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Mian, Zhongguo liuxuesheng dacidian (A longer who's who of the stay-study-students of China), 1999

Jerome Chen reviews the book for H-Asia, May 2001.

January 1, 1999

Zhou Mian et al., eds. Zhongguo liuxuesheng dacidian (A longer who's who of the stay-study-students of China). Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 1999.

Reviewed by: Jerome Chen , Professor Emeritus, York University.
Published by: H-Asia (May, 2001)

Zhou Mian, the editor-in-chief, with the assistance of 20 others on the editorial committee, has brought out this compendium of 4,000 short biographies of Chinese stay-study-students (hereafter sss), from the appearance of the first well-known one in the USA (1847) to the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP (1978). To make the use of it truly easy, the editors have compiled a surname index arranged from two to 17 strokes. This is followed by a full-name index, arranged in the same order, with the pagination of each name given on the right. After the entire body of the short biographies, the reader comes to a list of 4,000 corresponding one-liners, summarizing the essential facts in the biographies. Finally, there comes a number of useful tables and indices, among which is yet another full-name index, arranged alphabetically for those who are familiar with the hanyu pinyin. The editors have consulted many personal memoirs, public and private papers, and existing who's whos. In addition they have held personal interviews with the selected sss who are still alive. The result is an anthology that can be relied upon. However, they do not consult foreign sources. They would believe, for instance, that an economist sss could be accepted as a life member of 'the Royal Society of England', or of Britain, or perhaps of London which has always been for natural scientists only.

It is not a comprehensive list or register, for it has selected only 4,000 from several hundreds of thousands of sss. How is the choice guided? The two prefaces by two authoritative persons who did not take part in the compilation seem to spell out the theoretical considerations. 1) The sss braved the intellectual and social challenges to learn Western knowledge for China to use (yang wei Zhong yong) in order to make China wealthy and powerful. Their own usefulness and contribution to the great national goal guide their selection or rejection by the editors. The goal is deeply political; the publication of this and other who's whos more than just academic. 2) Therefore, the sss must irrevocably commit themselves to national patriotism. If they return, they render valuable service to the nation; if they remain abroad, their contribution would add to the glory of the nation.[1] Seen in this way, a Nobel Prize carries perhaps a comparable weight as a period of training at the Chinese Toilers' University in Moscow.

However, there should be other criteria guiding the editors' choices. To begin with, who is a Chinese? Is he racially Chinese? How is that concept defined? Is he culturally Chinese? If that be definably, can he become, say, italianated and would italianation threaten his Chinese identity ? Or, is it simply a matter of holding a Chinese passport to prove that he is Chinese? This Who's Who includes a number of overseas Chinese sss who were born of Chinese parents, outside China, and almost certainly did not hold a Chinese passport when they studied abroad. Then, let us take Gao Xingjian as an example. He wrote Soul Mountain in Chinese. It is a Chinese story. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, he was a French citizen. Does his achievement enhance the glory of the Chinese nation, the Chinese State, or the Chinese culture?

For comparison, there was another even more complicated case of Elias Canetti. He was born in Bulgaria, lived in Vienna where he wrote Die Blendung, a story about Kant to begin with and then finally changed to Dr Kien, a fictious Chinese scholar in Vienna. The German original was published in Prague shortly before Hitler's invasion. It was almost forgotten until he moved to London and became a British citizen. The book was translated into graceful English, under the title Auto-da-fe by the eminent historian, C.V. Wedgwood. Only then it attracted the attention of the world, leading to a Nobel Prize. Was it a glory of Bulgaria, Austria, or Britain? Did its Nobel award cause a stir in these concerned countries on the sharing of the glory? Or was it only his own, personal celebrated achievement after all?

If we transfer the Nobel Prize to that for a natural science. Should the glory be regarded as an award to the winner's innate qualities or to the intellectual and academic environment in which his talents are nurtured?

There are other tough decisions for the editors to make. Of the general secretaries or very important leaders of the CCP before the Long March, only Xiang Zhongfa and Mao Zedong had not studied abroad; so they are excluded from this book. Also absent are Qu Qiubai and Xiang Ying. If these two were not enrolled at a Soviet school, then there are other included ones whose academic records are misty and clouded. Of all the branches of knowledge, sinology seems out of the editors' serious consideration. Most sss would treat the study as almost a joke. If an sss earns his Ph.D. at a good university in the West on a thesis relating to China but applying Western theories and returns home to develop his career along the same line of research, he is probably included in this compilation. He is probably not, if he remains in the West, even if his works are well known among Chinese scholars and translated into Chinese.

The compilation covers the first great wave of the sss to Japan, 1906-21, the two smaller ones--one to France in and immediately after WWI and another to the Soviet bloc countries in the 1950s, and the constant efflux to the USA but not the tidal wave since 1978. Perhaps the single most prominent contribution of this compilation lies in the entries of the sss in the USSR in the 1920s and those in the Soviet bloc countries in the 1950s. We know pitifally little about them. This book is thus valuable to us. It lists 185 in the former period and 360 (with a few exceptions in the late 1940s and early 1960s) in the latter.[2] The earlier batch studied in such profoundly ideological institutes as the Sun Yat-sen University, the Oriental University, the Chinese Toilers' University, etc. After the fulfillment of the aim of the first group, the second group went to universities from the east in the then Soviet Union to the west in the then East Germany. They concentrated on academic disciplines: 65% in science and technology, 24% in arts, and only 6% in social sciences. Unexpectedly, 2,987 or 25% of the sss of the 1950-77 generation chose to remain abroad instead of returning to their ancestral country.


[1]. This thought did not occur until after 1978 when many sss were allowed to remain, chiefly in North America.

[2] Including, in chronological order, Li Peng of Chengdu, to Moscow, 1948; Jiang Zemin of Chengdu, 1950; and Jiang Zemin of Yangzhou, 1955.



Citation: Jerome Chen . "Review of Zhou Mian et al., eds, Zhongguo liuxuesheng dacidian (A longer who's who of the stay-study-students of China)," H-Asia, H-Net Reviews, May, 2001. URL:

Republished with permission from H-Net Reviews.