Book Excerpt from From Rural China to the Ivy League by Yü Ying-shih (Chapter 1)

Professor Yü Ying-shih

In his book From Rural China to the Ivy League: Reminiscences of Transformations in Modern Chinese History, published just a month after he passed away, Professor Yü Ying-shih recalls his childhood in China, showing how his love of learning and his exposure to the harsh realities of life both came early. The following is an excerpt from chapter 1 “Rural Life in Qianshan County, Anhui Province”:

I lived in the countryside for nine years, and there are many things that I recall. For now I will relate two unusual experiences. The first is the traditional-style private school (sishu 私塾). There were no modern elementary schools in the countryside, and so before the age of twelve I could only attend a traditional-style private school. After I turned twelve, I went to neighboring counties like Shucheng and Tongcheng to attend junior middle school. In the private school, one teacher taught ten to twenty students; all we read were traditional texts divided into three levels: primary, intermediate, and advanced. […]

The other encounter that I most vividly remember from my nine years in the countryside is the time I unintentionally precipitated a serious “literary disaster” and was almost executed because of it. My memory of this event, after sixty or seventy years, had already become pretty foggy, but when a Hong Kong TV station aired a documentary film about me (in January 2008), it brought the whole incident back to my mind. The late Hong Kong director Weng Zhiyu (1968–2015) spared no effort in making this film. He took his camera crew on a special trip to Guanzhuang in Qianshan to interview relatives, clan members, and neighbors from my early years. I had been away from the countryside for more than sixty years, and there was no one left who was truly familiar with me. Nevertheless, there were still some people who remembered when I ran into this serious “literary disaster” at the age of thirteen or fourteen. When Mr. Weng returned, he told me what he had learned from those interviews and this helped me recall the incident.

During the eight-year Anti-Japanese War of Resistance, Anhui Province became part of the Gui or Guangxi clique’s power base; Provincial Governor Li Pinxian (1892–1987) was a subordinate of Li Zongren (1890–1963), and Guangxi military units occupied various Anhui counties. Around 1943, a battalion of Guangxi clique army troops were stationed in Guanzhuang in Qianshan. The battalion commander Du Jinting was likely involved in much bribery, corruption, abuse of the law, and bullying of the country people, who consequently seethed with discontent. I was then just about thirteen years old. I had never seen Commander Du and had never personally seen him breaking the law or committing crimes, but I had heard the village elders tell many stories, all of which were concrete and detailed, and so I felt very angry and indignant. I don’t know what happened, but I suddenly decided to write a long letter to the government denouncing Commander Du for his many crimes.

About the Author

Yü Ying-shih (1930–2021) was Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton University and arguably the premiere historian of Chinese social and intellectual history of the classical period. Awarded the John W. Kluge Prize for achievement in the Study of Humanity and the inaugural Tang Prize International Award in Sinology, he published more than thirty books and five hundred articles and essays on Chinese history, thought, politics, and culture. His most recent works include Lun tian ren zhi ji (Between heaven and the human: An exploration of the origin of ancient chinese thought; 2014), Zhu Xi de lishi shijie (The historical world of Zhu Xi: A study of the political culture of Song intellectuals; 2003, 2011), Shi yu Zhongguo wenhua (Chinese intellectuals and chinese culture; 2003, 2010, and 2013), and thirty-three of his English-language essays are published in Chinese History and Culture Volume 1: Sixth Century B.C.E. to Seventeenth Century C.E. and Volume 2: Seventeenth Through Twentieth Century (Columbia University Press, 2016), with the editorial assistance of Josephine Chiu-Duke and Michael S. Duke.

About the Translators

Josephine Chiu-Duke is Professor of Chinese Intellectual History in the Asian Studies Department at the University of British Columbia.

Michael S. Duke is Professor Emeritus of Chinese and Comparative Literature from the Asian Studies Department at the University of British Columbia.

Table of Contents

  • List of Images
  • Translators’ Note
  • Preface: From “Interviews” to “Memoir”
  • Chapter 1. Rural Life in Qianshan County Anhui Province
  • —Part One: Nine Years in Qianshan
  • —Part Two: A Literary Disaster
  • —Part Three: the Nature of the May Fourth Movement
  • Chapter 2. Communism and the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance
  • —Part One: How I Learned to Understand Communism
  • —Part Two: Background of the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance
  • Chapter 3. Northeast Zhongzheng University and Yanjing University
  • —Part One: Studying in Northeast Zhongzheng University
  • —Part Two: Living at Leisure in Beiping
  • —Part Three: In Shanghai 1948 to 1949
  • —Part Four: Things Seen and Heard at Yanjing University
  • —Part Five: Scholars of Yanjing University
  • —Part Six: Experiences with the New Democracy Youth Corps
  • Chapter 4. Hong Kong and the New Asia College
  • —Part One: Transferring to the New Asia College
  • —On First Becoming Qian Mu’s Disciple
  • —Tang Junyi and the Rise of New Confucianism
  • —Part Two: Seeking Knowledge Off Campus
  • —Part Three: Political and Cultural Development of a Liberal Intellectual
  • —Part Four: Hong Kong Popular Anti-Communist Publications
  • Humanity and Freedom Front Weekly
  • —The Youlian Publishing Group and its Founders
  • —The Scope and Influence of the Youlian Publishing Group
  • —The Unique Impact of the Motherland Weekly
  • —Epilogue
  • Chapter Five. Harvard University Years
  • —Part One: On First Visiting Harvard
  • —Reception by Harvard-Yenching Institute
  • —Xing Muhuan: Like An Old Friend at First Meeting
  • —Looking Back on a Year of “Visiting Scholar” Work
  • —Seeking Advice from Professor Yang Liansheng
  • —Auditing Three Classes
  • —Talcott Parsons’ “Social Systems”
  • —Crane Brinton’s “Recent European Intellectual History”
  • —Myron P. Gilmore’s “Renaissance and Reformation”
  • —Part Two: Studying for the Doctorate
  • —Ronald Syme’s “History of Rome”
  • —Morton White’s Philosophy of History
  • —Carl Friedrich’s “History of Ancient Western Political Thought”
  • —John King Fairbank’s Research Seminar
  • —Studying Japanese
  • —Following Gilmore and Reading the Renaissance
  • —Ph.D. Dissertation
  • Part Three: Historical Development of Chinese Humanities Scholars at Harvard
  • —The First Period: Beginning of Modern Chinese Humanities Research
  • —The Second Period: Discussing Traditional Learning to Cultivate New Knowledge
  • —The Third Period: A Completely New Turn
  • —Gao Yougong Studies to “Improve Himself”
  • —Zhang Guangzhi: Friendship and Reflections on Learning
  • —The Distinctive Features of the New Period
  • —Harvard Only Part of a General Trend
  • Notes
  • Index

To Order the Book

From Rural China to the Ivy League: Reminiscences of Transformations in Modern Chinese History by Yü Ying-shih is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions. Save 25% on publisher-direct orders for print editions (hardcover and paperback)—use coupon code SAVE25 at the Cambria Press website

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