Chien Mu’s Last Class: The Cultured Elegance of Su Shu House

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2017 / September

Sanya Huang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


In 1990, when the author and educator ­Chien Mu moved from Su Shu House in Wai­shuangxi, where he had long lived, his friends and former students worried that such a major change would prove challenging. Yet ­Chien himself seemed unbothered. He remained cheerful, happily observing the changing times. Only three months after the move to Hang­zhou South Road, however, ­Chien unexpectedly passed away. Afterwards, Su Shu House became a museum dedicated to his life and work. For 27 years, a steady stream of admirers from Taiwan and abroad have come to visit the house and walk through the elegant garden as younger scholars lecture on The Analects of Confucius or on the work of ­Chien Mu himself, recapturing the spirit of a leading cultural light of his generation.

 


 

Chien Mu (1895‡1990), an important scholar of contemporary history, hoped from a young age to pursue an academic career, but circumstances cut short his formal education. Although merely a secondary-school graduate, diligent self-study would earn him honorary doctorates from the University of Hong Kong and Yale, and membership of Taiwan’s Academia Sinica. His works run to more than 17 million Chinese characters, and the full stack of his publications tops 190 centimeters.

During the span of 77 years from when he was 18 to 95 years old, his career as an educator brought him to posts at Peking University and National Southwest Associated University. Later he would move to what was then the British colony of Hong Kong, where he founded New Asia College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and educated many prominent scholars, including Yan Geng­wang of the Academia Sinica and Yu Ying-shih, who would have a distinguished career in the United States. In his later years, ­Chien Mu lived at Su Shu House in Tai­pei’s Wai­shuangxi, where he continued to lecture and write. The compound became a spiritual stronghold, attracting those with a deep interest in Chinese culture.

Origins of Su Shu House

Chin Chao-fen, executive director of the Su-Shu-Lou Cultural and Educational Foundation, notes that the line “Strong grass cannot be felled by the wind” truly captures the essence of ­Chien Mu’s life. From the Xin­hai Revolution that ended the Qing Dynasty, through the War of Resistance Against Japan and the Second Chinese Civil War, to the madness of the Cultural Revolution, which engulfed mainland China and impacted Hong Kong when ­Chien was based there, and on up to the severing of ROC‡US diplomatic relations, which occurred after he had moved to Taiwan, Chien determinedly forged ahead with his scholarship, completing his ­massive academic project A New Study of Zhu Xi as well as ambitious cultural works such as Examining Chinese People and Culture Through Chinese History and The Global Situation and Chinese Culture. These books are highly accessible introductions to Chinese culture that cultivate a sense of cultural self-confidence and self-respect.

In 1964, Chien stepped down from his post as president of New Asia College, after 16 years in Hong Kong working as an educational administrator. He was then invited to teach at the University of Malaya. He had expected to settle down and live in Kuala Lumpur long term, but he couldn’t get used to the hot and humid climate and had frequent serious stomach problems. He was left with no choice but to return to Hong Kong. At that time mainland China was caught in the grip of the Cultural Revolution, and the resulting turmoil spilled over into Hong Kong. So once again he had to search for a new place to live.

Eventually, ­Chien Mu and his wife decided to move to Taiwan and came first to scout out land to build on. A good friend who knew he was looking for a building site recommended the Su Shu House location, which is in a small basin surrounded by hills at Wai­shuangxi in Shi­lin, a northern suburb of Tai­pei City. At high points the site offers views of the National Palace Museum halfway up the opposite slope. Babbling Wai­shuangxi Creek, which runs all four seasons of the year, can be found down the hill. The scenery is beautiful. Zoned for cemeteries, the land was cheap, which was important for an academic who hadn’t accumulated substantial savings. A friend asked: “Does it violate any feng­shui taboos?” But after coming from Hong Kong to visit the site, a smiling ­Chien said he wasn’t worried about the feng­shui. The immediate neighborhood had an elementary school, so in feng­shui terms it could be described as a focal point for cultural energy. He thus decided to build his home here.   

Courtesies extended to a scholar

Changing the zoning to residential took more than a year, during which time ­Chien once again moved back to Hong Kong. The basic designs for Su Shu House were drawn up by Chien’s wife, based on the style of their house in the Sha Tin neighborhood of Hong Kong. When ROC president ­Chiang Kai-shek learned of ­Chien’s plans to move to Wai­shuangxi, he had the Yang­ming­shan Administration Bureau take over responsibility for constructing the home.   

Once ­Chien was actually living at Su Shu House, Chinese Culture University founder ­Chang Chi-yun invited him to teach graduate students in history at the university, and ­Chien had the students come to his house two hours a week for class. At the invitation of National Palace Museum director ­Jiang Fu­cong, Chien also received a special appointment as a researcher at the museum.

“When Mrs. ­Chien would do yardwork,” notes Chin Chao-fen, “her husband might come out, sit on a stone bench and muse: ‘Let me look around…. That would be a good spot for a pine.’ They personally planted all the trees, flowers and other plants in this garden.”

Holistic humanism

People tend to describe ­Chien Mu as an historian, and he himself described history as an essential means to understand both the past and the future. He firmly believed that the Chinese conception of harmony between man and nature could be of tremendous benefit to mankind. Traditional Chinese values help to supplement places where Western thought comes up short, such as when considering the meaning of happiness.

Chien Mu was aware that despite the appearance of developmental diversity in today’s world, in truth Western commercial and material culture dominates. Because that dominant culture lacks a basic and essential cultural understanding of human values, it offers a future of narrowed horizons.

One doesn’t read Chinese cultural classics simply as an academic exercise, but rather to understand how their content can be integrated into people’s actual lives and be disseminated to the world through people’s hearts and minds. Otherwise, that content will exist only as stale words on the pages of dusty old books.

Unending last class

“Every fall, I would ascend the steps through the flaming maple trees, up to Su Shu House, where I would listen to Chien Mu’s lectures,” says Wu Zhan­liang, a professor of history at National Taiwan University. “It almost felt as if I were making a pilgrimage.” When Wu was a student at Tai­pei’s Jian­guo High School, he would go there with the Confucian scholar Hsin Yi-yuen, who was then teaching at Jian­guo and had introduced Wu to the study of Chinese classical culture. He brought a sense of reverence on his journeys to lectures at Su Shu House.

Chien Mu announced that June 9, 1986 would be the date of his last lecture before his retirement from Chinese Culture University. Luminaries such as Professor Lu Yao­dong, General Kong Lingsheng, and politician James ­Soong were eager to avail themselves of a last opportunity to study under the great educator, and they all attended the lecture at Su Shu House.

Today the furniture he used while he lived there is still in place, as are his complete written works. The garden still features his beloved pines and bamboo. As one sees these markers of his life and cultural spirit, it almost seems as if the departed master of the house remains as well, still giving his last class.  

繁體中文

錢穆先生的最後一堂課 文人雅氣庭園──素書樓

文‧黃淑姿 圖‧林格立 翻譯‧Jonathan Barnard

民國79年因故遷離蟄居素書樓時,友人、學生們無不擔憂錢穆先生難以承受這樣巨大變故,他仍以一貫的樂觀與超然,笑看時代中的變遷更動。沒想到自外雙溪移居山下杭州南路居所後三個月即逝,故居素書樓後來成為「錢穆紀念館」,27年來海外各地慕名而來的人絡繹不絕,在素書樓的文人庭園雅致中,聽後輩學人講授《論語》、錢穆先生著作,追思一代人文大師的風采。

 


當代史學與文化大師錢穆先生(1895-1990),一生以學術為志業,因故被迫中斷學業,卻不自囿於中學學歷,刻苦自學,獲頒香港大學、耶魯大學榮譽博士與中研院院士。著作等身,公開發表的著作高達一千七百多萬字,出版全集堆疊起來有一百九十多公分高。

自18歲執教鞭至95歲止,77年的教育生涯中,任教北京大學、西南聯大,後至當時仍屬英國殖民地的香港,創辦新亞書院,培養出中研院士嚴耕望、留美歷史學人余英時等無數英才;晚年定居於台北外雙溪素書樓,持續講課、著述,使素書樓成為當時渴望中華文化學人群聚的精神堡壘。

素書樓緣起

目前接手經營錢穆先生故居的「素書樓文教基金會」執行長秦照芬說,「勁草不為風偃去」正是錢穆先生一生的寫照,從辛亥革命、抗戰、戡亂至香港於文化大革命期間的動蕩,來台定居後經歷中美斷交,大時代擾攘中依然堅持讀書、研究,完成《朱子新學案》學術大作,也寫出《世界局勢與中國文化》、《從中國歷史看中國民族性及中國文化》等文化作品,讓一般人能親炙中國文化,培養自信與自尊。

民國53年,錢穆先生辭去新亞書院校長職務,結束16年香港辦學生涯。有人勸他不如再多任職一年,就能從教授職務退休,往後有退休金支持,生活可不虞匱乏。錢穆只是笑了一笑,說:「建學之責已經完成,沒有必要再多留。」爾後受邀任教於馬來亞大學,原本預計在吉隆坡長居,無奈身體無法適應當地溼熱氣候,胃病又嚴重發作,只得返居香港;此際遭逢中國文化大革命,所住的香港局勢動盪,只得再覓去處。

後來,錢穆夫婦選擇遷居台灣,想找一塊土地蓋屋自居。好友知道錢穆先生正在尋覓建地,提起了素書樓現址。這塊四面環山的小盆地,站在高處可看到對面半山腰上的故宮博物院,山坡下是一年四季潺潺流響的外雙溪,風景優美。因為是墓地,價格便宜,對沒有積攢太多身家的學者來說正好。友人問錢穆先生:「是否忌諱風水之說?」錢穆從香港來台,看過土地後,笑呵呵地說,他沒有風水忌諱,這裡環境清幽,附近又有小學,可說是文氣聚集的寶地,建屋地址就此定下來吧。

傳統禮遇文人的佳話

墓地變更為住宅用地,需要一年多的作業時間,錢穆先生再度離開台灣,回到香港,由錢夫人按照當時賃居的沙田屋宅型態,親手繪製素書樓的建築圖樣。後來,總統蔣中正知曉錢穆先生即將遷居外雙溪,便將建屋一事交給陽明山管理局負責。

民國57年素書樓建成,錢穆夫婦從此定居素書樓,並得張其昀邀請,任教文化大學歷史研究所,讓學生每週兩小時來素書樓上課;又得故宮博物院院長蔣復璁之邀,以特聘名義為研究員。

「師母整理庭院時,先生就坐在庭院石頭板凳上,跟師母說:『我看看,那裡可以種一棵松。』這房子庭園的樹木及花草,都是他們親手打理出來的。」執行長秦照芬說。

整體人文宇宙觀

人們說,錢穆先生是一個歷史學家;他自己則說,從歷史才能通向未來,通向過去。人們只承認他在考據學上的成就,忽略他以畢生之力,藉由嚴格的考據功夫,在文化、思想上向全世界提出許多嶄新觀點,因為他絕對相信:中國文化「天人合一」觀對整體人類有極大助益。用中國傳統重視人類生命價值的觀點,補充西方所缺乏的──重新站到人的立場來思考:什麼才是人的幸福?

新一代的知識份子,是西化的知識份子,要溯源到最根本處去看問題。「他老人家說:『我不是大家所說的民族主義者或狹窄的愛國主義者,我是站在人類的立場,從世界文化的發展未來,來看中國文化。』」辛意雲教授說,因為錢穆先生意識到:今日世界看似多元發展,實際上乃受單一西方商業物質文化主宰,缺乏最重要也是最根本的人類生命價值文化,未來勢必越走越窄。

讀中國書,不只是概念上的邏輯分析思辨,而是要去理解,書的內容如何能與人的自我生命請求結合。通透世界,立足於人心而非語言文字。錢穆先生曾預言蘇俄大約何時即將崩潰,甚至告訴學生:「如果蘇俄沒有崩潰,你們把我的書束諸高閣,不必再讀;甚至也把中國的書束諸高閣,不必再讀。」並說:「你們若能『全然』吸收西方科學,特別是有關人類生命如何尋找幸福的部分,就能開展出新的人類觀。」辛意雲教授說這也是為何錢穆先生的晚期著作,包括生前最後寫就的《晚學盲言》,幾乎全面開展中西整體學術文化的綜合性討論。

永不停歇的最後一課

「每到秋天,我沿臺階走在火紅的槭樹間,往上直到素書樓聽錢穆先生講課,彷彿正在進行一趟瞻仰之旅。」台大歷史系教授吳展良曾說,他還是建國中學的學生時,跟著當時尚在建中任教的辛意雲教授接觸國學,懷著崇敬之心來到素書樓聽課。當年那個愛思考的高中生,如今也是執教多年為人師表,一如數十年來受教於錢穆先生的學生們,一代接一代傳承著知識火炬。

民國75年6月9日,錢穆先生正式宣布自文化大學退休前的「最後一課」,逯耀東教授、孔令晟中將、宋楚瑜等都到素書樓聽課。高官政要專注聆聽大師講課的經典畫面,在先生離去後已不復見。故居素書樓裡,保留著他生前使用的家具、著作全集,庭園裡仍有先生最愛的松竹,見證當年的文化精神地標,彷彿主人雖然離去,仍不間斷地為世人上著最後一堂課。                        

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