I was very excited this week to receive in my inbox a PDF copy of my contributing article to the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, a new 1,700-page volume of essays introducing the lives and times of more than 100 important Chinese historical figures. That ranges from ancient emperors and philosophers to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. My chosen subject is Liang Qichao, the political writer, journalist and reform activist whose life spanned the late years of the Qing dynasty to the early and turbulent years of the Chinese republic.
I’d worked on this a couple years back, and seeing the PDF of the published chapter is the next best thing to holding a copy of the volume in my hands. (I’m double excited because although I’ve published many an article in newspapers, magazines and on websites, I believe this is the first time I’ve published in an actual book.)
In Hong Kong, where I grew up, Liang’s name is known to almost every school child. He is best-known for his involvement in the efforts to reform Qing rule in the last decade or so of the 19th century; the ‘Hundred Days Reform’, led by Liang’s mentor Kang Youwei, is required reading in every Chinese history textbook. Yet revisiting the subject and diving deeper into Liang’s beliefs and writings, I found many new discoveries about his work to be impressed with. He was certainly one of the first Chinese intellectuals of his time to write about Western-style democracy and the people’s rights. To me, his searching and at times tormented questions about China’s political future are surprisingly relevant a century on. His observations about nationalism and his musings about the weaknesses of the Chinese national psyche, too, at times struck me as deeply as if he were writing in this day and age.
I’d encourage anyone with an interest in Chinese history to look up his writings. The link below opens a pdf of my chapter (all copyright to Berkshire Publishing and to myself; please cite if using). Enjoy!
(Pdf file: liang-qichao)