Chen Yinke

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Chen Yinke
Chen Yinke.jpg
Born(1890-07-03)3 July 1890
Died7 October 1969(1969-10-07) (aged 79)
Alma materFudan University
Humboldt University of Berlin
University of Zurich
Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris
Harvard University
OccupationHistorian, classical literature researcher, linguist, fellow of Academia Sinica
Parent(s)Chen Sanli
RelativesChen Baozhen (grandfather)
Chen Yinke
Traditional Chinese陳寅恪
Simplified Chinese陈寅恪

Chen Yinke, or Chen Yinque[1] (Chinese: 陳寅恪; 3 July 1890 – 7 October 1969), was a Chinese historian, linguist, orientalist, politician, and writer. He was a fellow of Academia Sinica, considered one of the most original and creative historians in 20th century China. His representative works are Draft essays on the origins of Sui and Tang institutions (隋唐制度淵源略論稿), Draft outline of Tang political history (唐代政治史述論稿), and An Alternative Biography of Liu Rushi (柳如是別傳).[2]


Early life[edit]

Chen Yinke was born to a Hakka family in Changsha, Hunan in 1890, and his ancestral home was Yining, Jiangxi (now Xiushui County). Yinke's father Chen Sanli was a famous poet, one of the "Four Gentlemen" of the Hundred Days' Reform. His grandfather was Chen Baozhen, the governor of Hunan between 1895 and 1898.

As a boy, Chen Yinke attended a private school in Nanjing, and was once a student of Wang Bohang [zh], a sinologist. His family had a distinguished tradition in classical learning, so he was exposed from an early age to the Chinese classics, to history, and to philosophy. In 1902 he went to Japan with his elder brother Chen Hengke to study at the Kobun Gakuin [zh] (Kobun Institute) in Tokyo, where other Chinese students such as Lu Xun were also enrolled. In 1905 he was forced to return to China due to beriberi, and studied at Fudan Public School, Shanghai.

In 1910 he obtained a scholarship to study at Berlin University, and later at the University of Zurich and Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. In 1914 he came back to China due to World War I.

In winter 1918 he got another official scholarship from Jiangxi to study abroad again. He studied Sanskrit and Pali at Harvard University under Charles Rockwell Lanman. At Harvard he first met Wu Mi, who was then studying literature under Irving Babbitt. They became lifelong friends.

In 1921, he went to Berlin University to study oriental languages under Heinrich Lüders, Central Asian languages under Max Müller, and Mongolian under Erich Haenisch. He acquired a knowledge of Mongolian, Tibetan, Manchu, Japanese, Sanskrit, Pali, English, French, German, Persian, Turkic, Tangut, Latin, and Greek. Particularly notable was his mastery of Sanskrit and Pali. Xia Zengyou [zh] once said to him: "It is good for you to be able to read books in foreign languages. I know only Chinese so I have no more to read after finishing all the Chinese books."

Tsinghua period[edit]

In March 1925 he returned to China again, meanwhile Wu Mi was in charge of the Institute of Guoxue Studies, Tsinghua School. He accepted the invitation to become a supervisor at Institute of Guoxue Studies, together with Wang Guowei, Liang Qichao and Zhao Yuanren. In 1928 Tsinghua School was restructured to become Tsinghua University. Chen was employed as professor at Chinese Language and Literature Department and History Department, while also adjunct with Peking University. Chen married Tang Yun (唐筼), granddaughter of Tang Jingsong, former governor of Republic of Formosa, in summer 1928. During this time he mainly gave lectures on Buddhist texts translation, historical documents of Jin Dynasty, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, and Mongolia. He also became adjunct member of Board of Academia Sinica, research fellow and director of Department 1 of The Institute of History and Philosophy, board member of National Palace Museum, member of Committee of Qing Dynasty's Documents. Among the many students at this time who went on to scholarly careers were Zhou Yiliang and Yang Lien-sheng.

After the Second Sino-Japanese War began, Chen moved to National Southwestern Associated University, Kunming, Yunnan, teaching lectures on history of Jin Dynasty, Southern and Northern Dynasties, history of Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, and poetry of Yuan Zhen and Bai Juyi.

During the war[edit]

In 1939, Oxford University offered him a professorship in Chinese History. He left for Hong Kong in September 1940 on his way to United Kingdom, but was forced to return Kunming due to ongoing battles. In 1941 he became a guest professor with Hong Kong University to teach history of Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty. Since the Japanese occupation in Hong Kong began in the end of 1941, he conducted history research at home, which resulted in the writing of A Brief Introduction to the Political History of Tang Dynasty. In July 1942, Chen fled to Guilin to teach in Guangxi University, later in December 1943 he moved to Chengdu to teach in Yenching University. He became employed by Tsinghua University for a second time in 1946.

At Lingnan University[edit]

He began to teach at Lingnan University, Guangzhou in late 1948. As a result of a nationwide restructure campaign across universities and colleges, Lingnan University was merged into Zhongshan University in 1952. Chen Yinke taught courses on history of Jin Dynasty and Southern and Northern Dynasties, history of Tang Dynasty, and yuefu of Tang Dynasty. In 1953 he started writing Biography of Liu Rushi, an in-depth investigation of the poetry and activities of Liu Rushi, a famous prostitute in late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. He finished this last major work in 1964, by then having become completely blind. He became vice president of Central Research Institute of Culture and History in July 1960.

During Cultural Revolution[edit]

Tomb of Chen Yinke and his wife

Chen was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution due to his previous connection with the out-of-favor Tao Zhu. He and his wife's salaries were frozen by the Red Guards. Several times he was forced to write statements to clarify his political standings: "I have never done anything harmful to Chinese people in my life. I have been a teacher for 40 years, only doing teaching and writing, but nothing practical (for Kuomintang)". Many of his book collections and manuscripts were stolen.

He died in Guangzhou on 7 October 1969 for heart failure and sudden bowel obstruction. 11 days later his obituary was published by the Southern Daily. The bone ashes of Chen and his wife was stored at Yinhe Revolutionary Cemetery at first, but moved to Lushan Botanical Garden in 2003. Now they are buried near the tomb of Chen Fenghuai.

Research ideology[edit]

The Monument of Wang Guowei, text written by Chen Yinke including "thoughts of freedom, spirits of independence"

In the 1920s, Chen Yinke insisted that research should be of "thoughts of freedom, spirits of independence". In 1953 he was designated as head of the Second Department of Insititute of History Study in Chinese Academy of Sciences. He demanded two requests to be granted, in his "Reply to the Chinese Academy of Sciences" on 1 December. The first one was "the Institute of Mid-Ancient Chinese History be exempt from the doctrines of Marxism, as well as attending politics lectures"; The second one was "a letter of approval from Mao Zedong or Liu Shaoqi, as a shield". He explained that "Mao, the top political authority, and Liu, the top party leader, should have consensus with me on the matter, otherwise academic research would be out of the question."[3] He did not assume the position eventually, continuing working at Zhongshan University. The incident was not disclosed to the public until the 1980s.

List of works[edit]

  • Chen Yinke Wei Jin Nan Bei Chao Shi Yan Jiang Lu (Lectures on History of Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties)
  • Sui Tang Zhi Du Yuan Yuan Lue Lun Gao (A Brief Introduction to the Origins of Institutions of Sui and Tang Dynasties)
  • Tang Dai Zheng Zhi Shi Lun Shu Gao (A Brief Introduction to the Political History of Tang Dynasty)
  • Yuan Bai Shi Jian Zheng Gao (A Testifying on Yuan Zhen and Bai Juyi's Poems)
  • Lun Zai Sheng Yuan (On Zai Sheng Yuan)
  • Liu Ru Shi Bie Zhuan (An Unofficial Biography of Liu Rushi)
  • Jin Ming Guan Cong Gao Chu Bian (Writings on Jin Ming Guan, Vol. 1)
  • Han Liu Tang Ji
  • Chen Yin Ke Xue Shu Wen Hua Sui Bi (Essays on Chen Yinke's Academy and Culture)
  • Chen Yin Ke Wen Ji (Collection of Chen Yin Ke)
  • Chen Yin Ke Ji (Corpus of Chen Yin Ke)
  • Jin Ming Guan Cong Gao Er Bian (Writings on Jin Ming Guan, Vol. 2)


  1. ^ Chen's pronunciation of his own name (陈寅恪) would be rendered as 'Chén Yínquè' in the Pinyin romanization system, and many scholars have adopted this reading and spelling. However, the validity of reading 恪 as 'què' is disputed. The character 恪, meaning "respectful; reverent", is archaic and literary, so it is rarely read aloud. Nevertheless, historical rime books and the Kangxi Dictionary uniformly imply 'kè' as the reading that would follow from regular sound changes that have taken place as Middle Chinese evolved into modern Beijing Mandarin. When the national language was standardized, the Ministry of Education (ROC) designated 'kè' as the 'Guoyu' reading, as did the Ministry of Education (PRC) more recently for the 'Putonghua' standard. Though most dictionaries indicate only this reading, the Cihai (as recently as the 1999 edition), has given 'què' as an alternative 'old' reading for 恪. This is almost certainly an oblique acknowledgment of Chen's reading of this character. Phonologists have speculated that 'què' is a Mandarin approximation of the pronunciation of 恪 in Chen's childhood Hakka dialect.
  2. ^ Yu (1999), pp. 198-199.
  3. ^ Reply to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, dictated by Chen Yinke and noted by Wang Qian, 1 December 1953. Copy archived in Zhongshan University.


  • Wu Mi and Chen Yinke, by Wu Xuezhao, Tsinghua University Press, ISBN 978-7-302-00974-0
  • On Memories of Chen Yinke, by Zhang Jie and Yang Yanli, Social Science Academy Press, ISBN 978-7-80149-158-9
  • Analysis of Chen Yinke, by Zhang Jie and Yang Yanli, Social Science Academy Press, ISBN 978-7-80149-159-6
  • Chronicles of Chen Yinke (revised), by Jiang Tianshu, Shanghai Ancient Book Press, 1997
  • The Last 20 Years of Chen Yinke, by Lu Jiandong, 陆键东,《陈寅恪的最后二十年》,Linking Press, 1997
  • Biography of Historian Chen Yinke, by Wong Young-tsu [zh], Peking University Press
  • Who Wanted to Come to Taiwan? By Li Ao
  • On Chen Yinke, By Yu Dawei et al.
  • Explanation and Argumentations of Late Chen Yinke's Writings, by Yu Yingshi, 1998
  • Four Sirs in Late Qing Dynasty, by Gao Yang, Crown Press 1983
  • The Family History of Chen Yinke, by Zhang Qiu Hui, Guangdong Education Press, 2000
  • Yu, Ying-shih (1999), in Boyd, Kelly (ed.), Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing Vol 1, Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, pp. 198–199

External links[edit]