In Search of Wealth and Power: Yen Fu and the West
Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance
Ting Wen-chiang: Science and China’s New Culture
Kuo Mo-jo: The Early Years
Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Volume 1: Ai-Ch’u
Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Volume 2: Dalai-Ma
Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Volume 3: Mao-Wu
Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Volume 4: Yang-Bibliography
Ku Chieh-kang and China’s New History: Nationalism and the Quest for Alternative Traditions
Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921-1965
Who’s Who in Communist China
Written Chinese is extremely difficult. Before the revolutions of the twentieth century, the literary language was a barrier protecting the Confucian elite. Anyone who could jump over that barrier by passing the official examinations immediately joined the ruling class. The strengths of written Chinese were its huge vocabulary and its enormous number of references and allusions. These could be mastered only by years of grinding study for which of course the poor had no facilities or leisure—though, as in America, the myth of equal opportunity was maintained by stressing a few extraordinary cases of poor boys reaching the top.
During the twentieth century radical intellectuals became aware of the stultifying and socially divisive effects of classical education. They deliberately tried to establish pai-hua, a demotic written language close to ordinary speech and accessible to all, through which they hoped to mobilize the people to strengthen China against foreign imperialism. However, the idea that good style consists of abstruse allusions has died extremely hard. The writer Lu Hsün, who devoted his life to rousing Chinese workers and peasants, is generally acknowledged to be the best writer in pai-hua. Even so his work is full of esoteric references which make his convoluted sentences difficult for many Chinese. Mao’s poetry is known to be traditional and refined; but much of his prose also contains classical images and phrases. Familiarity has made his writing easier to read and his style has influenced the spoken language.
The growing closeness of speech to writing makes it considerably easier to read works published after 1949. Nevertheless the esoteric tradition still flourishes. The Cultural Revolution began with an attack on a series of plays and articles written by a leading scholar, Wu Han, on an official in the Ming Dynasty called Hai Jui. In them Hai Jui was supposed to have championed the peasants against oppressive authority. Insiders knew that Hai Jui stood for P’eng Te-huai, the Minister of Defense who was dismissed in 1959 partly because he had criticized the Great Leap Forward. In 1950 Wu Han had talked with Mao Tse-tung about his position and that of other intellectuals under the new regime largely by referring to the career of a fourteenth-century Taoist monk.
To this esoteric tradition has been added the Soviet practice of indicating policies and positions in the hierarchy by subtle linguistic devices, the inclusion or omission of adjectives or the different ordering of formulae. This practice has been grafted easily onto another part of the esoteric tradition known as “praise and blame.” Confucius and later writers used this tradition to show approval or disapproval of historical figures by the way in which their names and titles were given. Thus in China today there is the paradox that articles and stories are written as simply as possible to reach and rouse the people, while at the same time the language of political infighting is deliberately allusive in order to keep the uninitiate from understanding it.
These are problems of communication …