A scholar, historian, philosopher, essayist and poet of the 20th century, Hu Shi is famous for his advocacy of language reform and the theory of pragmatism.
Hu was born on Dec. 17, 1891, in Shanghai. As a young boy, he had a private tutor in Jixi, Anhui Province. In 1904, he returned to Shanghai and attended Meixi and Chengzhong schools. Two years later, he entered China College, where he published numerous essays, poems and short stories in a student periodical.
In 1910, he studied agriculture at Cornell University in the U.S. through the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program. In 1912, he changed his major to philosophy and literature. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he transferred to Columbia University to study philosophy with John Dewey (1859-1952), under whose influence Hu became a lifelong pragmatist.
In 1916, Hu started to advocate the use of vernacular Chinese and published his article in New Youth, a monthly magazine edited by Chen Duxiu, founder of China’s New Culture Movement. Upon his returning to China in 1917, Hu lectured at Peking University and became an influential intellectual during the May 4th Movement. Yet after raising a debate with Li Dazhao on whether to take a pragmatic attitude or pay more attention to “isms,” Hu quit New Youth and published his own magazines to run against Marxism, while also continuing his promotion of vernacular Chinese in literature.
From 1920 to 1938, he held posts as the dean or president of different universities. During the Anti-Japanese Aggression War (1937-1945), he was appointed as the ambassador to the U.S. In 1946, he became president of Peking University. Three years later, he moved to the U.S. In 1958 he went to Taiwan and was appointed president of the Central Academia Sinica, Taipei, where he remained until his death in 1962 of a heart attack.