Hu Shi - Father of the Chinese Renaissance
Hu Shi (17 December 1891 — 24 February 1962), born Hu Hung-hsing, was a Chinese philosopher and essayist. His courtesy name was Shih-chih. Hu is widely recognized today as a key contributor to Chinese liberalism and language reform in his advocacy for the use of vernacular Chinese. He was also an influential Redology scholar.
Hu was born in Anhui to Hu Chuan and Feng Shundi. His ancestors were from Jixi, Anhui. In January 1904, his family established an arranged marriage for Hu with Chiang Tung-hsiu, an illiterate girl with bound feet who was one year older than he was. The marriage took place in December 1917. Hu received his fundamental education in Jixi and Shanghai.
Hu became a "national scholar" through funds appropriated from the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program. On 16 August 1910, he was sent to study agriculture at Cornell University in the United States. In 1912 he changed his major to philosophy and literature. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he went to Columbia University to study philosophy. At Columbia he was greatly influenced by his professor, John Dewey, and Hu became Dewey's translator and a lifelong advocate of pragmatic evolutionary change, helping Dewey in his 1919-1921 lectures series in China. He returned to lecture in Peking University. During his tenure there, he received support from Chen Duxiu, editor of the influential journal New Youth, quickly gaining much attention and influence. Hu soon became one of the leading and influential intellectuals during the May Fourth Movement and later the New Culture Movement.
He quit New Youth in the 1920s and published several political newspapers and journals with his friends. His most important contribution was the promotion of vernacular Chinese in literature to replace Classical Chinese, which ideally made it easier for the ordinary person to read. The significance of this for Chinese culture was great—as John Fairbank put it, "the tyranny of the classics had been broken".
Hu was the Republic of China's ambassador to the United States of America between 1938 and 1942. He was recalled in September 1942 and was replaced by Wei Tao-ming, who had previously represented the ROC in Vichy France. Hu then served as chancellor of Peking University between 1946 and 1948, and later (1958) president of the Academia Sinica in Taipei, where he remained until his death. He was also chief executive of the Free China Journal, which was eventually shut down for criticizing Chiang Kai-shek. He died of heart attack in Nankang, Taipei at the age of 71, and is buried in a tomb in Hu Shih Park, by the Academia Sinica campus.
Hu Shi's work fell into disrepute in mainland China until a 1986 article, written by Ji Xianlin, "A Few Words for Hu Shi", advocated acknowledging not only Hu Shih's mistakes, but also his contributions to modern Chinese literature. His article was sufficiently convincing to many scholars that it caused a re-evaluation of the development of modern Chinese literature and the role of Hu Shi.