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Interviews with Li Xueqin: The Life of a Chinese Historian in Tumultuous Times: Part One


When Li Xueqin was born in Beijing on 28 March, 1933, the Republic of China was in power, with its capital in Nanjing, and the Japanese occupied Manchuria. On 29 July 1937 Japanese troops invaded Beijing and brought it under control in little more than a week. The occupation of Beijing lasted until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. The People's Liberation Army entered Beijing in the end of January of 1949 and on 1 October 1949, when Li Xueqin was sixteen, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China. This period of warfare was followed by periods of political turmoil which often centered around intellectuals—thought reform in the early fifties, the anti-rightest campaigns and the Great Leap Forward of the late fifties and early sixties, the Cultural Revolution from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies.

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1. At the beginning of this interview, Xueqin, Li gave me a copy of the schools' alumni magazine, Huiwen Xiaoyou 匯文校友 2007.2, which includes a number of articles concerning him, including reminiscences of his classmates and one of his own, a brief resumé, etc. For the history of the Peking Academy, see their website at

2. Li Xueqin's only formal study of English was in high school. In the Huiwen alumni magazine (see previous note) he praises their teaching and mentions that he passed the university examinations in Enlish with 98%, having written an “o” or “a” poorly. He seems to have acquired his English primarily from reading English books on his own, everything from academic works and works of literature to popular novels.

3. Mengjia, Chen 陳夢家. Yinxu buci zongshu 殷墟卜辭綜述 (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1956); Xueqin, Li, “Ping Chen Mengjia Yinxu buci zongshu” 評陳夢家殷虛卜辭綜述, Kaogu Xuebao 1957.3, 119130 .

4. See Xueqin, Li, “Lun ‘Fu Hao’ mu de niandai ji youguan wenti” 論 “婦好” 墓的年代及有關問題, Wenwu 1977.11, 3237 . Other representative works by Xueqin, Li include “Xiaotun nandi jiagu yu jiagu fenqi” 小屯南地甲骨與甲骨分期, Wenwu 1981.5, 2733 ; Yinxu jiagu liangxishuo yu Lizu buci” 殷墟甲骨兩系說與歷組卜辭, in Li Xueqin ji 李學勤集 (Harbin: Heilongjiang jiaoyu, 1989); Xueqin, Li and Yushang, Peng 彭裕商, Yinxu jiagu fenqi yanjiu 殷墟甲骨分期研究 (Shanghai: Shanghai Guji, 1996).

5. Xueqin, Li 李學勤, Yindai dili jianlun 殷代地理簡論 (Beijing: Kexue, 1959).

6. Zuobin, Dong 董作賓, “Yinxu wenzi yi bian xu” 殷虛文字乙編序, Zhongguo kaogu xuebao 1949.4, 258–89. This “Preface” reported on the finds of oracle bones from the thirteenth to fifteenth sessions of excavation, most importantly the hoard known as YH 127, which necessitated a reassessment of previous periodizations.

7. Chen argued that these inscriptions belonged to the reign of Wu Ding, i.e. to the first period rather than the fourth period in Dong's periodization. See Mengjia, Chen 陳夢家 “Jiagu duandaixue jia bian” 甲骨斷代學甲編, Yenjing xuebao 40 (1951), 163 ; Jiagu duandaixue ding bian” 甲骨斷代學丁編, Zhongguo kaogu xuebao 1951.1–2, 177224 ; Jiagu duandaixue bing bian” 甲骨斷代學丙編, Zhongguo kaogu xuebao 1953.1–2, 1755 ; Jiagu duandaixue yi bian” 甲骨斷代學乙編, Kaogu xuebao 8 (1954), 148 . The contents of these articles were included in Chen Mengjia, Yinxu buci zongshu.

8. Houxuan, Hu 胡厚宣, Wushinian jiaguxue lunzhumu 五十年甲骨學論著目 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1952).

9. Barnhardi, Anna, “Frühgeschechtliche Orakelknochen aus China,” Baessler-Archiv 4 (1914), 1428 , provides the earliest photograph and other information related to a disputed genealogy on an ox scapula, now in the British Library. Xueqin, Li, Lan, Ai 艾蘭 (Allan, Sarah), and Wenxin, Qi 齊文心 Yingguo suocang jiagu ji 英國所藏甲骨集 (Beijing: Zhonghua, 1985, repr., 1991), 2674 . Hu Houxuan regarded the genealogy as a fake.

10. Moruo's, Guo Yin Qi Cui Bian 殷契粹編 (Beijing: Kexue, 1965), first published in Japan in 1937 was one of the seminal works in oracle bone studies.

11. See note 5 above.

12. Shigeki, Ka izuka 貝塚茂樹 and Michiharu, Itō 伊藤道治, daidaihō, Kōkotsubun no saikentō: Tōshi no Bunbutei jidai bokuji o chūshin to shite” 甲骨文斷代法の再檢 討–––董氏の文武丁時代卜辭の中心として, Tōhōgakuhō (Kyoto) 23 (1953), 178 .

13. Xueqin, Li 李學勤, “Wo he Yinxu jiagu fenqi” 我和殷墟甲骨分期, Li Xueqin wenji 李學勤文集 (Shanghai: Zhongguo Shehui Kexueyuan Xueshu Weiyuan Wenku, 1999) 127133 .

14. Zhenyu, Luo 羅振玉, Sandai jijin wencun 三代吉金文存 (Beijing Zhonghua, 1983 [repr. of 1937 ed.]). See also Guowei, Wang, Tong Xiangxu shi yin pu xu 桐鄉徐氏印譜序 (1926), cited by Xueqin, Li in his preface to Li Xueqin wenji, 4 .

15. See Xueqin, Li, “Zhangguo qiwu biaonian” 戰國器物標年 Lishi xuexi 1956.2; Tan jinnianlai faxian de jizhong Zhanguo wenzi ziliao” 談近年來發現的幾種戰國文字資料, Wenwu 1956.1, 4849 ; Zhanguo shidai de Qin'guo qingtongqi” 戰國時代的秦國青銅器, Wenwu 1957.8, 3840 ; Zhanguo diming gaishu” 戰國題銘概述, Wenwu 1959.7, 5054; 1959.8, 60–63; 1959.9, 58–61.

16. This early interest in the Warring States period is reflected in Xueqin's, Li major work in English, Eastern Zhou and Qin Civilization, trans. Chang, K.C. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

17. In this period, Li wrote under pseudonyms, including Jiang Hong 江鴻, Ling Xiang 凌襄 and Du Heng 杜恒.

18. In 1984, I interviewed Hu Houxuan about his work on the Jiaguwen Heji. Hu told me that Guo gave an order at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution that the materials should not be destroyed. As a result, they were able to quickly send them out of Beijing for safe-keeping. Then, in 1970, Guo wrote to Hu that he should continue his work on oracle bones. Hu replied proposing to continue work on the Heji. Guo passed on the letter with his commendation and so Hu and his students at the Institute of History were able to renew the project. See Allan, Sarah, “Hu Houxuan and the Jiaguwen heji ,” East Asian Civilizations: New Attempts at Understanding Traditions 3/4 (1990), 252–57.

19. For a recent interview with Li Xueqin on these matters, see http://www.csstoday,net/Item/296oo.aspx: Yi ‘erzhong zhengjufa’ tuidong lishixue he kaoguxe de fazhan — fang lishi xuejia, guwenzi xuejia Li Xueqin” 二重證據法”推動歷史學和考古學的發 展–––訪歷史學家、古文字學家李學勤, from Zhongguo kexuebao 273 (10 31, 2012).

20. See Xueqin, Li, Zouchu yigu shidai 走出疑古時代 (Shenyang: Liaoning Daxue, 1994, rev. ed., 1997), 12 .

21. While studying in Beijing from 1931–37, Bodde took Feng Youlan's course at Tsinghua University and then translated his History of Chinese Philosophy into English. The first volume, Yu-lan, Fung, A History of Chinese Philosophy: The Period of the Philosophers (from the beginnings to circa 100 B.C.), translated by Bodde, Derk, was published in 1937 . Later, in 1946–47, he invited Feng Youlan to the University of Pennsylvania to work with him on translating the second volume, which was first published in 1953.

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Early China
  • ISSN: 0362-5028
  • EISSN: 2325-2324
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