Chu Tzu-ch'ing (22 November 1898-12 August 1948), essayist, scholar, and poet, was head of the Chinese department at Tsinghua University for many years. He was best known for his distinctive pai-hua [vernacular] essay style. Although his native place was Shaohsing, Chekiang, Chu Tzu-ch'ing was born in Kiangsu. Both his father and his grandfather were minor officials in the Ch'ing dynasty and had lived at Yangchow, Kiangsu, for most of their lives. Chu Tzu-ch'ing spent his early years there and usually identified himself as a native of Yangchow. Chu received a traditional Chinese education, and, after being graduated from middle school, he entered Peking University in 1917. He changed his name from Chu Tzu-hua to Chu Tzu-ch'ing at this time. As a university student, he studied literature and philosophy and began to contribute articles and poems to Hsin-ch'ao [renaissance] and Hsin Chung-kuo [new China], influential pai-hua [vernacular] magazines of the May Fourth period. After being graduated from Peking University in 1920, he returned south to become a school teacher and to pursue his interest in writing poetry. His lifelong friendship with Yu P'ing-po (q.v.) began either at Peking or while Chu was teaching at the Hangchow First Normal School.
In January 1921 the Literary Research Society was organized in Peking. Its membership included Cheng Chen-to, Chou Tso-jen, Mao Tun (Shen Yen-ping), Yeh Sheng-t'ao (qq.v.), and Wang Tung-ch'ao. The attitude of this group was that literature should reflect social phenomena and should present and discuss problems related to life in general. Chu Tzu-ch'ing at once joined the Literary Research Society and thus became a member of the first influential literary group formed in China after the May Fourth Movement. Subsequently, Chu served briefly as dean of studies at the Yangchow Middle School. Later in 1921 he moved to Woosung to teach at China College, where Yeh Sheng-t'ao, who was later to become his literary collaborator, was also teaching. Together with Liu Yen-ling, Yeh Sheng-t'ao, and Yu P'ing-po, Chu edited a new monthly journal entitled Shih [poetry], the first Chinese periodical devoted to modern poetry. Chu Tzu-ch'ing contributed four poems to the first issue, which appeared in January 1922. The following year, his long philosophical poem "Hui-mieh" [destruction] appeared in Hsiaoshuo yueh-pao [short story magazine] and won him wide literary recognition. This poem was described by Yu P'ing-po as a masterpiece, and it had great impact on the modern poetry then emerging in China.
In 1924, while teaching in Chekiang, Chu published Tsung-chi [traces], his first collection of poems, in which deep feeling and quiet elegance characterized his style. A year later, through the recommendation of his friend Yü P'ing-po, Chu Tzu-ch'ing joined the faculty of Tsinghua College in Peking. He began serious research on classical Chinese literature and began to write prose rather than poetry. With the publication of his initial volume of collected essays, Pei-ying [the back view], in 1928, he gained recognition as an essayist. Increasing academic responsibilities accompanied his growing literary prominence. In 1930 he became acting chairman of the Chinese department at Tsinghua when Yang Chen-sheng left that post to become president of Tsingtao University, and he also served as a part-time lecturer at Yenching University. Chu Tzu-ch'ing spent the academic year 1931-32 in Europe, his only period of residence outside China. Traveling by way of the Soviet Union, Germany, and France, he arrived in England in September 1931. He spent seven months in London studying English literature and philology. Then he made brief visits to Paris, Berlin, and other cities.
Chu Tzu-ch'ing resumed teaching at Tsinghua in the autumn of 1932 and remained in Peking until the Sino-Japanese war broke out in mid1937. During this period he taught both at Tsinghua (where he headed the Chinese department) and at Peking Normal University. He also continued to do research on Chinese poetry and literary criticism. He wrote and published numerous personal and critical essays as well as two volumes of literary sketches and essays. At this time Chu Tzu-ch'ing came to know Wen I-to (q.v.), who had come to teach at Tsinghua.
When war with Japan broke out in July 1937, Tsinghua University moved, first to Hunan, and then to Kunming, where it was located until 1946 as part of Southwest Associated University. During the early war years, Chu continued to head the Chinese department of his university, but gradually the physical difficulties and nervous strains of wartime existence in west China undermined his health. His friend Wen I-to assumed Chu's responsibilities as head of the Chinese department, and, in the summer of 1940 Chu moved to Chengtu, where he spent a sabbatical year.
In October 1941 Chu returned to Kunming. Despite persisting poor health, he resumed an active program of teaching, research, and writing. In 1943 Chu published Lun-tun tsa-chi [miscellaneous notes on London]. During the later war years he collaborated with Yeh Sheng-t'ao in writing three books on the teaching of Chinese. In June 1945 Chu, suffering from a stomach ailment, went to Chengtu to spend the summer. By the time he returned to Kunming for the new semester, Japan had surrendered, and the war was over. In the spring of 1946 Chu resumed his position as head of the Chinese department. However, the political and intellectual tensions in the refugee universities in west China increased; agitation against the Kuomintang and the National Government was met by stern official suppression, affecting both students and faculty members. In public, Chu counseled moderation and caution. Personally, he was deeply affected when his close friend Wen I-to was assassinated at Kunming on 15 July 1946. On 18 August, despite rumors that Nationalist agents might break up the gathering, Chu delivered an address at the memorial service held at Chengtu for Wen I-to and Li Kung-p'u, a member of the China Democratic League who had been assassinated at Kunming four days before Wen was killed. Two days before the memorial service took place, Chu Tzu-ch'ing produced his first poem in 20 years, an elegy inspired by the death of Wen I-to. In October 1946 Chu Tzu-ch'ing returned to Peking and to the Tsinghua campus. In addition to his academic responsibilities, he undertook the task of organizing and editing the works of Wen I-to. He also published several important studies of Chinese literature. Chu became increasingly antagonistic toward the control measures of the National Government, and the leftward trend of his thinking is revealed in his post- 1945 writings.
Although Chu's health began to fail again in the spring of 1948, he continued to work and to write. In August, after undergoing a stomach operation, he developed nephritis. Even when he was in critical condition, his mind remained clear, and one of his last acts was to remind his family that he had signed a petition protesting American aid to Japan and rejecting flour sent by the United States to the Chinese Nationalists. Chu Tzu-ch'ing died on 12 August 1948, at the age of 50. He was cremated the next day, and his ashes were buried in October in Wan An Cemetary west of Peking. He was survived by his second wife, whom he had married in 1932, and seven children. Chu's first wife, the daughter of a prominent Yangchow doctor, had died in 1929 of tuberculosis.
For nearly 30 years Chu Tzu-ch'ing played an active role in China both as a writer and as a teacher of Chinese. His early poems were distinctive in that they retained some of the best traditions of classical Chinese poetry while dispensing with most of its restraining conventions. Some of his essays, such as "Pei-ying" [the back view], "Chiang-sheng teng-ying-li te Ch'in-huai-ho" [splashing oars and lantern light on the Chinhuai river], and "Ho-t'ang yueh-se" [lotus pond by moonlight], have been acclaimed as being representative of the best Chinese prose of the period. "Pei-ying," though less than 2,000 characters in length, is notable for its sincerity and simplicity. It has been reprinted in many middle school textbooks. Chinese students often used Chu's descriptive travel sketches as composition models. An independent and influential stylist, Chu wrote vigorous colloquial Chinese. Lu Hsün said that his work challenged the old literature, and Yeh Shengt'ao believed that Chu was one of the first modern writers to achieve a distinctive style in pai-hua.
Chu consistently maintained that literature should be serious in purpose. Thus, while Lin Yü-t'ang (q.v.) was publishing Lun-yü [the analects] and Jen-chien-shih [the human world], two magazines devoted to humor, Chu was helping to edit T'ai-pao, a journal supported by Lu Hsün and dedicated to serious literature. Chu Tzu-ch'ing advocated a discriminating approach to the Chinese literary heritage, and he edited and annotated many classical texts. During the last two years of his life (1946-48), he published a number of works designed to bring Chinese literature and literary criticism to a wider audience: Ching-tien ch'ang-t'an [chats on the classics], Shih-yen-chih pien [poetry as a medium of ideas], Hsin-shih tsa-hua [notes on new poetry] , Lun ya-su kung-shang [for the few and the many], and Piao-chün yü chih-tu [criteria and standards]. The four-volume edition of Chu's writings published at Peking in 1953, Chu Tzu-ch'ing wen-chi [Chu Tzu-ch'ing's collected works], contains his most representative work, including essays and literary criticism. Chu Tzu-ch'ing, as revealed in his writings, was modest, thorough in research, and patient with other people. During the last ten years of his life, when he was under constant physical, nervous, and financial strain, he bore his burdens with good spirit and continued to work to the limit of his capacities. His diary (unpublished), contains a detailed account of Chu's life and activities from September 1931 to the beginning of August 1948.