Chen Yinke

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Ch'en Yin-k'o
Related People

Biography in English

Ch'en Yin-k'o 陳寅恪 (1890-), internationally known sinologist, produced many important works on early medieval Chinese history and on relations between the Chinese empire and neighboring areas beginning in 420. After long association with Tsinghua University and with the Academia Sinica's institute of history and philology, Ch'en was appointed to the chair of Chinese at Oxford in 1938, but was prevented from teaching there by the war and then by his blindness. After 1948 he taught and did research at Lingnan University in Canton and at Chungshan University.

A native of Ining, Kiangsi, Ch'en Yin-k'o was the grandson of Ch'en Pao-chen (183 1 — 1900; T. Yu-ming), the reformist governor of Hunan province from 1895 to 1898, and the third son of Ch'en San-li, the noted poet and essayist (for information on the family, see Ch'en San-li). Scholarship was a tradition in the Ch'en family, and Ch'en Yin-k'o acquired a solid education in the Chinese classical texts. Then he went to Japan on a government grant for further study. Most of his student life, however, was spent in the United States and Europe, where he studied at Harvard, at Berlin, and at Paris. He took only those courses which interested him and never bothered to obtain an academic degree. An exceptionally talented linguist, Ch'en gained a reading knowledge of some 13 foreign languages, including English, German, French, Latin, Greek, Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Pali, Persian, and Arabic. This formidable liguistic foundation was of great value in his later scholarly work on the history of the T'ang period because of the many non-Chinese influences affecting its culture.

After about ten years abroad, Ch'en returned to China in the early 1920's. In 1923 he was appointed adviser to the Tsinghua College research institute of sinological studies at Peking. When Tsinghua became a university in 1925, he was given a joint appointment as professor in the departments of Chinese and history, a position which, with many interruptions, he retained for more than 20 years. During the period before the outbreak of the Japanese war in 1937, Ch'en Yin-k'o was a major figure at Tsinghua in what came to be perhaps the best-balanced history faculty in China, under the chairmanship of T. F. Tsiang (Chiang T'ing-fu, q.v.). Ch'en's teaching and research dealt not only with problems in early medieval Chinese history but also with relations between the Chinese empire and neighboring areas during the centuries from the southern dynasties (420-589) to the Yuan dynasty established in 1279. He helped students in work on original documents written in Mongolian and Manchu. Although he did not publish extensively on Buddhism, his knowledge of that complex field was considerable. For many years before 1937 he offered research courses at Tsinghua on textual criticism and related problems of Chinese Buddhist literature translated from Sanskrit. Of interest to students of Chinese phonology is his paper entitled "Ssusheng san-wen" [three questions concerning the four tones], which appeared in the Tsinghua Journal in 1934. In that article, Ch'en argued that the tones of Chinese were based on the pitch accent used by Indians in reciting the Vedas. In addition to his work at Tsinghua, Ch'en Yin-k'o made important contributions to the research carried on under the auspices of the institute of history and philology of the Academia Sinica. Founded in 1928 and originally located at Canton, the institute was soon moved to Peiping for more convenient access to the Palace archives. Ch'en Yin-k'o then was appointed its first research fellow. In June 1929 the institute was expanded ; it established three divisions with Ch'en Yin-k'o, Y. R. Chao (Chao Yuen-ren, q.v.), and Li Chi (q.v.) in charge of history, philology, and archeology, respectively. From 1935 until 1949 Ch'en served as a member of the board of supervisors of the Academia Sinica, and many of his important papers first appeared in the Bulletin of its institute of history and philology. He was also a member of the board of compilation of the archives of the grand secretariat of the Ch'ing dynasty, an office supervised by the institute. The first few series of the Aling-Ch'itig shih-liao [source material on the history of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties] were edited and published under his personal supervision. He was also a director of the Palace Museum.

After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war and the death of his father in 1937, Ch'en Yink'o left Peiping for the British colony of Hong Kong. There he accepted an invitation to teach at the University of Hong Kong, where he later succeeded Hsu Ti-shan as chairman of the department of Chinese. In 1938 Ch'en was appointed to the chair of Chinese at Oxford University. (On Oxford's records his name appears as Tchen Yin-koh.) Because of the national crisis in China, Ch'en was given leave not to go to Oxford until the hostilities in the Far East were terminated. When the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in December 1941, he made his way to west China.

In the autumn of 1942 he began teaching Chinese history at the refugee campus of Yenching University at Chengtu. He later moved to Kweilin and then to Kunming, where the Southwest Associated University was established. Ch'en's health began to suffer as a result of poor diet and overwork, and in 1944 he began to lose his eyesight. After the war ended in 1945, Ch'en flew to London to consult specialists and to undergo an eye operation, intending to take up his long-deferred appointment at Oxford if it should prove successful. Unfortunately, the operation left him almost totally blind. He formally resigned his chair at Oxford, on the grounds of ill health, on 21 January 1946. Ch'en's appointment in 1938 and his inability to take up the post during the war years are the reason, little known in England, why the chair of Chinese at Oxford appeared to be unoccupied from the retirement of W. E. Soothill in 1 935 until the appointment of H. H. Dubs in 1947. Ch'en was stranded in London after his operation, but assistance provided by the ministry of education of the Chinese government enabled him to return to China in 1946. He visited Nanking in the summer of 1947 and then went on to Peiping, where he rejoined the Tsinghua faculty. When the Chinese Communists were about to occupy Peiping, Ch'en intended to remain there, but finally was persuaded to leave on one of the last aircraft sent by the National Government in December 1948 to evacuate prominent scholars and political figures from north China. He stayed at Nanking for a while and then went to Canton. There he accepted an appointment to teach Chinese history at Lingnan University, where he led a rather lonely existence during the early 1950's. Because of his distinction and his frail physical condition, Ch'en Yin-k'o escaped the public self-castigation required of virtually all intellectuals in China during the initial period of the new regime. He moved to Chungshan University about 1953, where he was given research facilities and assistants. Ch'en's detailed knowledge of the sources, combined with his photographic memory, enabled him to make maximum use of assistants for clerical work; thus, he compensated for his inability to read. In 1955 he was appointed a committee member of the department of philosophy and social sciences of the Academy of Sciences at Peking.

During the anti-rightist campaign of 1958 the Chinese Communist authorities, graduate students, and others, criticized Ch'en as a leading representative of the bourgeois historians who denied class struggle, exalted the role of the individual in history, and worshiped Western authors. Criticism subsided in 1959, and Ch'en became a specially invited member of the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. A report from Canton in 1963 stated that Ch'en, then 73, had recently completed, after some 10 years work, a long study of social and political conditions in the late Ming and early Ch'ing periods. The report also noted that a collection of his essays dealing with aspects of Chinese history from the third to the tenth centuries was ready for publication.

Ch'en Yin-k'o was universally respected by serious students of Chinese history for his encyclopedic knowledge of sources, especially those of the rich Sui-T'ang period, and for his thorough and original research. Most of his scholarly articles appeared in the Bulletin of the institute of history and philology of the Academia Sinica and in the Tsinghua Journal, though some may be found in the Yenching hsueh-pao [Yenching journal], the Ling-nan hsueh-pao [Ling-nan journal], and the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. Indispensable for research on the T'ang period are his Sui- T'ang chih-tu yuan-yuan lueh-lun kao [draft essays on the origins of the institutions of Sui and T'ang], which was published in Chungking in 1943 and T'ang-tai cheng-chih-shih shu-lun [draft outline of the political history of the T'ang period], published in Chungking in 1942. The latter is a brilliant work on the political history of the T'ang dynasty. It analyzes the relationship between the Chinese state of that period and the rise and fall of foreign races in Central Asia and assesses the interaction between civil government and national defense within the Chinese empire. Ch'en's major lines of research have encompassed studies of the polyglot ancestry of the T'ang imperial clan; the pluralistic origins of Sui-T'ang institutions and culture; the origin and evolution ofthe fu-ping [army] system ; and the political, institutional, social, and cultural ramifications of the struggle in the T'ang period between the hereditary aristocracy and the new class of officials who owed their success to the examination system.

Ch'en Yin-k'o's interest in history as a significant dimension of literature has been known for many years. In his inquiry into the ancestry of Li Po, which appeared in the Tsinghua Journal in January 1935, he demonstrated that one of the greatest Chinese poets, Li Po, was actually a Central Asian who did not come to China until he was five years old, when his merchant father moved to Szechwan. Ch'en's later study of the poetry of Yuan Chen and Po Chü-i, Yuan Po shih-chien cheng k'ao [textual analysis of the poems of Yuan and Po], though in the form of a series of notes and commentaries, is an excellent example of the manner in which research on literary classics may be integrated with and illuminated by intellectual and social history. It was published in Canton in 1950. Two of Ch'en Yin-k'o's daughters taught at Chungshan University in Canton. Ch'en's younger sister married Yu Ta-wei (q.v.), who became defense minister in Taiwan.

Ch'en Ying-shih: see Ch'en Ch'i-mei. Ch'en Yu-jen: see Ch'en, Eugene. Ch'en Yuan T. Yuan-an mm

Biography in Chinese

All rights reserved@ENP-China