Tag Archives: Former Residences

The Home of a Doubting Scholar

The academic world sometimes can feel like a separate universe with a secret jargon that requires a decoder ring dug out of a Cracker Jack box. This is a largely technical language needed to speak to very specific issues within scholarship. For example, in literary theory, there are schools of thought like deconstruction, reader-response, queer theory, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, and more. Each of those camps has it’s own subsets of jargon that has fueled papers, theses, and dissertations and will continue to do so for centuries to come. For example, post-structuralism has some circular gibberish about “signifier” and “signified” that I could never fully wrap my head around. Trust me, I tried very hard. That’s just the study of literature. That’s not even touching the other English fields of teaching, linguistics, grammar, and translation.

In academia, Chinese history also has its diverse groupings of scholars. One of them is something called “Doubting Antiquity.” These were researchers who expressly voiced concerns about the historical accuracy of some stories within classic Chinese texts like Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian.

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It would be a lot like western historians asking and researching critical questions into Herodotus or  Holinshed’s Chronicles — which provided some source material for some of Shakespeare’s plays. Since Qian sometimes wrote about the nearly mythical Shang Dynasty thousands of years ago, it would almost be like historians probing more into the historical accuracy of something the Welsh Mabinogian.

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The Doubting Antiquity School was not all about destroying somebody like Sima Qian. Mostly, it’s about raising questions and the researching possible answers. Those answers led to more questions. That’s how scholarship works.

Changzhou was once home to a one of these scholars. His name was Lu Simian 吕思勉 lǚ sī miǎn.

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He was born in Wujin in 1884, and he went on take a professorship at Kwang Hua University in Shanghai. This institution went on to become East China Normal University. During his academic career, he authored a number of books on antiquity covering subjects like science, ethnicity, literature, and more.

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His former residence is actually located in downtown Changzhou, and it’s open to the public without an admission fee. A visitor does have to sign into a log book, however.  The place is rather small. You can see some of the living quarters.

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And places where he kept a personal library and a possible office.

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Most of the informational displays here are in Chinese, but there is one introductory sign in English. This former residence is downtown, but it’s actually located in an narrow alley a few streets up from Yanling Road, Nandajie, and the Luqiao Commodities Market. So, for some, it may not be easy to find.

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This alley intersects with Jinling Road. And here it is on Baidu Maps.

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Why do I post screenshots of Baidu Maps? English and Google Maps will do nothing for you if you show it to Chinese cab driver. Just saying.

 

Who was Qu Qiubai and Where Did He Live?

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There were other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party before Mao Zedong. Saying that does not diminish his monumental role in Chinese history, either. One of those leaders came from Changzhou, and his name was Qu Qiubai. His remembrance hall and preserved home is open to the public.

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Qu had a rough early life. His father was addicted to opium, and his mother committed suicide. He lived off the support of his relatives. Eventually, he left Changzhou to study and showed a skill with language that allowed him to learn Russian and French. His ability to speak Russian helped him get a job at a Beijing newspaper, and he moved to Russia as a foreign correspondent. There, he had an eye witness to life after the Russian Revolution. Once he returned to China, he started to climb the party ranks. After Chen Duxiu was expelled from the party, Qu became acting chairman of the Politburo, making him a de facto leader for a time. He never survived the fight with the Nationalist Kuomintang government. In 1934 he was arrested, and he was executed in 1935.

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Walking through a preserved former residence is essentially like walking through an old, empty home. Qu’s old house is similar in that way. Yet, it’s the things inside them that make a difference. Besides his role in Chinese revolutionary politics, Qu was also a man who enjoyed art and was skilled at calligraphy. In addition to his journalism, he also wrote poetry and a memoir. Legendary Chinese author Lu Xun considered him a close friend.

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Most foreigners likely walk by this historical spot without even knowing what the place is. It’s in a heavily trafficked part of town. It’s on Lanling Road in Changzhou’s city center and is between Zhonglou’s Injoy Plaza and Nandajie. World English has their downtown training center nearby, and the Future City shopping complex is across the street.

Something is Happening with Li Gongpu’s Home

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

In 1946 and in Kunming, Li Gongpu 李公仆 had just finished watching a movie with his wife. As he left the theaters, secret agents of the nationalist Goumindang government shot him dead. Li was not a member of the Chinese Communist Party. He was a member of the China Democractic League, which can be seen as a “third way” between the Goumindang and the communists. However, the CDL and the CPC were sometimes allies in agitating against the nationalist government. It’s important to note this. While Li wasn’t a party member, he is still remembered as a hero and a martyr by some Chinese people — both for his politics and for his acumen as a scholar and academic.

I say this because he once lived in Changzhou, and his home is a preserved historical site in Wujin. However, the state of his home, last time I visited was sort of sad. It sits on a road bearing his name, which intersects with Changwu / Heping Road in Hutang right before a big bridge to Tianning. There is also a school baring his name and a picture of his face. The first time I went there, I didn’t even think his former home it was open to the public. The gate was slightly ajar, but the front door was wide open.  I mustered up some courage and slipped in. Inside, I saw a bust of him, but all the Chinese informational displays were weathered and cracked. The place looked abandoned.The informational area was so tiny that it didn’t take long for me to snoop around. I tried to walk further in, but I saw a Chinese woman sitting behind a computer. I got scared. I said a quick ni hao 你好 and left. When I returned a week later, a metal chain bound the gate shut..

That was more than six months ago, and from time to time, I always drove by the area just out of curiosity. The metal chain stayed for a long time, but recently it vanished. I have come to a definite conclusion. The Changzhou municipal government, the Wujin District government, or somebody is clearly doing something here.  Every time I returned, something has been different. For example, new retail buildings and spaces — I think — has been added next door. Also, a new wing is being added to Li Gong Pu’s original home to double the size of the historical location. Obviously, there are plans and ongoing investment. If Li Gongpu is getting a bigger, higher tech memorial hall with informational displays that are not fading and cracked, that’s a very good thing.

An new wing to Li Gongpu's former residence?
An new wing to Li Gongpu’s former residence?