Gu Hongming

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Gu Hongming (1857–1928) in his old age.

Gu Hongming (Chinese: 辜鴻銘; Wade-Giles: Ku Hung-ming; Pinyin: Gū Hóngmíng; courtesy name: Hongming; ordinary name: 湯生 in Chinese or Tomson in English) (18 July 1857 – 30 April 1928) was a Malaysian Chinese man of letters. He also used the pen name "Amoy Ku".


Gu Hongming was born in Penang, Malaysia, the second son of a Chinese rubber plantation superintendent, whose ancestral hometown was Tong'an, Fujian province, China, and his Portuguese wife. The British plantation owner was fond of Gu and took him, at age ten, to Scotland for his education. He was then known as Hong Beng (the Min Nan pronunciation of 鴻銘 Hongming). In 1873 he began studying Literature at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in the spring of 1877 with an M.A. He then earned a diploma in Civil Engineering at the University of Leipzig, and studied law in Paris.

He returned to Penang in 1880, and soon joined the colonial Singapore civil service, where he worked until 1883. He went to China in 1885, and served as an advisor to the ranking official Zhang Zhidong for twenty years.

Leo Tolstoy and Gu were both opposed to the Hundred Days' Reform led by Kang Youwei.[1]

From 1905 to 1908, he was the director of the Huangpu River Authority (上海浚治黄浦江河道局) in Shanghai. He served in the Imperial Foreign Ministry from 1908 to 1910, then as the president of the Nanyang Public School, the forerunner of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He resigned the latter post in 1911 as a sign of his loyalty to the fallen imperial government. In 1915, he became a professor at Peking University. Beginning in 1924 he lived in Japan and Japanese-administered Taiwan for three years as a guest lecturer in Oriental cultures. Then he returned to live in Beijing until his death on 30 April 1928 at the age of 72.

An advocate of monarchy and Confucian values, preserving his queue even after the overthrow of Qing Dynasty, Gu became a kind of cultural curiosity late in his life. Many sayings and anecdotes have been attributed to him, few of which can be attested. Literary figures as diverse as Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Somerset Maugham and Rabindranath Tagore were all drawn to visit him when they were in China. No scholarly edition of his complete works is available.

He was fluent in English, Chinese, German, and French, and understood Italian, Ancient Greek, Latin, Japanese and Malay.


His English works include:

He acquired Chinese only after his studies in Europe, and was said to have a bad Chinese hand-writing. However, his command of the language is far above average. He penned several Chinese books, including a vivid memoir recollecting his days as an assistant for Zhang Zhidong. He translated some of the Confucian classics into English, notably The Discourses and Sayings of Confucius and The Universal Order or Conduct of Life; and rendered William Cowper's narrative poem The Diverting History of John Gilpin into classical Chinese verse (known as 癡漢騎馬歌).


  1. ^ Lee 2005, p. 10.
  • Huang Xingtao 黃兴涛 (1995). Wenhua guaijie Gu Hongming (文化怪杰辜鸿铭 "Gu Hongming: a cultural eccentric"). Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company.
  • Kong Qingmao 孔慶茂 (1996). Gu Hongming pingzhuan (辜鴻銘評傳 "A biography of Gu Hongming"). Nanchang: Baihuazhou wenyi chubanshe.

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