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Correspondence between Jerome Shih Yen Chung 史仁仲 (‘62) and Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書

compiled by Yu Fong Ying (‘61)

Jerome ShihOn August 5, 2021, in an email to fellow ’62 grads, Paul Lee remembered a deceased classmate Jerome Shih Yen Chung     (Feb. 28, 1944 – Jan. 22, 2005, aged 61), extolling his excellent Chinese. In this, Paul was repeating what he contributed to the memorial file on Jerome compiled by Wong Hin Shing (’61) and Yu Fong Ying (’61) in 2012:  “I also have some copies of his correspondence with Chiang Chung-Hsu (Qian Zhongshu 1910-1998). Very erudite and impressive!  I think I can say with some confidence that no other Wah Yan alumnus has mastered Chinese literature better than Jerome. (I am being conservative. The field can actually extend much beyond Wah Yan alumni.)”  (Introduction to the Series In Memoriam -- Jerome Shih Yen Chung, Feb. 13, 2012, on WYKAAO  website).  The difference is that for the first time, the correspondence was attached to the email, as follows:

“Dear Friends,

I read the news that 一代大師余英時 died on August 1.   Surprisingly this triggers my memory of Jerome Shih 史仁仲.

The undoubted giant of the Chinese literary world was 錢鍾書.   He was greatly admired for his novel 圍城.    Jerome, together with Prof. Motsch had translated the book into German:  "Die umzingelte Festung."  This was a great accomplishment.   Other than the popular novel, 錢鍾書 wrote on various aspects of Chinese culture with great depth and erudition.   Among his work was 管錐篇.  This is a five volume work with extensive reference to world literature.   I have great difficulty understanding the book.   Jerome read it carefully and wrote 錢鍾書 several pages pointing out errors and omissions in the book.   錢鍾書 was impressed and wrote back a nice letter to Jerome (attachment 1.)

Attachment 2 is a letter by 錢鍾書 to Prof Motsch.  In the middle of the letter is this reference to Jerome:
史先生文言文,書法都極好;美國的華裔 漢學家和我通過信的不在少數, 只有余英時君可以相比。

I got copies of these letters from Jerome's sister, Elena who you would know as Mrs. Vincent Chu.   
I just want to highlight the achievement of our classmate who had left us way too early.

Best regards,
Paul

Attachment 1    Qian Zhongshu’s letter to Jerome Shih (no year)

Attachment 2    Qian Zhongshu’s letter to Professor Motsch” (July 22, 1981, not reproduced because of copyright)

Jerome originally belonged to the ’61 cohort. Wong Hin Shing knew him well as they belonged to the Classical Music Lovers’ Association (CLA) formed among some ’61 grads interested in classical music. I was an affiliate member. Jerome has not only many records (vinyl) and a sophisticated sound system, but also vast knowledge about music and conductors, and could play the piano. In these, he stood out as an ‘academic’ aficionado. He voluntarily repeated Form 4 to get into the science stream. It was only after he had gone to the States to pursue his studies that he changed course and went into linguistics and modern languages. Wong also remembered learning that Jerome had a photographic memory.
Paul’s email was forwarded to me by York Chen. I thought the correspondence between Jerome and Qian is significant and deserves a wider audience.
First, it certainly highlights Jerome’s very high standard of Chinese, including the art of calligraphy. That in turn reflects the sound foundation that WYK Chinese teachers provided on which excellence was built. It also points to Jerome’s depth and breadth of literary knowledge of both China and the West -- English, Italian, French, German and Classical. And of course, his high standard of German is evident as a co-translator of Qian’s classic novel, Fortress Besieged圍城, into German. (For Jerome, alas, it is a posthumous publication. But he had worked on it with Professor Motsch for many years.)
Second, it is of interest to any scholar who studies Qian, in particular his erudite published work, Intimate Views管錐篇. Qian’s status in modern Chinese literature and literary criticism is universally acknowledged. The discussions, supplements, questions and even corrections to his work cannot but be  scrutinized by future scholars. Qian’s character too is quite apparent in the letters: courteous, appreciative, frank, humorous, with a predilection for passing judgement.

Attachment 3    Jerome Shih’s letter to Qian, 1994

Attachment 4    The book cover of the German translation Die umzingelte Festung, 2008

END


(I would like to thank Elena Shih sincerely for permission to reproduce the letters of Jerome and Qian; Paul Lee for giving me access to them and the book cover as well as technical help; York Chen for alerting me to Paul’s email; and Wong Hin Shing for a joint attempt to update the 2012 In Memoriam file to incorporate the above information, and for specific technical help.)  

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