Doctor of Laws
The following notes are compiled with the help of members of the Department of Chinese, and include also the main points emphasized by writers in the local press after the passing of a unique figure among the makers of modern China, and one of the great men of all time.
Born in 1891 and bred in the classical tradition of Chinese scholarship, Dr. Hu Shih at an early age became absorbed in the new ideas and new knowledge lately introduced into China from the west. Being awarded a Chinese Government scholarship through competition at the age of seventeen he was admitted to Cornell University first as a student of Agriculture, then of Arts. In 1915 he commenced his post-graduate work at Columbia University, where he met and came under the influence of Dr. John Dewey, whose pragrnatist philosophy dominated his thought for the rest of his life. In 1917 he was awarded the Doctorate of Philosophy by Columbia University, the title of his thesis being "The development of the logical method in China", which he later expanded and rewrote in Chinese as the first volume of An Outline of the History of Chinese Philosophy, a work which though written so early in his career pointed to a new direction for scholarship in the field of Chinese philosophy, as his "Suggestions for literary reform", which appeared at the same time in the most popular monthly journal in China, Hsin Ch'ing Nien, pointed to a new direction for scholarship in the field of Chinese literature. The reception of these two works led to his appointment to the Department of Philosophy at the National Peking University in 1918 at the age of 26, the youngest and most popular professor at the highest academic institution in China.
At the National Peking University ideas of all kinds, conservative and radical, met. A strong advocate of modernization and wester-nization, Hu Shih took his stand with Ch'en Tu-hsiu and Ch'ien Hsuan-t'ung in their fight against the obstructing influence of the old traditions, and in their attempt to formulate a new culture for China on modern lines. Thus the Literary Reform Movement 1917-1919, in which Hu Shih played a predominant part, was born.
After an interlude of some eight years in Shanghai, during which he became a professor at Kuang Hua University, and President of the China College, and an editor of the popular magazine Hsin Yueh, he returned to Peking in 1930 as Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the National University of Peking and held this post until the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. From 1938 to 1942 he served his country as Chinese Ambassador to the United States, and at the close of the war in 1945 he was appointed Chancellor of the National Peking University. Leaving Peking in 1948 on the eve of the fall of the city to the communists, he returned to America until 1948 when he was appointed President of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, holding this post till the time of his death.
Throughout his life Dr. Hu was greatly respected at home and abroad. He was invited by many universities and other institutions of higher learning as visiting professor and honorary adviser, and was awarded a number of honorary degrees, including the Degree of Doctor of Laws in 1935 of our own University of Hong Kong. It was, in turn, Dr. Hu Shih who recommended to this University, Pro-fessor Hsu Ti-shan as its first Professor of Chinese. Dr. Hu Shih was responsible for the invitation to Dr. John Dewey to give a series of lectures in China, which was followed later by invitations to other famous scholars such as Bertrand Russell and Rabindranath Tagore.
Of his numerous literary works two have already been mentioned; it will suffice to add here his articles on "The Chinese Renaissance"; his poems in colloquial style; his History of Chinese Literature; his critical study and annotated text of the Dream of the Red Chamber, and his attempt to establish the original text of the Shui-Ching Chu, as examples of the application of the new histori-cal-scientific approach to traditional texts.
In China, Hu Shih will be remembered not only as a thinker, an educationist, and a scholar, but also as a pioneer in many fields: he was the first to advocate the adoption ci the colloquial Chinese style for literary and scholarly purposes. He was the first to apply western scientific methods to the study of Chinese traditional literature. While encouraging scholars to be hold in hypothesizing he cautioned them against hasty conclusions, and always insisted, on substantiating theories with definite evidence. Throughout his life he stood for freedom of thought, followed the dictates of reason, and maintained human dignity. He preached political freedom and democracy from an independent and non-partisan angle. He often criticized the Govern-ment in a constructive spirit but always supported it during national crises. It was to enhance Chinese prestige abroad that he served during the war as Chinese Ambassador to the United. States. Apart from this, Dr. Hu Shih never left the post or a scholar. Frorn 1918 when he first taught at Peking University until his death on February 24, 1962, as President of the Academia Sinica, he devoted himself entirely to teaching, writing, and research, More than once he declined offers of public office including that of the Premier-ship. He showed the same independence and spirit of truth-seeking in appraising both occidental and oriental civilizations. It was his intellectual honesty and moral courage in admitting drawbacks in Chinese culture that aroused over the past few years criticisms among his compatriots even in Taiwan. All the more, however, does the unbiased observer admire him.
Dr. Hu Shin was one of the great scholars of his time, original in thought and method, consistent in theory and action, embodying in a unique degree me wisdom both of east and west.