Qian Mu: Guardian of Chinese Tradition in the Shadow of Communism (Part 2)

Old photo of Chinese historian, Qian Mu, dressed in scholarly robes.

Prominent Chinese historian Qian Mu was a staunch defender of Chinese culture and a fearless critic of the Chinese Communist regime. (Image: Public Domain)

In 1966, when Chairman Mao Zedong initiated the Cultural Revolution, China’s traditional culture faced an unprecedented crisis, with universities, middle schools, and primary schools in mainland China grinding to a halt. According to Hu Meiqi, the wife of the esteemed historian Qian Mu, he paced through the house night and day, silent, for one to two months. One day, Qian Mu declared his intention to compile the Mandarin Self-Study Reader for All, aiming to provide a pathway for Chinese individuals to keep studying classical Chinese literature and to rescue the threatened tradition, even if they did not have access to teachers or schools.

In 1969, Qian Mu gave a lecture to military officers in Kinmen. He made a chilling prediction: “The rampant communism in China at this moment… is but a walking corpse with bones and flesh. The mainland regime is like a giant stone rolling down from a high mountain; the closer it gets to collapse, the greater its momentum… The horrors of the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution are terrifying, but there are even more horrifying things to come.”

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Photo taken during the Cultural Revolution of eight people labeled as counter-revolutionaries forced to kneel in the moments before their execution.
Photo taken during the Cultural Revolution of eight people forced to kneel in the moments before their execution. (Image: Li Zhensheng via Contact Press Images)

In 1978, Qian Mu returned to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he continued to criticize the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong vehemently, asserting that “Mao only mimicked Stalin, aiming to redistribute wealth and production in the country. This action inevitably led to the bankruptcy of Chinese society, leaving it in a worse state than even the Soviet Union.”

Deeply respected by Chiang Kai-shek

Qian Mu’s love of and adherence to traditional Chinese culture was deeply respected by the President of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek. In 1942, Chiang Kai-shek attempted to meet with Qian Mu multiple times, but was declined politely. The following year, however, Qian Mu accepted Chiang Kai-shek’s invitation. During their meeting, despite the 100 or so individuals waiting for an audience with Chiang, Qian Mu was granted an extended conversation and a shared lunch, an honor indicative of Chiang’s high regard for him.

In the 1950s, Qian Mu, struggling with financial difficulties while establishing the New Asia College in Hong Kong, sought aid from Taiwan. Upon learning this, Chiang Kai-shek instructed the Ministry of Education to provide funding and pledged monthly grants from the Presidential Office to support the New Asia College, a contribution that lasted for four years.

Statue of Chiang Kai-Shek, seated, in the main chamber of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.
Upon learning New Asia College was struggling with financial difficulties, Chiang Kai-shek instructed Taiwan’s Ministry of Education to provide funding. (Image: Chingyunsong via Dreamstime)

Final prediction

In his later years, Qian Mu, though visually impaired, remained a tireless intellectual. He gave voice to an article, The Potential Contributions of Chinese Culture to the Future of Humanity. Penned a little over a hundred days before his passing, this piece has been often referred to as his academic “last will and testament.”

In this academic testament, Qian Mu asserted: “Historically, the most profound contribution of Chinese culture lies in the study of the relationship between ‘heaven’ and ‘mankind.’ Chinese people like to talk about ‘heaven’ and ‘mankind’. I once stated that the concept of ‘harmony between heaven and mankind’ is the greatest contribution of Chinese culture to mankind.”

Further, he observed: “Looking back at the ebbs and flows of global culture, Western culture, once it experiences a decline, struggles to resurge. Chinese culture, on the other hand, has repeatedly fallen and risen again, enabling its continuous existence for millennia. This, arguably, is owing to the inherent spirit of traditional Chinese culture, which, since ancient times, has emphasized harmony with nature and abiding by the natural order.”

Qian Mu then made a prediction: “I am of the belief that the future trajectory of global culture will likely be guided by traditional Chinese culture.”

Qian Mu passed away in Taiwan on August 30, 1990, at the age of 96.


The vast majority of the high-level intellectuals who believed in the CCP’s propaganda and remained in mainland China in 1949 were persecuted in various ways in the successive political campaigns launched by the CCP. Many faced familial disintegration and personal ruin.

However, Qian Mu, whose academic achievements are unparalleled among his mainland contemporaries, not only found great success in his work, but he also led a happy family life, leaving an abundant legacy for students. His insight into the Communist Party’s destruction of traditional Chinese culture remains illuminating and commendable to this day.

See Part 1 here

Translated by Chua BC

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