Qian Zhongshu (November 21, 1910 – December 19, 1998) was a Chinese literary scholar and writer, known for his burning wit and formidable erudition.
To the general public, he is best known for his satiric novel Fortress Besieged (圍城，围城). His works of non-fiction are characterised by their large amount of quotations in both Chinese and Western languages (including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin).. He also played an important role in digitizing the Chinese classics late in his life.
Qian Zhongshu did not talk much about his life in his works. Most of what we know about his early life relies on an essay written by his wife Yang Jiang. Born in Wuxi, Qian Zhongshu was the son of Qian Jibo (錢基博，钱基博), a conservative Confucian scholar. By family tradition, Qian Zhongzhu grew up under the care of his eldest uncle, who did not have a son. Qian was initially named Yangxian (仰先 "respect the ancients"), with the courtesy name Zheliang (哲良 "sagacious and upright"). However, when he was one year old, according to a tradition practised in many parts of China, he was given a few objects laid out in front of him for his "grabbing". He grabbed a book. His uncle then renamed him Zhongshu, literally "being fond of books", and Yangxian became his intimate name. Qian was a talkative child. His father later changed his courtesy name to Mocun (默存), literally "to keep silent", in the hope that he would talk less.
Both Qian's name and courtesy name predicted his future life. While he remained talkative when talking about literature with friends, he kept silent most time on politics and social activities. Qian was indeed very fond of books. When he was young, his uncle often brought him along to tea houses during the day. There Qian was left alone to read storybooks on folklore and historical events, which he would repeat to his cousins upon returning home.
When Qian was 10, his uncle died. He continued living with his widowed aunt, even though their living conditions worsened drastically as her family's fortunes dwindled. Under the severe teaching of his father, Qian mastered classical Chinese. At the age of 14, Qian left home to attend an English-speaking missionary school in Suzhou, where he manifested his talent in language.
Despite failing in mathematics, Qian was accepted into the Department of Foreign Languages of Tsinghua University in 1929 because of his excellent performance in Chinese and English languages. At Tsinghua, Qian earned the admiration of many prominent scholars, but rarely socialized and was considered arrogant by his peers; one of his few friends was the budding Sinologist and comparatist Achilles Fang. Qian also frequently cut classes, though he more than made up for this in Tsinghua's large library, which he boasted of having "read through." It was probably in his college days that Qian began his lifelong habit of collecting quotations and taking reading notes. At Tsinghua, Qian met his wife, Yang Jiang, who was to become a successful playwright and translator; they married in 1935. For the biographical facts of Qian's following years, the two memoirs by his wife can be consulted.
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