In all ages of history it is desirable to get away from
generalizations and study individuals and families.
In the preface to his doctoral dissertation, Arthur W. Hummel, writing some thirty years ago, alluded indirectly to the need for a biographical dictionary of twentieth-century China. Hummel's thesis, an annotated translation of the autobiographical preface by Ku Chieh-kang 顧颉剛to the Ku-shih pien [symposium on ancient Chinese history 古史辯], also raised a paradoxical point. "In order, therefore, to give the text its maximum intelligibility," he wrote, "I was compelled at every point to insert exact dates (when such are available), despite the fact that this often involved, even for a single date, many hours of tedious searching among the extremely inadequate helps that are as yet available, even in the most complete Chinese libraries. This is particularly true of modern and contemporary writers; for, however strange it may seem, it is easier to find the exact dates (when such are recorded) of a Chinese who lived in the twelfth century, than of one who died fifteen years ago !"
Dr. Hummel devoted a substantial portion of his later working life to planning and editing what is still the single indispensable Western reference work on modern Chinese history, Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (1644-1912). Despite the appearance of a small number of biographies and biographical reference works of varying degrees of completeness and reliability, there has been little basic change in the situation Dr. Hummel described in 1931. The section on biography since 1900 in China in Western Literature, the comprehensive bibliography edited by the late T. L. Yuan and published in 1958, is only seven pages long, with most of that space allotted to works on four people: Sun Yat-sen 孫中山, Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石, Soong Mei-ling 宋美齡, and Mao Tse-tung 毛澤東. And the Introduction aux etudes d'histoire contemporaine de Chine, 1898-1949, edited by Jean Chesneaux of Paris and John Lust of London and published in 1964, devotes a scant four pages to biographical studies and confirms that Western scholars have hardly begun the biographical study of twentieth-century Chinese history.
That there is need for a framework within which to pursue serious study of China's republican period has been underscored by the reemergence in the mid-1960's of that nation as a major power. In this work, the republican period is defined as the thirty-eight years between the Wuchang revolt in October 1911 and the inauguration of the Central People's Government at Peking in October 1949. This period demands systematic study not only as an intrinsically significant segment of modern Chinese history but also as essential background to the understanding of contemporary Chinese politics and policies. Almost without exception, major institutional and intellectual developments since 1950, both on the mainland and in Taiwan, are rooted in the first half of the century.
A biographical approach to history is, to be sure, only one of several methods that may be used to reconstruct the paths that have led from past to present. Some observers would hold that principal emphasis should be placed upon description and analysis of institutions: political organizations, economic systems, social structure. It is true that even in the most chaotic years of the warlord interlude in China power could not be gained, consolidated, or exercised without reliance on some sort of political-military machinery and that the changing socio-economic structure exerted a pivotal influence on history. No one with a critical interest in Chinese affairs can deny the importance of institutions or of the interrelationships which are their by-product. At the same time, no one with experience in pre- 1949 China can Preface [ viii ] deny that the essential fabric of Chinese political life often was woven from interacting influences and relationships of individuals. In this view, the basic patterns of Chinese life depended, to a large extent, on those persons who, with varying success, formed them through the multi-stranded intricacies of personal relationships (kuan-hsi 關係) . The Chinese themselves refer to the san-t'ung 三同, the "three sames": an allusion to patterns of personal relations based upon a common home district; a common school or university; or a common trade, business, or professional activity. Because of the absence during the republican period of a stable political and legal system effective on a national basis and because of the degree of social disorientation in China during this period, personal relations assumed unusual importance.
The subject matter of history is always human beings ; the implications of political, economic, and social change are significant, finally, in the manner in which they affect human life. The hope of the editor of this work has been that the events, the institutions, and the processes of change in the republican period in China may, therefore, best be revealed through the lives of the prominent Chinese of the period.
Random biographical research on prominent figures of the republican period might, however, easily lead to a galaxy of discrete views of recent Chinese history. Given the nature of the subject and the limitations of resources, a research framework for the Biographical Dictionary of Republican China was an initial necessity. In part, the book was designed to supplement Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period. Because of the slight overlap in the periods covered, there are frequent references in this work to the Hummel volumes (abbreviated as ECCP), which contain scattered data about people who lived after the fall of the Ch'ing dynasty in 1911-12. Almost all of the subjects of articles in the Biographical Dictionary of Republican China were born during the final decades of the Ch'ing period, and some achieved prominence before 1911. We also have recorded the post- 1949 careers, when known, of men who died after that date or who are still alive. However, no serious attempt has been made to provide articles on Chinese who have become prominent on the mainland, in Taiwan, or elsewhere since mid-century.
The Biographical Dictionary of Republican China differs from other major biographical dictionaries in that it records the careers of people who are still living and of those who have died. The men and events are of the immediate past; the book is contemporary documentation. To enrich the shadowy and incomplete printed sources, the words of the men themselves and of men who knew them have often been used. This work attempts to capture and preserve knowledge about twentieth-century China before many of its sources, particularly the oral sources, disappear.
Because this work deals with the most populous nation of the modern world during one of the most turbulent periods of its recent history, the editor had to establish and develop control mechanisms to guide the selection of names for inclusion. At the outset, three crude categories were established: domestic politics, external relations, and socio-economic developments. Under the first heading, several broad subject-areas were distinguished : the Peiyang 北洋period (1912-28); the Kuomintang 國民黨 (and its antecedent organizational forms) ; the Chinese Communist party; the post- 1928 National Government; local militarists with provincial or regional bases of power; Japanese-sponsored governments of the 1931-45 period; minor political parties; and the borderlands (Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet). The external relations heading embraced, essentially, professional diplomats and overseas Chinese. The socio-economic category was considered elastic and eventually included such subdivisions as business and banking, literature, the arts, the press and publishing, education, scholarship, religion, aviation, and medicine. A separate category, intended for purposes of dossier control rather than of discrimination, was established for women. Calligraphers, Taoist abbots, philatelists, lineal descendants of Confucius, librarians, topologists, and other exotic species were dealt with on an individual basis. The use of these general categories aided initial classification and identification of figures prominent in public life in China during the republican period. In certain categories, where a structured hierarchy existed, senior-ranking members of that hierarchy were obvious candidates for inclusion. Examples are leaders of the Kuomintang or the Chinese Communist party, cabinet ministers in the National Government, provincial governors, presidents of major [ix] Preface universities, publishers of leading newspapers, and ambassadors who served at major European capitals. In other fields, notably literature, the arts, and scholarship, judgments were, inevitably, more subjective. Preparation of a basic list of entries was done by fields, though many men and women had such varied careers that they could not be compartmentalized. In the initial selection of names, informal discussion with outside consultants provided useful counsel and sometimes sparked considerable controversy.
Early, optimistic plans of the mid-1950's called for a total of roughly 800 entries, a figure derived by extension from the Hummel work. Toward 1960, that target figure was halved, but it was enlarged again during the early 1960's to a present total of some 600 articles. From the outset, the editor believed that the work should not concern itself solely with political and military figures but should attempt to provide balanced coverage of most significant areas of activity and change in republican China. However, certain fields could not be dealt with adequately, and others have not been dealt with at all. The field of medicine, for instance, has been slighted. A few Western-trained doctors, including specialists in public health, have been included, but there is no representative of traditional Chinese medicine. Nor is there a nurse, though nursing was an increasingly important professional activity during the period. Cooks, professional courtesans, and fortune tellers also have been omitted. Athletes were excluded, principally because — with the notable exception of badminton, in which Chinese players from Malaya long dominated international competition—Chinese athletes did not achieve world reputation during the republican period.
The mansion of biography has many entrances, but no master key. The editor finds, in retrospect, that his principal door-openers were the Hummel volumes and the late Bernard De Voto's essay "The Skeptical Biographer," originally published in Harper's in 1933. Ideally, a biographical article is a compact story of a human life, with the facts of the individual's career ascertained and validated by traditional scholarly methods: research into original sources, scrupulous examination and evaluation of evidence, and constant exercise of critical objectivity. The article aims to inform through narrative rather than through static exposition of fact after fact, date after date. In practice, of course, performance often falls short of aspiration. In the case of this work, documentary sources are chaotic and often replete with contradictions, if not inaccuracies; research aids are scanty; and the very proximity of the period causes a mistaken sense of familiarity with its complexities.
A minimum goal for the Biographical Dictionary of Republican China was the compilation of an accurate chronology of the life of each person whose biography was to be included. Chronology is the skeleton of biography, and every effort has been made to see that purported facts fit together in reasonable order and sequence. The basic form of each article is a brief identifying paragraph followed by an account of the person's background, early life, career, writings, and family. In the end, the arrangement and presentation of data involve critical judgment ; and the practical standard of success is whether the article communicates to the reader something of the essence of its subject.
The preparation of any single biographical article is not dissimilar to the assembling of a jigsaw puzzle. The editorial creation of a balanced reference work from several hundred jigsaw puzzles is a more difficult task. Beyond the control system formed by categories of public activity, the composition of the larger mosaic was determined to some extent by aesthetics and by accidents. Aesthetic considerations related principally to balancing the coverage given to a specific field of activity: if one person in a field was included, proper balance often demanded the inclusion of another. Accident also played a minor role in determining coverage. In a few cases, the unanticipated availability of source material or the chance discovery of a qualified biographer led to the creation of new articles. In other cases, biographies had to be omitted, either because data proved insufficient or because assignments had to be curtailed to meet production priorities.
As the work progressed, two persisting intellectual problems emerged. The first was that of relating a single biography to the historical and social context in which the subject lived. The judicious balancing of life and times is always a problem in biographical writing, but the sparseness of consistently reliable data and the extent of Western ignorance Preface [x] of the history of the era create additional patches of quicksand in the approaches to the republican period in China. A second problem, shared by editors of other biographical dictionaries, was the extent to which first-hand knowledge of the subject is relevant. In seeking an author for a biographical article to be included in this book, the editor had two options: selecting an author who knew the subject personally, and thereby running the risk of receiving either a eulogy or an otherwise biased account, or choosing a man who did not know the subject intimately, or perhaps did not know him at all, but who could view his subject with critical detachment. Whether first-hand knowledge or objective judgment is more important proved to be a constant problem. A strong case may be made for the argument that it is better to choose an author with personal knowledge than one who relies solely on Chinese documentary materials, which often were designed to delude, if not deceive, the user.
Because of the complexities of Chinese personal relationships throughout this period, it was decided that individual articles in the work should be unsigned. The reasons were three: discretion; the necessity of translating and severely editing many articles for publication; and the requirement that a reference book be as objective as is humanly possible. Many Chinese contributors would not have been willing to sign their articles, some of which incorporated personal information and experience. Producing a reasonably consistent whole from the work of contributors, many of whom wrote in Chinese, has required considerable effort. No article in the completed work corresponds exactly to the original manuscript submitted to the editor. Most have been revised, reorganized, and rewritten at least once. Some additional rewriting has been necessary to achieve reasonable objectivity. The editor, therefore, must assume final responsibility for the general quality of the work.
The Biographical Dictionary of Republican China has been prepared and edited in the United States for educated English-speaking readers. Although efforts have been made to preserve the flavor of the original Chinese environment, it has been reflected through the prism of Western understanding. In the absence of standard reference books on the period, political, military, and institutional terminology have posed substantial problems. Western military terms, for example, have been employed to describe Chinese military units, though such terms may be misleading if taken to be precise equivalents. Some discussion of these points is included in the Explanatory Notes. In a few of the longer articles—specifically those on Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Tse-tung, Sun Yat-sen, and Yuan Shih-k'ai—subheadings have been inserted to assist the reader. We have also departed from conventional practices by devoting a separate article to the Soong family, regarded by many observers as republican China's most influential family.
A brief general bibliography appears at the end of each volume. A full bibliography, giving the sources used in preparing each article and the publications, if any, of the subject of the article, will comprise the final volume of the work.
The process of creating this book has been a lengthy one. In retrospect, three major cycles of activity may be distinguished. From 1955 to 1963 basic research was carried on by staff members in New York, supplemented by contributions from scholars in the United States and abroad. In 1963-64 a small group of experienced staff members worked to complete research and to fill gaps in coverage. The period since 1964 has been devoted to checking, rewriting, and editorial standardizing to prepare the manuscript for publication.
Because of the complexities of the republican period in China, it would have been desirable not to publish any of the biographies until the final editing of the entire work had been completed. However, it proved necessary to prepare the biographies for the first volume for publication before moving on to the final checking and editing of those scheduled for inclusion in other volumes. Further, the obvious importance of making these materials available for general use has outweighed arguments for delaying publication.
Any work of this length and complexity contains errors. The editor would be grateful for suggestions, corrections, criticisms, and additional data, which may be sent to: Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Editorial Department, Columbia University Press, 2960 Broadway, New York, New York 10027.
HOWARD L. BOORMAN
* Colonial Elites : Rome, Spain, and the Americas (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 52.