Xu Guozhang

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Xu Guozhang (1915-1994)

Xu Guozhang (许国璋 Nov. 25, 1915-Sep. 11, 1994) is a celebrated linguist in China, who is very well-known among young English students since the 1960s for his "Xu Guozhang English" series.

Born in Haining of Zhejiang Province, Xu was 18 years younger than his fellow Haining native, and China's famous poet, Xu Zhimo, who had gained fame for his melancholic poem "Farewell again, Cambridge."

Following his widely-acclaimed predecessor, Xu was regarded a diligent and poetic man in pursuing his further studies. He was admitted to Soochow University in 1930 and graduated from there as a laureate, holding the highest scores among his peers. He subsequently entered Shanghai Jiaotong University and transferred to the Foreign Languages School of Tsinghua University the next year, in 1939.

Yet times turned rather special when the Anti-Japanese-Aggression War erupted in 1937. Xu followed his school in its move to Changsha, Hunan Province, where a number of universities had jointly established the National Southwestern Associated University. It was there that Xu first encountered a number of literary celebrities, including Zhu Ziqing, Wen Yiduo, Feng Youlan, Jin Yuelin, Qian Zhongshu, Qian Mu, and the English poet and literary critic William Empson (燕卜荪). Xu made big progress under the guidance of his mentor Ying Juehua.

"I have spent the last of two years in my campus from Nanyue, Mengzi and Kunming, taking Mr. Empson's class when I was a junior and following Mr. Qian (Zhongshu) in my last year. I have ever since been their student," Xu later recalled in his autobiography.

With his unique idiomatic style, Xu translated the excerpt of historian Sima Qian's "Biography of Xiang Yu," which was included in the school's Chinese-English translation textbook and highly appreciated by critical professor Ye Gongchao, who said the language could parallel the exquisiteness of that found in Edward Gibbon's "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Nonetheless, Xu's favorites were 18th century British essayists Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson.

After graduation, Xu taught at both Shanghai Jiaotong University and Fudan University. In 1947, he set out to pursue his overseas academic dreams at the University of London and the University of Oxford, following in the footsteps of his favorite poet Percy B. Shelley as well as those of his famous fellow Haining native Xu Zhimo.

In October of 1949, the month that witnessed the founding of the People's Republic of China, he returned home and took up teaching at the Beijing Foreign Studies University where he remained until the end of his life.

His research stretched out to the field of structural linguistics and his translations covered the works of Ferdinand de Saussure and Bertrand Russell. He also acted as a critic on modern linguist Ma Jianzhong, philosopher Jin Yuelin and ancient scholar Xu Shen's "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" ("Explaining and Analyzing Characters").

His "Xu Guozhang English" series has been a bestseller, particularly since China's reform and opening up, with those who rushed to get on the so-called 'study abroad' train and wanted to improve their language skills first.

He died from cardiac arrest at the age of 79.

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