Like Hellmut Wilhelm, the late K. C. Hsiao (Hsiao Kung-ch’uan, 1897-1981) was one of the “great constellation of scholars” that George Taylor assembled on the UW campus in the 1950s and 1960s to build up the Far Eastern and Russian Institute (FERI) (see George E. Taylor: The Northwest’s Expert on Asia and International Trade), now the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.
Hsiao was widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on Chinese political thought. He served on the faculty of the UW Department of Far Eastern Languages and Literature and the FERI from 1949 until his retirement in 1968.
Born in T’ai-ho, Kiangsi, Hsiao spent most of his youth in Chung King, Szechuan, where he received a classical Chinese education. He then entered school in Shanghai at the YMCA High School, receiving education in the western style. After completing undergraduate studies in China, he went to the U. S. for further studies, earning a masters degree in political philosophy from the University of Missouri.
Hsiao pursued doctoral studies at Cornell University; his dissertation, Political Pluralism: A Study in Contemporary Political Theory, published in book form in 1927, later became a standard in the field–and required reading in a course at Oxford.
While at Szechuan University from 1937 to 1947, Hsiao wrote his most famous work, A History of Chinese Political Thought, published in two volumes, in 1945 and 1949. A translation of the work by Frederick W. Mote has been published by Princeton University Press. “There is no work of comparable quality, and difficulty, in all of twentieth-century Chinese scholarship,” writes Mote in a memorial to Hsiao.
At the UW, Hsiao lectured on Chinese political thought and social institutions. He participated in the Modern Chinese History Project of the FERI, producing two major works: Rural China: Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1960, and A Modern China and a New World: K’ang Yu-wei, Reformer and Utopian, 1858-1927, published in 1975. “Both of these books are widely admired for their penetrating analysis based on a careful reading of a vast array of Chinese sources,” notes David Knechtges of the UW Department of Asian Languages and Literature (see David Knechtges: Translation of Wen Xuan).
In addition to his scholarly work and many honors and awards, Hsiao also wrote a large number of classical Chinese poems. “In his modest manner, Dr. Hsiao was reluctant to refer to himself as a poet, but in fact his classical verse ranks among the best written by twentieth century Chinese poets,” notes Knechtges. He was a master of the tz’u, or “song-verse” form, which, because of its rigid structure, requires great skill and imagination to compose.
The UW China Studies Program is pleased to make available Tributes to Dr. Kung-ch’uan Hsiao, written by his colleagues and students. They were compiled after his passing in 1981.