindy Allen at EAH and to the editors. Regardless of this support, I take full responsibility for limitations of this study.
2 Qian discussed the axis of Chinese history and culture in the tenth chapter ‘Shan yu E’ 善舆惡 in his Hushang xiansilu 湖上閒思綠 (Taipei: Lantai chubanshe, 2001), pp.43–47. This book was originally written in 1948.
4 Jerry Dennerline suggests that avoiding internal division and alignment with any superpower were also on Qian’s mind. See his Qian Mu and the World of Seven Mansions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), p.67.
7 Edward Vickers depicts Qian as ‘Perhaps the most influential of all the [exiled Chinese] historians [at that period] …’. See his ‘Colonialism and the Politics of “Chinese History” in Hong Kong’s Schools,’ Oxford Review of Education 29.1 (March 2003): 95–111, at p.101.
11 From a personal communication with Qian Mu’s son, Professor Qian Xun 錢逊, of Qing-hua University in Beijing, I learn that for a short period after 1949, communications were possible, but then they ceased.
13 Qian first married in 1917. In 1928, his wife and only son died. In 1930, he remarried. He had five children with his second wife, Zhang Yiguan. In 1955, he married for the third time. The wedding of Qian Mu and Hu Meiqi is mentioned in BSSZ, pp.275–77. Any indication of divorce between Qian Mu and Zhang Yiguan is nowhere referred to in my sources.
15 Tao Yuanming, ‘Yinjiu’ 飲酒, in Tao Yuanming shiwen huiping 陶淵明詩文彚評, comp. Beijing daxue zhongwenxi wenxue shijiao yanjiu jiaoshe wuliuji siban tongxue 北京大學中文系文学史教研室教师五六级四班同学 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), poem no. 5. Reissued as Tao Yuanming juan 陶渊明卷 Vol.2, 1962). My translation. Note that here Qian omitted one line that appears in the original version.
17 Qian’s son, Qian Xing 錢行, recalled his inaccurate understanding of the situation at the time. As a high-school pupil, he uncritically believed communist propaganda about his father’s dislike for his country and selling his country out. Qian Xing, ‘Zuihou de xiaoxin’ 最後的孝心, Lianhebao 聯合報 (Sept. 1990): n.p.
19 Qian Mu, ‘Zhongguo wenhua yu guoyun’ 中國文化與國運, Sixiang yu geming 思想與革命, 1 (Jan. 1951). Cited in Han Fuzhi 韓復智comp., Qian Mu xiansheng xueshu nianpu 錢穆先生學術年譜 (Taipei: Wunan tushu chuban gongsi, 2005), p.1934. Hereafter, QMXSNP. Later, in 1980, Qian referred to the last 130 years, hence the point of reference is to events that began around 1850.
20 ‘Study’ here is very much in the sense of ‘education’. Compare with Yu Ying-shih’s (another Chinese intellectual in exile) recent call for ‘Chinese historians to begin to design and develop their own concepts and methods uniquely suited to coping with the particular shapes of Chinese historical experience independent of, but not in isolation from, theories and practices of history in other parts of the world including the West’. See his ‘Clio’s New Cultural Turn and the Rediscovery of Tradition in Asia,’ Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 6.1 (Spring 2007): 49–50.
24 Generally speaking, Qian’s ideas anticipate Yu Yingshi’s recent thesis about the radicalisation of Chinese intellectuals in the twentieth century. See Yu Ying-shih, ‘The Radicalization of China in the Twentieth Century,’ in ed. Tu Wei-ming, China in Transformation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 125–57.
25 Qian Mu, ‘Weixin yu shoujiu; minguoqishinianlai xueshu sixiang zhi xueshu’ 維新與守舊；民國七十年來學術思想之間述 (Dec. 30 1980). Zhongguo xueshu sixiangshi luncong 9 中國學術思想史論叢 (Taipei: Sushulou wenjiao jijinhui, 2000), p.34.
26 Ibid., p.17. According to Qian, the failures of the New Culture movement period were: 1. It disrupted the old tradition; 2. It took lightly the achievements of the people; 3. It adopted factional views; 4. It engaged in shallow discussions; 5. It made scholarship and the common people two things and not one. See QMXSNP, p.2369. Later scholars such as Zhang Hao (Chang Hao) argued that the modern transformation of China began around the war with Japan (1894–95). Zhang Hao 張灝, ‘Zhongguo jindai sixiangshi de zhuanxing shidai’ 國近代思想史的轉型時代, Ershiyi shiji 二十一世紀 52 (April 1999): 29–39. Dating the beginning of the modern transformation is by no means settled.
27 Qian mentions the following phrases uttered by various personalities during that period: ‘Destroy the business of Confucius and sons’, ‘Deny filiality’, ‘Throw all traditional books into the toilet’, ‘Abolish Chinese characters’, and ‘[Promote] Total Westernisation’.
32 In the intellectual history of modern China, these scholars are associated with a critical though favourable approach to the study of Chinese tradition. Among the Xueheng scholars in Nanjing were Mei Guangdi 梅光迪 (1890–1945) and Wu Mi 吴宓 (1894–1978). Chen Yinke was sometimes associated with this group, as were Tang Yongtong 汤用彤 (1893–1964) and others.
38 Lin Zaiping 林宰平, ‘Du Ding Zaijun xiansheng de “Xuanxue yu kexue” ’ 讀丁在君先生的‘玄學與科學, in Kexue xuanxue lunzhanji (Shanghai: Yadong shuju, 1923), pp.201–40. See discussion in Gad C. Isay, The Philosophy of the View of Life in Modern Chinese Thought. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013), pp.85–86.
45 Qian Mu, ‘Zhongguo lishishangde jingji,’ p.2010. In 1966, Perry Link conducted field research on Chinese refugees in Hong Kong. He observed that ‘The first and foremost distinction refugees tend to draw is one between China, which they still call home base, and communism in China, which they tend to think of as foreign, unhomelike, and their main reason for leaving home’. Perry Link, ‘Refugees in Hong Kong,’ Papers on China 22B (Dec. 1969), p.5.
47 This characteristic of Qian’s thought is discussed in Yu Yingshi 余英時, ‘Qian Mu yu Xinrujia’ 錢穆與新儒家, in Youji Fengchui Shuishanglin: Qian Mu yu Xiandai Zhongguo Xueshu 猶記風吹水上鱗：錢穆與現代中國學術 (Taipei: Sanmin shuju, 1991), pp.31–37.
50 Qian discusses this as characteristic of both Chinese learning and Chinese civilisation as a whole. See Ch’ien Mu, ‘A Historical Perspective on Chu Hsi’s Learning,’ in ed. Wing-tsit Chan, trans. Richard Shek, Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1986), p.32. In his ‘Luelun Zhongguo zhexue (1)’ 略論中國哲學 (1983), Qian used terms such as gongtongxing共同性, yiguanxing 一貫性 and hehexing 和合性 to characterise Chinese thought. See his Xiandai Zhongguo xueshu lunheng 現代中國學術論衡 (Taipei: Sushulou wenjiao jijinhui, 2000), pp.24–25.
51 John Makeham translated the title as: ‘Declaration on Behalf of Chinese Culture Respectfully Announced to the People of the World’. In the second chapter of his New Confucianism he discusses the complications in the publication and authorship of this declaration. John Makeham, New Confucianism: A Critical Examination (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 27–29, esp. fn. 11. Here-after ‘Declaration’.
52 The Lu–Wang school refers to the tradition of Lu Xiangshan and Wang Yangming, who focused mainly on moral intuition. Among their more radical expressions one finds sentences such as ‘The universe is my mind,’ and ‘The innate knowledge of the good gives birth to Heaven and to Earth’.
54 Fan Shoukang 范壽康, Zhuzi jiqi zhexue 朱子及其哲學 (Taipei: Taiwan kaiming shudian, 1964); Tang Junyi 唐君毅, Zhongguo zhexue yuanlun 中國哲學源論 (Hong Kong, Rensheng chubanshe, 1965–68); Mou Zongsan 牟宗三, Xinti yu xingti 心體與性體 (Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, 1968).
59 The need to learn culture as well is discussed below. Compare to Vickers, ‘Colonialism and the Politics of ‘Chinese History,’ pp.8–9: ‘Qian’s conception of Chinese culture as the source of Chinese identity and the key to national revival …’.
60 Qian Mu, ‘Zhongguo wenhua yu guoyun,’ 1933–1935. In accordance with the argument in this essay about Qian’s quest for ‘Chinese’ self-affirmation, his usage of the term for ‘nation’ (minzu) is consistent with his understanding of the traditional Chinese role of the concept (discussed below) rather than imported renderings such as the Japanese neologism of minzoku with its racial and nationalist overtones, or the Soviet natsia, with its mode of production connotations. Thomas S. Mullaney. Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), pp.23, 11.
62 Sun Yat-sen’s ‘Three Principles of the People’ was, too, not exempt from Qian’s criticism. According to Qian, it took the best from the West but it also had its faults as it conditioned the people’s rights (minzhong zhuquan 民衆主權) on the existence and powers of their country (guojia 國家). See his, Zhongguo lishi jingshen, pp.2032–33.
71 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, ‘Philosophia as One of the Religious Traditions of Humankind,’ in ed. John W. Burbidge, Modern Culture From a Comparative Perspective (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997), Ch.3, p.31.
74 For an early view about the interconnectedness of government institutions and religious life in Chinese society, see C.K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society: A Study of Contemporary Social Functions of Religion and Some of Their Historical Factors (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), especially chapters 5 and 12. A more recent source is Anthony C. Yu, State and Religion in China (Chicago: Open Court, 2005). Adam Yuet Chau discusses the role of Chinese authorities in contemporary Chinese religious life in his ‘Introduction,’ in Chau, ed. Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), esp. pp.4–11. A recent review of related sources is Thomas Borchert, ‘Scratching the Surface of Religion and “Religion” in Contemporary China: Recent Anthologies about Chinese Religious Life in Reform Era People’s Republic of China,’ Religious Studies Review 38.3: 125–35.
77 Recently, Allen Chun attributed the ‘renaissance’ of traditional Chinese culture in Taiwan to a broader project by the Guomindang (Kuomintang) government to realise its vision of the modern state. See his ‘From Nationalism to Nationalizing: Cultural Imagination and State Formation in Postwar Taiwan,’ in eds Jonathan Unger and Geremie Barme, Chinese Nationalism (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), p.127. My study shows that this argument does not apply to Qian Mu’s scholarship.