Gu Jiegang

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Gu Jiegang
Gu Jiegang 1954.jpg
Portrait of Gu Jiegang in 1954.
Born (1893-05-08)8 May 1893
Suzhou, Jiangsu, Qing Empire
Died 25 December 1980(1980-12-25) (aged 87)
Residence China
Citizenship Chinese
Alma mater Peking University
Known for Yigupai
Scientific career
Fields Chinese historian
Influences Liang Qichao, Zhang Binglin, Kang Youwei, Zhang Sizhao, Hu Shih
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 顧頡剛
Simplified Chinese 顾颉刚
Gu Jiegang at his apartment in Wukang Road, Shanghai, in 1954.

Gu Jiegang (8 May 1893 – 25 December 1980) was a Chinese historian best known for his seven-volume work Gushi Bian (古史辨, or Debates on Ancient History). He was a co-founder and the leading force of the Doubting Antiquity School, and was highly influential in the 20th century development of Chinese history.


Gu Jiegang was born two years before China's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. The country during his early years was wrought with turmoil. During high school, Gu briefly joined a revolutionary group during the 1911 Revolution. However, he soon realized that he had "no personal aptitude for politics, and no ability in promoting great social movements". He developed an interest in history while being a student at Peking University, and resolved to use a new historical narrative to calm his country's social and political turmoil.[1] He evacuated to Chongqing in the Second Sino-Japanese War and started studying the ethnic minorities in China, Muslims in particular.[2]

When the Cultural Revolution started in 1966, Gu was labeled a Reactionary Scholarly Authority. He had to wear a dunce cap and was subjected to struggle sessions. He had to labor at the History Department every day until he was freed in the early 1970s.


Gu has been viewed as something of an enigma by many scholars. His work has been characterized as scientific and anti-tradition, while at the same time showing pride in Chinese culture and believing that the Chinese identity would withstand modernization. The German scholar Ursula Richter characterized this discrepancy by labeling Gu "the traditional and yet modern scholar who was true to tradition also in that he 'obeyed yet resisted'".[3]

According to Laurence Schneider, the "most persistent theme" in Gu's writings is "the central role of the intellectual in Chinese history, and the centrality of history to the Chinese intellectual".[4] He attributed China's failure to modernize to opportunistic intellectuals who allied with the aristocracy, rather than pursuing truth. In order to restore China to greatness, Gu, along with his mentor Hu Shi, advocated a non-political role for Chinese intellectuals, against the emerging trend of Marxist histories.[5]

To this end, Gu used textual criticism to challenge traditional Chinese historiography. One example is the myth of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, a supposed golden age in China's antiquity that had scarcely been doubted up to the present. It is important to note that Gu's purpose in questioning the historicity of this myth was not only to rectify errors in understanding, but also to destroy the entire philosophy of history that revolved around looking back to this supposed golden age.[6]

Gu is also known for his theory of Chinese diversity, as opposed to the idea of Chinese homogeneity, which is the main assumption of hanism. He states that there is no such thing as the Chinese national identity. This is a bold remark,[citation needed]considering the fact that he was living in a period of fundamental change and the period of pan-hanism in China.

Relationship with Lu Xun[edit]

In 1927, Gu Jiegang threatened to sue his former colleague Lu Xun because he believed, quite correctly, that he was being mocked in Lu Xun's short story "Taming the Floods" (理水).[7]


  1. ^ Hon, Tze-Ki (1996). "Ethnic and Cultural Pluralism: Gu Jiegang's Vision of a New China in His Studies of Ancient History". Modern China. 22 (3): 315–339. doi:10.1177/009770049602200303. ISSN 0097-7004. JSTOR 189190.
  2. ^ Jonathan N. Lipman (1 July 2011). Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China. University of Washington Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-295-80055-4.
  3. ^ Hon (1996), pp. 315-316.
  4. ^ Schneider, Laurence A. (1969). "From Textual Criticism to Social Criticism: The Historiography of Ku Chieh-kang". The Journal of Asian Studies. Association for Asian Studies. 28 (4): 771–788. doi:10.2307/2942411. JSTOR 2942411.
  5. ^ Schneider (1969), pp. 771-772
  6. ^ Schneider (1969), p. 772
  7. ^ Pollard, David E. The True Story of Lu Xun.

Further reading[edit]