Hu Shi

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Hu Shi

Hu Shi ( Chinese  胡適  /  胡适 , Pinyin Hú Shì , born December 17, 1891 in Shanghai , † February 24, 1962 in Taiwan ) was a Chinese philosopher, philologist and politician. He was one of the spiritual leaders of the May 4th Movement , which shaped China's path to modernity. His role in the movement for a new culture and his contribution to the literary revolution are particularly important in this context. Hu is considered to be one of the most important representatives of early Chinese liberalism . During the crisis-ridden 1920s and 1930s, his views brought him not only into conflict with the authorities, but increasingly also with Marxism. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Hu served as the Republic of China's ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations after the Chinese Civil War .


Childhood and youth

Hu Shi was born in Shanghai on December 17, 1891 . However, he spent the first years of his life in Taiwan , where his father had been transferred as a civil servant. After Hu's death in 1895, Hu and his mother, whose only child he was, returned to the family ancestral home in Zhixi in Anhui on the Chinese mainland.

Hu's mother was his father's third wife, so he grew up in an extended family. As a young widow, however, her position in the family was somewhat precarious, so that Hu was confronted with the downsides of the Confucian social order at an early age. Hu initially received a classical education and proved to be a good student, but in 1903, on the advice of his stepbrother, switched to a school with a modern orientation in Shanghai. There he found himself at the center of the historical change China was exposed to; the contrast to rural life in Anhui could hardly have been stronger.

Hu Shi Monument in Taipei

Hu changed schools several times in the course of the following years and developed into a rebellious youth under the influence of the anti-traditionalist, revolutionary ideas that were circulating, for example represented by Liang Qichao ; but he always remained a good student in accordance with his inclination to learn. In 1906 he enrolled at the "National Chinese Institute," which was founded by radical Chinese students from Japan when the Japanese government banned revolutionary activities against the ruling Qing dynasty in China . In the school, which was self-administered by the students, whose financial and political framework conditions deteriorated noticeably, Hu performed several official functions and at the same time published a newspaper with several like-minded people to “educate the masses” in Baihua, the written slang.

When the school failed in 1908 and at the same time his family was no longer able to support him, Hu Shi successfully applied for one of the scholarships advertised by the US government in 1910 after a period of aimless drift and a short-term position as a teacher the means of the Boxer Indemnity Fund .

The American Experience

Hu Shi began his studies at Cornell University in Ithaca , where he first enrolled in the agricultural faculty. However, he soon made up his mind and began to study philosophy.

During this time Hu Shi was involved in numerous organizations, as spokesman for the Chinese student body or the pacifist Cornell Cosmopolitan Club , which he represented at the VIII International FIdE Congress in Ithaca. His academic achievements led to his selection for Phi Beta Kappa in 1913 and in late 1914 his essay "In Defense of Browning's Optimism" even won the Cornell essay writing competition.

For his PhD, Hu Shi, attracted by John Dewey's pragmatism , moved to New York, where he wrote his doctoral thesis on "the development of the logical method in ancient China" at Columbia University under Dewey in 1917 .

In 1930 Hu Shi researched the newly discovered Dunhuang scripts at the British Library . The resulting works had a decisive influence on Japanese researchers such as Suzuki Daisetsu Teitaro .

He repeatedly refused to take up political offices. From 1938 to 1942 he was ambassador of the Republic of China to the USA; 1957 at the United Nations . He left China in 1948 and emigrated to the USA. In 1958 he went to Taiwan, where he died in 1962. He was the editor of Free China magazine , which appeared in Taiwan between 1949 and 1960.

In 1932 Hu Shi was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , and in 1943 an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters .


  • Martina Eglauer: Science as an opportunity. The understanding of science of the Chinese philosopher Hu Shi (1891–1962) under the influence of John Dewey's (1859–1952) pragmatism . Steiner, Stuttgart 2001. (= Munich East Asian Studies; 79th) ISBN 3-515-07850-9
  • Jerome B. Grieder: Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance . Harvard University Press, Cambridge / MA. 1999

Web links

Commons : Hu Shih  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Honorary Members: Hu Shih. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 12, 2019 .