A Brief Introduction – Biographies of Prominent Chinese

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Biographies of Prominent Chinese was most likely published in early 1925, not long after the death of Sun Yat Sen in March of that year [1]. Containing the biographies of 200 elite men, it is a comprehensive ‘who’s who’ of the early years of the Republic of China (From 1911 to 1949 in Mainland China and from 1945 onwards in Taiwan). Covering names in politics, the military, commerce and education, these biographies outline key actors during one of the many turbulent periods in China’s modern history. Through the stories of these men, one can gain a sense of the shifting alliances and unstable political and social systems in early twentieth century China. Interestingly, while notables such as Yuan Shikai are given due prominence in the book, others such as Lu Xun are still establishing their reputation. And other Republican luminaries, such as Chiang Kai Shek, were still yet to draw the attention of biographers. The publishers included the noted expatriate American media figures J.B. Powell and Carl Crow [2].

Nearly 90 years later all these men have passed away and early Republican China can be viewed more impartially. The lives of some in the book have been subject to extensive analysis, while the stories of others have faded away. As a primary source, Biographies of Prominent Chinese offers an accessible and alternative historical perspective of the time. It grants us a glimpse of how these men were memorialised when their influence, to one extent or another, was still very much visible.

For a sense of the context in which the book was published, one should read the publisher’s note, Chang Chien’s introduction and Tsai Ting Kan’s introduction. Readers will note that Chinese words are rendered in Wade Giles rather than the contemporary standard Pinyin. As part of this project, each entry will be slightly modified for readers’ convenience, with individual names rendered in Pinyin in addition to the Wade Giles of the original document.

Entries from Biographies of Prominent Chinese will be updated weekly, allowing readers to gradually comprehend the personalities of the time and through them, the shifting power dynamics of a complex period that was formative for the China of today. As more entries are uploaded, names will be hyperlinked so that readers can more easily generate their own understanding of the intricate personal networks of the time.

[1] Biographies of Prominent Chinese is undated.

[2] Details of J.B. Powell can be found in this profile of his late son, Bill http://thechinabeat.blogspot.com.au/2009/02/bill-powell-1919-2008.html. An introduction to Carl Crow and excerpt from his book 400 Million Customers can be found at Danwei.org http://www.danwei.org/books/carl_crow_paul_french.php.