Hu Shih (17 December 1891 — 24 February 1962), born Hu Hung-hsing (胡洪騂, Hu Hongxing), was a Chinese philosopher and essayist. His courtesy name was Shih-chih (適之, Shizhi). 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 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. 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 by heart attack in Nankang, Taipei at the age of 71. He was chief executive of the Free China Journal, which was eventually shut down for criticizing Chiang Kai-shek.
Hu Shih'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.
Unlike other figures of the Warlord Era in the Republic of China, Hu was a staunch supporter of just one main current of thought: pragmatism. Many of his writings used these ideas to advocate changes in China.
Hu was well known as the primary advocate for the literary revolution of the era, a movement which aimed to replace scholarly classical Chinese in writing with the vernacular spoken language, and to cultivate and stimulate new forms of literature. In an article originally published in New Youth in January 1917 titled "A Preliminary Discussion of Literature Reform", Hu originally emphasized eight guidelines that all Chinese writers should take to heart in writing:
In April of 1918, Hu published a second article in New Youth, this one titled "Constructive Literary Revolution - A Literature of National Speech". In it, he simplified the original eight points into just four:
- "Don't You Forget"
- (English translation of a poem by Hu, published in New Youth magazine, China 1915-1926, vol.5 no.3.)
- Over twenty years I taught you to love this country,
- But God tell me how!
- Don't you forget:
- It's our country's soldiers,
- That made your Aunt suicide in shame,
- And did the same to Ah Hsing,
- And to your wife,
- And shot Kao Sheng to death!
- Don't you forget:
- Who cut off your finger,
- Who beat your father to a mess like this!
- Who burned this village?
- Shit! The fire is coming!
- Go, for your own sake! Don't die with me!
- Don't you forget:
- Your dying father only wished this country occupied,
- By the Cossacks,
- Or the Prussians,
- Any life ever worse than -- this !?
- Original poem: "你莫忘記/你莫忘记"