The Rector recently returned from Wuxi, China, where she co-hosted a conference in honour of Qian Zhongshu (1935, English), Exeter’s most famous Chinese alumnus.
Entitled “From Wuxi to Oxford: Qian Zhongshu’s life journey and academic accomplishments”, the conference was held at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, on 19-20 March 2014, and attracted more than 50 scholars. It is the first time that the College has helped to arrange an international symposium on this scale to celebrate the life of one of its alumni.
Qian Zhongshu, born in Wuxi in 1910, came to Exeter College to read for a two-year BLitt in 1935. A scholar of classical Chinese and fluent in several European languages, he is considered to be one of China’s most important 20th century writers and literary critics. His satiric masterpiece novel Fortress Besieged, published in 1947, draws heavily on his time in Oxford and his stints elsewhere in Europe.
The conference attracted more than 50 scholars of Qian Zhongshu’s life and literature, including Qian’s nephew. They came from a wide range of universities in China and elsewhere, including Fudan and Suzhou universities and the Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Among the international speakers were Professors Zhang Longxi of Hong Kong City University, Theodore Huters from UCLA and Christopher Rea from the University of British Columbia. The Conference heard about Qian’s impressive literary pedigree, his student life at Oxford University, events and persons who had a profound impact on Qian’s intellectual development and the unique characteristics of his writing. The College of Humanities at Jiangnan University ran the event with great aplomb.
The organisers received congratulatory messages from David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science and Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of Oxford University.
The conference grew out of a suggestion to the Rector by some of Oxford’s Chinese students, eager to publicise the University’s connection with this important literary figure. She presented a paper to the conference written jointly with Chen Li, a graduate of Merton College who has done extensive research into Qian’s time at Oxford. Exeter now hopes to build on its connection with Qian Zhongshu and Wuxi by creating a bridge between scholars of all nations in the study of his writing, by discussing his unrivaled journey through modern academic discourse and by promoting further research into his work.