CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 19, September 2009


Vale | China Heritage Quarterly


David Hawkes

Liu Ts'un-yan

Alaistair Morrison


In the sheer depths below, the earth was invisible;
In the vastness above, the sky could not be seen.
When I looked, my startled eyes saw nothing;
When I listened, no sound met my amazed ear.
Transcending Inaction, I came to Purity,
And entered the neighbourhood of the Great Beginning.
from 'Yuan you', The Songs of The South, translated by David Hawkes.


During the month of August 2009 two prominent scholars of China passed away, and we also lost a friend with a life-long involvement in China. Both David Hawkes and Liu Ts'un-yan 柳存仁 were mentors and paragons for those involved with China Heritage Quarterly. We acknowledge their lasting legacy, we mourn their passing and we celebrate their inspiring contributions to the life of the mind. Through their writing, teaching and conversation they gave uplift of the heart, and to their many students, friends and readers they have left a rich and profound bequest.

Some commentators have mistakenly questioned the connection of these outstanding scholars of traditional Chinese culture to the contemporary world. Those mired in the narrow purview provided by a Chinese Studies fixated on the immediate, the evanescent and the narrowly utilitarian, are too often blind to the broad expanse of 'China-centred learning', or a Sinology that can variously be described as 'old', or 'new'. It is hard for those for whom the imminent rules paramount to cast their gaze beyond the now and appreciate that those who have contributed so much to our knowledge and understanding of the Chinese past were also vitally attentive to and engaged with its present.

David Hawkes' command of modern and contemporary Chinese was superb. Those familiar with The Story of the Stone (Honglou Meng 紅樓夢, also known as The Dream of the Red Chamber) would be aware of the fact that most of the dialogue in the novel is in very lively (and often difficult) colloquial Beijing dialect.

In the New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 20s scholars like Hu Shi used the book as an argument in favour of writing in the modern vernacular. Others relied on the novel to compile dictionaries and language textbooks of pure modern language by which they could better teach students in China how to use the new 'the national language' (guoyu 國語). The Stone is a work that still underpins much of what is regarded as being quintessential of both Beijing and China. Perhaps this is why writers, scholars and political figures have been fixated by the book for nearly two centuries.

David's achievement in translating that novel into the fluent, profound and often funny text that was published by Penguin Classics is extraordinary. (John Minford translated the contested later chapters of the work.) His earlier translation, Songs of the South (Chu Ci 楚辭), essays a daring reinterpretation of pre-dynastic China, and it is as lyrically powerful as it is pioneering. He was a scholar as familiar with how Chinese worked in the modern world as he was with its many classical forms. I would note that in the last months of his life David was avidly reading the work of the major modern Chinese (Taiwanese) novelist and dramaturge Pai Hsien-yung (Bai Xianyong 白先勇).

For those interested in David's view of Chinese as a living language, and its varied traditions, I would recommend his 25 May 1961 Inaugural Lecture given at the University of Oxford, 'Chinese: Classical, Modern and Humane'. I had the privilege of reprinting it with David's permission in the December 2007 issue of this journal.

Professor Liu Ts'un-yan was the professor of Chinese at The Australian National University and his scholarship and teaching touched on numerous students of China both in Australia and internationally. He was also a man with a long involvement in modern Chinese literature and stagecraft, as a writer and as an editor. We were all delighted that he was able to attend a forum on 'Sinology Old and New: A Forum' on 19 April 2009 when Anthony C. Yu, emeritus professor, was visiting The ANU at the invitation of John Minford and The China Institute. As John wrote in the announcement for that Forum:

Whither Chinese Studies?

Professor Anthony Yu's visit to the ANU offers an opportunity for reflection on some of the challenges facing those of us who teach courses and conduct research on China—in its many aspects: from the Oracle Bones of the Shang dynasty, to the latest Chinese antics on the Internet. Does Chinese Studies actually mean anything? Does Chinese have to become a sub-division of Business Studies? Can a graduate in Chinese studies manage without at least a grounding in literary Chinese? Does Song-dynasty poetry matter? Is the Three Kingdoms relevant to modern China? Is there a valid rationale for a holistic 'New' Sinology, one in which a knowledge of the Chinese tradition informs a perception of China today, and one in which an engagement with present-day China enlivens our perceptions of China's traditions?

Here we reproduce the obituary for David Hawkes that John wrote for The Times and the eulogy he gave at Professor Liu's funeral at The Australian National University on 24 August. We have also been given permission to publish the memorial speech that Pierre Ryckmans wrote and gave for his old friend and colleague on that sad occasion. We also feature an essay by Claire Roberts in memory of Alaistair Morrison.—The Editor, China Heritage Quarterly.