III. THE CHINESE RENAISSANCE
THE RENAISSANCE" was the name given by a group of Peking University students to a new monthly magazine which they published in 1918. They were mature students well trained in the old cultural tradition of the country, and they readily recognized in the new movement then led by some of their professors a striking similarity to the Renaissance in Europe. Three prominent features in the movement reminded them of the European Renaissance. First, it was a conscious movement to promote a new literature in the living language of the people to take the place of the classical literature of old. Second, it was a movement of conscious protest against many of the ideas and institutions in the traditional culture, and of conscious emancipation of the individual man and woman from the bondage of the forces of tradition. It was a movement of reason versus tradition, freedom versus authority, and glorification of life and human values versus their suppression. And lastly, strange enough, this new movement was led by men who knew their cultural heritage and tried to study it with the new methodology of modern historical criticism and research. In that sense it was also a humanist movement. In all these directions the new movement which began in 1917 and which was sometimes called the "New Culture Movement," the "New Thought" movement or "The New Tide" was capturing the imagination and sympathy of the youth of the nation as something which promised and pointed to the new birth of an old people and an old civilization.
Historically, there had been many periods of Chinese Renaissance. The rise of the great poets in the T'ang Dynasty, the simultaneous movement for a new prose literature modeled after the style of the Classical period, and the development of Zen Buddhism as a Chinese reformation of that Indian religion-these represented the First Chinese Renaissance. The great reform movements in the eleventh century, the subsequent development of a powerful secular neo-Confucianist philosophy which gradually overshadowed and finally replaced the medieval religions -all these important developments of the Sung Dynasty may be regarded as the Second Renaissance. The rise of the dramas in the thirteenth century, and the rise of the great novels in a later period, together with their frank glorification of love and the joys of life, may be called the Third Renaissance. And lastly, the revolt in the seventeenth century against the rational philosophy of the Sung and Ming dynasties, and the development of a new technique in classical scholarship in the last three hundred years with its philological and historical approach and its strict emphasis on the importance of documentary evidence -these, too, may be called the Fourth Renaissance.
Each of these historical movements had its important role to play and contributed to the periodic renewals of vitality in an old civilization. But all these great movements which rightly deserve the term of "renaissances," suffered from one common defect, namely, the absence of a conscious recognition of their historical mission. There was no conscious effort nor articulate interpretation: all of them were natural developments of historical tendencies and were easily overpowered or swept away by the conservative force of tradition against which they had only dimly and unconsciously combated. Without this conscious element, the new movements remained natural processes of revolution, and never achieved the work of revolutions; they brought in new patterns, but never completely dethroned the old, which continued to co-exist with them and in time absorbed them. The Zen movement, for instance, practically replaced all the other schools of Buddhism; and yet, when Zen became the officially recognized orthodoxy, it lost its revolutionary character and resumed all the features against which its founders had explicitly revolted. The secular philosophy of neo-Confucianism was to replace the medieval religions, but it soon made itself a new religion embodying unwittingly many of the features of medievalism. The new critical scholarship of the last three centuries began as a revolt against, and ended as a refuge for, the fruitless philosophizing and the sterile literary education, both of which continued to dominate and enslave the vast majority of the literati. The new dramas and/he new novels came and went, but the Government continued to hold the literary examinations on the classics, and the men of letters continued to write their poetry and prose in the classical language.
The Renaissance movement of the last two decades differs from all the early movements in being a fully conscious and studied movement. Its leaders know what they want, and they know what they must destroy in order to achieve what they want. They want a new language, a new literature, a new outlook on life and society, and a new scholarship. They want a new language, not only as an effective instrumentality for popular education, but also as the effective medium for the development of the literature of a new China. They want a literature that shall be written in the living tongue of a living people and shall be capable of expressing the real feelings, thoughts, inspirations, and aspirations of a growing nation. They want to instil into the people a new outlook on life which shall free them from the shackles of tradition and make them feel at home in the new world and its new civilization. They want a new scholarship which shall not only enable us to understand intelligently the cultural heritage of the past, but also prepare us for active participation in the work of research in the modern sciences. This, as I understand it, is the mission of the Chinese Renaissance.
The conscious element in this movement is the result of long contact with the people and civilization of the West. It is only through contact and comparison that the relative value or worthlessness of the various cultural elements can be clearly and critically seen and understood. What is sacred among one people may be ridiculous in another; and what is despised or rejected by one cultural group, may in a different environment become the cornerstone for a great edifice of strange grandeur and beauty. For ten long centuries, by a peculiar perversion of aesthetic appreciation, the bound feet of Chinese women were regarded as beautiful; but it took only a few decades of contact with foreign peoples and ideas to make the Chinese people see the ugliness and inhumanity of this institution. On the other hand, the novels which were read by the millions of Chinese but which were always despised by the Chinese literati, have in recent decades been elevated to the position of respectable literature, chiefly through the influence of the European literature. Contact with strange civilizations brings new standards of value with which the native culture is re-examined and re-evaluated, and conscious reformation and regeneration are the natural outcome of such transvaluation of values. Without the benefit of an intimate contact with the civilization of the West, there could not be the Chinese Renaissance.
In this lecture I propose to tell the story of one phase of this Renaissance as a case study of the peculiar manner of cultural response in which important changes in Chinese life and institutions have been brought about. This phase is sometimes known as the Literary Renaissance or Revolution.
Let me first state the problem for which the literary revolution offers the solution. The problem was first seen by all early reformers as the problem of finding a suitable language which could serve as an effective means of educating the vast millions of children and of illiterate adults. They admitted that the classical language which was difficult to write and to learn, and for thousands of years incapable of being spoken or verbally understood-was not suited for the education of children and the masses. But they never thought of giving up the classical language, in which was written and preserved all the cultural tradition of the race. Moreover, the classical language was the only linguistic medium for written communication between the various regions with different dialects, just as Latin was the universal medium of communication and publication for the whole of medieval Europe. For these reasons the language of the classics must be taught, and was taught, in the schools throughout the country. All the school texts, from the primary grades to the university, were written in this dead language; and teaching in the primary schools consisted chiefly in reading and memorizing the texts which had to be explained, word for word, in the local dialects of the pupils. When European literature began to be translated into Chinese, the translations were all in this classical language; and it was a tremendous task and exceedingly amusing to read the comic figures in the novels of Charles Dickens talking in the dead language of two thousand years ago!
There was much serious talk about devising an alphabet for transcribing Chinese sounds and for publishing useful information for the enlightenment of the masses. The Christian missionaries had devised a number of alphabets for translating the Bible into the local dialects for the benefit of illiterate men and women. Some Chinese scholars also worked out several alphabetical systems for the mandarin dialect, and publicly preached their adoption for the education of illiterate adults. Other scholars advocated the use of the pei-hua [baihua; literal: "white speech"], that is, the spoken tongue of the people, for publishing periodicals and newspapers in order to inculcate useful information and patriotic ideas in the people who could not read the literary language of the scholars.
But these scholar-reformers all agreed that such expedient measures as the use of the vulgar tongue or the adoption of an alphabet were only necessary for those adults who had had no chance to go to the regular schools. They never for a moment would consider the idea that these expedients should be so universally used as to replace the classical language altogether. The pei-hua was the vulgar jargon of the people, good enough only for the cheap novels, but certainly not good enough for the scholars. As to the alphabet, it was only intended for the illiterates. For, they argued, if the pupils in the schools were taught to read and write an alphabetical language, how could they ever hope to acquire a knowledge of the moral and cultural heritage of the past?
All such attempts of reform were bound to fail, because nobody wanted to learn a language which was despised by those who advocated it, which had no more use than the reading of a few cheap magazines and pamphlets that the reformers were kind enough to condescend to publish for the benefit of the ignorant and the lowly. Moreover, it was impossible for these reformers to keep up enough enthusiasm to continue writing and publishing in a language which they themselves considered to be beneath their dignity and intelligence to employ as their own literary medium. So the pei-hua magazines were always short-lived and never reached the people; and the alphabetical systems remained the fads of a few reformers. The schools continued to teach the language of the classics which had been dead over two thousand years; the newspapers continued to be written and printed in it; and the scholars and authors continued to produce their books and essays and poems in it. The language problem remained unsolved and insoluble.
The solution of this problem came from the dormitories in the American universities. In the year 1915 a series of trivial incidents led some Chinese students in Cornell University to take up the question of reforming the Chinese language. My classmate, Mr. Chao Yuen-ren, and I prepared a series of articles on this question. He took the position that it was possible to alphabetize the Chinese language; and he proposed certain details of procedure and answered all possible arguments against alphabetization. I took the position that, while an alphabetized language might be the ultimate goal, it was necessary to consider intermediate steps to make the ideographical characters more teachable in the elementary schools, and I also proposed certain methods of reform. These articles were read in English and published in the Chinese Students' Monthly. They attracted no comment and were soon forgotten.
But other disputes arose among some of my literary friends in the United States and led me to give more thought to the problem of Chinese language and literature. The original dispute was one of poetic diction; and a great many letters were exchanged between Ithaca, New York City, Cambridge, Poughkeepsie, and Washington, D.C. From an interest in the minor problem of poetic diction I was led to see that the problem was really one of a suitable medium for all branches of Chinese literature. The question now became: In what language shall the New China produce its future literature? My answer was: The classical language, so long dead, can never be the medium of a living literature of a living nation; the future literature of China must be written in the living language of the people. "No dead language can produce a living literature." And the living language I proposed as the only possible medium of the future literature of China, was the pei-hua, the vulgar tongue of the vast majority of the population, the language which, in the last 500 years, had produced the numerous novels read and loved by the people, though despised by the men of letters. I wanted this much despised vulgar tongue of the people and the novels to be elevated to the position of the national language of China, to the position enjoyed by all the modern national languages in Europe.
With the exception of a Chinese girl student in Vassar College, all my literary friends in the American universities were opposed to this outrageous theory of mine. They had to admit that the spoken tongue of the people was good enough for the popular novels, for that had been clearly demonstrated by the great novels of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. But they all maintained that the vulgar language of the people, which had never been polished and refined by the great writers and poets of the nation, could not be used as the medium of poetry. I defended my position by pointing out that, throughout the history of Chinese poetry, all the best remembered verses of the great poets were written in the simplest language which, if not strictly the living tongue of the people, must be very close to the living speech of the time. In spite of the copious examples I cited to prove my thesis, my friends were not convinced, for it must be admitted the poets of the past never consciously wrote in the plain language of the people; they only slipped into it unwittingly and only on rare occasions of true poetic inspiration. The greatest bulk of Chinese poetry was composed in strictly conservative, highly polished, literary diction.
Being a pragmatist in philosophy, I proposed to my friends to experiment with the pei-hua in writing my own poetry. On July 26, 1916, I announced to all my friends in America that from now on I resolved to write no more poems in the classical language, and to begin my experiments in writing poetry in the so-called vulgar tongue of the people. Before a half-dozen poems were written, I had already found a title for my new volume of poetry: it was to be called A Book of Experiments.
In the meantime, I began to study the history of our literature with a new interest and with a new methodology. I tried to study it from the evolutionary standpoint and, to my great surprise and unlimited joy, the historical development of Chinese literature presented to me a continuous though entirely unconscious movement of struggle against the despotic limitations of the classical tradition, a continuous tendency to produce a literature in the living language of the people. I found that the history of Chinese literature consisted of two parallel movements: there was the classical literature of the scholars, the men of letters, the poets of the imperial courts, and of the elite; but there was in every age an undercurrent of literary development among the common people which produced the folk songs of love and heroism, the songs of the dancer, the epic stories of the street reciter, the drama of the village theater, and, most important of all, the novels. I found that every new form, every innovation in literature, had come never from the imitative classical writers of the upper classes, but always from the unlettered class of the countryside, the village inn, and the market-place. I found that it was always these new forms and patterns of the common people that, from time to time, furnished the new blood and fresh vigor to the literature of the literati, and rescued it from the perpetual danger of fossilization. All the great periods of Chinese literature were those when the master minds of the age were attracted by these new literary forms of the people and produced their best works, not only in the new patterns, but in close imitation of the fresh and simple language of the people. And such great epochs died away only when those new forms from the people had again become fixed and fossilized through long periods of slavish imitation by the uncreative literati.
In short, I found the true history of Chinese literature to consist in a series of revolutions, the initiative always coming from the untutored but unfettered people, the influence and inspiration often being felt by the great masters in the upper classes, and the result always bringing about new epochs of literary development. It was the anonymous folk songs of antiquity that formed the bulk of the great Book of Poetry and created the first epoch of Chinese literature. It was again the anonymous folk songs of the people that gave the form and the inspiration in the developments of the new poetry in the Three Kingdoms and later in the T'ang Dynasty. It was the songs of the dancing and singing girls that began the new era of TV? or songs in the Sung Dynasty. It was the people that first produced the plays which led to the great dramas of the Mongol period and the Mings. It was the street reciters of epic stories that gave rise to the great novels some of which have been best sellers for three or four centuries. And all these new epochs have originated in new forms of literature produced by the common people, and in the living language of the people.
So my argument for a new national literature in the spoken language of the people was strengthened and supported by a wealth of undeniable facts of history. To recognize the pei-hua as the national medium of Chinese literature was merely to bring into logical and natural culmination a historical tendency which had been many times thwarted, diverted, and suppressed by the heavy weight of the prestige of the classical tradition.
This line of historical thinking was embodied in an article which I published on the first day of the year 1917 under the modest title, "Some Tentative Suggestions for the Reform of Chinese Literature." It appeared simultaneously in the Quarterly published by the Chinese students in America, and in a new liberal monthly called The Youth, edited by Mr. Ch'en Tu-shiu, one of the old members of the revolutionary movement, who years later became the founder of the Chinese Communist Party., To my great surprise, what had failed to convince my friends in the American universities was received with sympathetic response in China. Mr. Ch'en Tu-shiu followed my article with one of his own, under the very bold title "On a Revolution in Chinese Literature." In this article, he said:
These articles were followed by my other essays, one "On the Historico-evolutionary Conception of Literature," and another on "A Constructive Revolution in Chinese Literature." They aroused a great deal of discussion. The revolution was in full swing when I returned to China in the summer of 1917.
What surprised me most was the weakness and utter poverty of the opposition. I had anticipated a formidable opposition and a long struggle, which, I was confident, would ultimately end in our success in about 20 years. But we met with no strong argument; my historical arguments were never answered by any defender of the cause of the classical literature. The leader of the opposition was Mr. Lin Shu, who, without knowing a word of any European language, had translated 150 or more English and European novels into the language of the classics.1 But he could not put forth any argument. In one of his articles, he said: "I know the classical language must not be discarded; but I cannot tell why"!! These blind forces of reaction could only resort to the method of persecution by the government. They attacked the private life of my friend and colleague, Mr. Ch'en Tu-shiu, who was then Dean of the College of Letters in the National University of Peking; and the outside pressure was such that he had to resign from the University in 1919. But such persecutions gave us a great deal of free advertising, and the Peking University began to be looked upon by the youth of the whole nation as the center of a new enlightenment.
Then an unexpected event occurred which suddenly carried the literary movement to a rapid success. The Peace Conference in Paris had just decided to sacrifice China's claims and give to Japan the freedom to dispose of the former German possessions in the province of Shantung. When the news reached China, the students in Peking, under the leadership of the students of the Peking University, held a mass meeting of protest and, in their demonstration parade, broke into the house of a pro-Japanese minister, set fire to the house, and beat the Chinese minister to Tokyo almost to death. The government arrested a number of the students, but public sentiment ran so high that the whole nation seemed on the side of the university students and against the notoriously pro-Japanese Government. The merchants in Shanghai and other cities closed their shops as a protest against the peace negotiations and against the government. The Chinese Delegation at the Paris Conference was warned by public bodies not to sign the treaty; and they obeyed. The government was forced by this strong demonstration of national sentiment to release the students and to dismiss from office three well-known pro-Japanese ministers. The struggle began on May 4, and lasted till the final surrender of the government in the first part of June. It has been called the "May Fourth Movement."
In this political struggle, the Peking University suddenly rose to the position of national leadership in the eyes of the students. The literary and intellectual movements led by some of the professors and students of the university, which had for the last yew years been slowly felt among the youths of nation, were now openly acknowledged by them as new and welcome forces for a national emancipation. During the years 1919-20, there appeared about 400 small periodicals, almost all of them published by the students in the different localities-some printed from metal types, some in mimeographs, and others on lithographs- and all of them published in the spoken language of the people-the literary medium which the Peking University professors had advocated. All of a sudden, the revolution in literature had spread throughout the country, and the youths of the nation were finding in the new literary medium an effective means of expression. Everybody seemed to be rushing to express himself in this language which he could understand and in which he could make himself understood. In the course of a few years, the literary revolution had succeeded in giving to the people a national language, and had brought about a new age of literary expression.
The political parties soon saw the utility of this new linguistic instrument, and adopted it for their weeklies and monthlies. The publishing houses, which at first hesitated to accept books written in the vulgar language, soon found them to sell far better than those in the classical style, and became enthusiastic over the new movement. Many new small book companies sprang up and published nothing but books and periodicals written in the national language. By 1919 and 1920 the vulgar tongue of the people had assumed the more respectable name of the "National Language of China." And in 1920 the Ministry of Education-in a reactionary government-reluctantly proclaimed an order that, from the fall of the next year, the textbooks for the first two grades in the primary schools were to be written in the national language. In 1922 all the elementary and secondary textbooks were ordered to be rewritten in the national language.
Thus the problem of a new language for education, which had puzzled the last generation, was automatically solved by starting from a different angle of attack. The advocates of a revolution in literature had indirectly solved the problem of finding a suitable medium of education. For, as I have said before, no one wishes to learn a language which the men of letters are ashamed to use in producing their own poetry and prose. When I first returned to Peking in 1917, I tried to convince the leaders of an association for the unification of the national language that no language is fit for the schools which is not fit for the poets and prose writers; and that the language of the schools must of necessity be the language of literature. When these leaders raised the question of standardizing the national language, I told them that it was quite unnecessary. The poets, the novelists, the great prose masters, and the dramatists are the real standardizers of languages. In my article on "A Constructive Revolution in Chinese Literature," I pointed out that
. . . . when we have a literature written in a national language, then, but not until then, shall we have a national language of literary worth. Therefore, the first step is to produce in the national language as much good literature as possible. The day when novels, poems, dramas, and essays written in the national language are widely circulated in the country is the day when a truly worthy national language is finally established. Those of us who can write prose in the pei-hua at all have not learned it from textbooks or dictionaries, but have acquired its use through our early reading of the great novels written in it. Those great novels which we all loved in our boyhood days have been our most effective teachers in the use of the pei-hua; and the pei-hua used in the new poetry and prose of the future will be the standard national language of the China of the future.In this prediction I was vindicated sooner than I had expected. The nation did not wait for the literature of the future to create a standard national language. It was already there, already standardized in its written form, in syntax, in diction, all by the few great novels which have gone to the heart and bosom of every man. When the call came for young writers to express themselves in a living tongue, they suddenly found, to their happy surprise, that they were already in possession of an effective literary medium which was so easy and so simple that they had acquired it without ever having been taught it and without even knowing it!
In order to understand the causes of such a remarkably rapid success in the literary revolution, in establishing the living national language in place of the classical language as the recognized medium of education and of literature, we must first analyze the qualifications which a national language ought to possess. The history of all the modern national languages of the European nations has revealed that a national language is always a dialect which, in the first place, must be the most widely spoken and most generally understood of all the dialects of the country; and which, second, must have produced a fairly large amount of literature so that its form is more or less standardized and its spread can be assisted by the popularity of the literary masterpieces. The Italian language began as the Tuscan dialect which was not only the most widely known but also the medium in which Dante and Boccaccio and other masters produced their new literature. Modern French began as the French of Paris which was fast becoming the official language of France. In the sixteenth century Francis I ordered all public documents to be written in the French of Paris, and it was in the same language that the poets known as the Pleiade consciously wrote their poetry, and Rabelais and Montaigne wrote their prose works. The same is true of the national languages of Germany and England. Modern English began as the Midland dialect which, being the language of London and the two universities, was the most widely understood dialect of the land, and which was the medium in which Wycliffe translated the Bible, Chaucer wrote his poetic tales, and the dramatists of the pre-Elizabethan and the Elizabethan eras produced their dramas. It will be easily seen that the national language of China possesses both of these qualifications. In the first place, the mandarin dialects which form the basis of the national language are undoubtedly the most widely spoken dialects of the country, being spoken from Harbin in the northeast to the provinces of Yunnan, Kweichow, and Szechuan in the southwest, covering more than 90 per cent of the territory of China proper and Manchuria. The people from any part of this vast territory can travel to any other part without ever feeling the need of changing their dialect. There are, of course, local variations; but it is a real fact of national importance that students from Yunnan and Kweichow and Szechuan can travel thousands of miles to study in Peking and find, on arriving there, that their dialects are regarded as the most generally understood dialects of the country.
Second, the mandarin dialects have been the most popular vehicle for the literature of the people during the last 500 years of its continuous development. All the folk songs of these provinces are composed in these dialects. The popular novels were all written in them: the earlier novels were written in the popular language of the north and of the middle Yangtze Valley, some in the dialect of Shantung, and the more recent ones such as the famous Dream of the Red Chamber in the pure dialect of Peking. All these great novels have been most widely read by almost everybody who can read at all; even the literati who pretended to condemn them as vulgar and cheap know them well through reading them stealthily in their boyhood days. They have been the greatest standardizes and the most effective popularizers of the national language, not merely within the region of the mandarin dialects, but far into the heart of the regions where the old dialects still reign. I, for example, came from the mountains of southern Anhwei where the people speak some of the most difficult dialects, and yet I read and immensely enjoyed many of those novels long before I left my ancestral home. It was from these novels that I learned to write prose in the pei-hua when I was only 15 years old. The hundreds of young authors who have come into literary prominence in the last 15 years have mostly learned their art and form of writing through the same channel.
The question has often been asked, Why did it take so long for this living language of such wide currency and with such a rich output in literature to receive due recognition as the most fitting instrumentality for education and for literary composition? Why couldn't it replace the dead classical language long before the present revolution in Chinese literature? Why was the spoken language so long despised by the literary class?
The explanation is simple. The authority of the language of the classics was truly too great to be easily overcome in the days of the Empire. This authority became almost invincible when it was enforced by the power of a long united empire and reinforced by the universal system of state examinations under which the only channel of civil advancement for any man was through the mastery of the classical language and literature. The rise of the national languages in modern Europe was greatly facilitated by the absence of a united empire and of a universal system of classical examination. Yet the two great churches in Rome and in East Europe-the shadowy counterparts of the Roman Empire-with their rigid requirements for advancement in clerical life, have been able to maintain the use of two dead classical languages throughout these many centuries. It is therefore no mere accident that the revolution in Chinese literature came ten years after the abolition of the literary examinations in 1905, and several years after the political revolution of 1911-12.
Moreover, there was lacking in the historical development of the living literature in China the very important element of conscious and articulate movement without which the authority of the classical tradition could not be challenged. There were a number of writers who were attracted by the irresistible power and beauty of the literature of lowly and untutored peasants and dancing girls and street reciters, and who were tempted to produce their best works in the form and the language of the literature of the people. But they were so ashamed of what they had done that many of the earlier novelists published their works anonymously or under strange noms de plume. There was no clear and conscious recognition that the classical language was long dead and must be replaced by the living tongue of the people. Without such articulate challenges the living language and literature of the people never dared to hope that they might some day usurp the high position occupied by the classical literature.
The greatest contribution of the recent literary revolution was to supply this missing factor of conscious attack on the old tradition and of articulate advocacy of the new. The death knell of the classical language was sounded when it was historically established that it had died at least two thousand years ago. And the ascendancy of the language and literature of the people was practically assured when, through contact and comparison with the literature of the West, the value and beauty of the despised novels and dramas were warmly appreciated by the intellectuals of the nation. Once the table of values was turned upside down, once the vulgar language was consciously demonstrated to be the best qualified candidate for the honor of the national language of China, the success of the revolution was beyond doubt. The time had been ripe for the change. The common sense of the people, the songs and tales of numberless and nameless men and women, have been for centuries unconsciously but steadily preparing for this change. All unconscious processes of evolution are of necessity very slow and wasteful. As soon as these processes are made conscious and articulate, intelligent guidance and experimentation become possible, and the work of many centuries may be telescoped into the brief period of a few years.
 This was done by an assistant who verbally translated the original text into spoken Chinese which Mr. Lin re-translated into the classical language.
 The story of the Literary Renaissance in China is vividly told in Dr. Tsi C. Wang's The Youth Movement in China (New York: New Republic Press, 1917).