"Only when we realize that there is no eternal, unchanging truth or absolute truth can we arouse in ourselves a sense of intellectual responsibility."
Hu Shih (1890-1962)
Medal 1929 (hon.)
LLD 1939 (hon.)
A onetime cultural critic who became a leading figure in the emergence of modern China, Hu Shih rose to prominence by promoting the use of the vernacular in literature-a practice that earned him the title "father of the Chinese literary renaissance." During the May Fourth Movement of the late 1910s, he joined other public intellectuals in attacking the classical language that had existed since about 200 BCE and arguing for the popular pai-hua as the written medium for both scholarship and general communication. The effort ushered in an era of mass literacy, relegating ancient Confucian texts to the status of reference works rather than standards to be memorized by every student. Hu's own scholarship helped convert the theretofore standard written language from an ideographic system to an alphabetic one-a "Herculean task" in the words of The New York Times.