Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the short years of the Republic of China (ROC) passed amid wars. Despite its short lifespan, the period produced a large number of top scholars, literary masters, and astounding artistic and academic works. There are a great number of famous novels, poems, and articles from the ROC, including Lu Xun’s (魯迅) Kong Yiji (《孔乙己》), The True Story of Ah Q (《阿Ｑ正傳》), and The New Year Sacrifice (《祝福》); Lao She’s (老舍) Four Generations Under One Roof (《四世同堂》) and Rickshaw Boy (《駱駝祥子》); Ba Jin’s (巴金) Family, Spring, and Autumn (《家》、《春》、《秋》); Mao Dun’s (茅盾) Midnight (《子夜》); Bing Xin’s (冰心) To Young Readers (《寄小讀者》); Guo Moruo’s (郭沫若) Drifting Trilogy (《漂流三部曲》) and the new poem Nirvana of the Phoenix (《鳳凰涅槃》); Lin Yutang’s (林語堂) Moment in Peking (《京華煙雲》); Liang Shiqiu’s (梁實秋) Sketches of a Cottager (《雅舍小品》); Zhu Ziqing’s (朱自清) Retreating Figure (《背影》) and Transient Days (《匆匆》); Shen Congwen’s (沈從文) Border Town (《邊城》); Qian Zhongshu’s (錢鍾書) Fortress Besieged (《圍城》); Xiao Qian’s (蕭乾) Valley of Dreams (《夢之谷》); Xiao Hong’s (蕭紅) Tales of Hulan River (《呼蘭河傳》); Xiao Jun’s (蕭軍) Village in August (《八月的鄉村》); Zhang Ailing’s (張愛玲) Love in a Fallen City (《傾城之戀》); Su Xuelin’s (蘇雪林) Green Skies (《綠天》); Xu Zhimo’s (徐志摩) Taking Leave of Cambridge Again (《再別康橋》) and Zhimo’s Poems (《志摩的詩》); Yu Dafu’s (郁達夫) Sinking (《沉淪》); Li Guangtian’s (李廣田) Quesuo Collection (《雀蓑集》); Duanmu Hongliang’s (端木蕻良) The Ke’erqin Banner Grasslands (《科爾沁旗草原》); Ding Ling’s (丁玲) Miss Sophia’s Diary (《莎菲女士的日記》) and The Sun Shines Over Sanggan River (《太陽照在桑乾河上》); Zhou Libo’s (周立波) The Hurricane (《暴風驟雨》); Ai Qing’s (艾青) North (《北方》); Zhao Shuli’s (趙樹理) Little Erhei’s Marriage (《小二黑結婚》) and Change Comes to Li Family Village (《李家莊的變遷》); Bu Naifu ’s (卜乃夫, using the pen name “Anonymous” ) Romance in Siberia (《北極風情畫》) and Lady in the Tower (《塔裏的女人》); Zhang Henshui’s (張恨水) Fate in Tears and Laughter (《啼笑因緣》), and Huanzhulouzhu’s (還珠樓主) Legend of the Swordsmen of the Mountains of Shu (《蜀山劍俠傳》).
In the academic world, freedom, democracy, and science prevailed under the influence of the New Culture Movement. After becoming President of Peking University in 1916, Cai Yuanpei (蔡元培) was determined to reform. Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀), Hu Shi (胡適), and other famous scholars also lectured there, infusing Chinese academia with a new atmosphere. Meanwhile, Wu Mi (吳宓) invited Wang Guowei (王國維), Liang Qichao (梁啟超), Chen Yinke (陳寅恪), and Zhao Yuanren (趙元任) to teach at the Tsinghua Academy of Chinese Learning (a subsidiary of Tsinghua University, 清華學校研究院). Known as the “Four Famous Professors” and the “Four Tutors of Chinese Learning”, the four illustrious scholars’ reputations spread far and wide. Among them, Liang’s influence truly spanned the eras. He left behind an immortal masterpiece titled Collected Works from the Ice-Drinker’s Studio (《飲冰室合集》). Zhao was an expert linguist, making remarkable contributions to phonology and writing. Liang Shuming (梁漱溟) founded the New Confucianism school of thought. Chen Yuan (陳垣) and Tang Yongtong (湯用彤) researched and published masterworks on the history of religions. In addition, Hua Luogeng (華羅庚), Li Siguang (李四光), Qian Xuesen (錢學森), Qian Weichang (錢偉長), Qian Sanqiang (錢三強), Deng Jiaxian (鄧稼先), and Zhao Jiuzhang (趙九章) made remarkable accomplishments in mathematical sciences, significantly contributing to China’s future technological development.
Four renowned writers in the Republican period (from the left): Lu Xun, Lao She, Liang Shiqiu, and Mao Dun.
Four other famous writers in the Republican period (from the left): Ba Jin, Yu Dafu, Zhu Ziqing, and Zhang Henshui.
With the rise of women’s status, the ROC also had a number of women writers. From the left: Bing Xin, Xiao Hong, Zhang Ailing, and Ding Ling.
Writers in this period absorbed elements of foreign literature, uplifting the Chinese literary scene.
Left: the restored scene of Nanjing Pukou Railway Station (南京浦口火車站) where the story described in Zhu Ziqing’s Retreating Figure took place. Right: the stone carving of Taking Leave of Cambridge Again at Xu Zhimo’s tomb. Many classic works of the Republican period are now required readings in Chinese curricula and have continued to inspire Chinese writers. Literature in the ROC has had a profound influence on the cultural and educational development of Chinese communities worldwide.
Many literary works created during the Republican period have had a profound influence on Chinese songwriting, films, and TV series worldwide.
The Republican period produced a multitude of scholars and recorded outstanding academic achievements. These had much to do with the open and inclusive atmosphere of Peking University. After becoming President of Peking University in 1916, Cai Yuanpei (left) focused on reforming and Sino-Western integration. Meanwhile, Hu Shi (middle), Chen Duxiu (right), and other famous teachers lectured at Peking University, introducing new perspectives into Chinese academia.
In the 1920s, Dean Wu Mi caused a sensation by inviting Wang Guowei, Liang Qichao, Chen Yinke, and Zhao Yuanren to teach at the Tsinghua Academy of Chinese Learning. They were known at the time as the “Four Famous Professors” or the “Four Tutors of Chinese Learning”. The photos show the statues of Wu Mi (left) and the “Four Tutors of Chinese Learning” (right), namely Zhao Yuanren, Liang Qichao, Wang Guowei, and Chen Yinke from left to right. For a time during the ROC, anti-traditional movements were widespread, traditional fields of Chinese Studies made substantial progress nevertheless. Traditional Confucianism underwent reforms to better keep pace with the times. Representative figures of New Confucianism were Liang Shuming, Xiong Shili (熊十力), and Ma Yifu (馬一浮), who were collectively acclaimed as the “Three Sages of New Confucianism”.
Many academics during the period took an active part in social movements, such as the Rural Construction Movement. Left: participants in the Rural Reconstruction Movement in 1935, with including Liang Shuming (first from right at the front row). Right: A Theory of Rural Reconstruction by Liang, which provided a theoretical reference for the Rural Reconstruction Movement.
Education was highly valued during the ROC. The period cultivated many prominent figures who were influential to China’s later development in science and technology. From left to right: Qian Xuesen, Qian Weichang, Qian Sanqiang, and Deng Jiaxian.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe.