The Demise of the Historian and Poet Chen Yinke

The tomb of Chen Yinke and his wife at the Lushan Botanical Garden. (Image:   via  wikimedia Zhangzhugang  CC BY-SA 3.0)
The tomb of Chen Yinke and his wife at the Lushan Botanical Garden. (Image: via wikimedia Zhangzhugang CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) developed from the root belief that materialism stood above all. Out of this belief, that the body is not more than its parts, slowly grew a force that in its roots opposed traditional Chinese culture and its reverence for the divine and the soul. Anything and anyone who opposed the Communist ideology by conduct or thought, and even through works of art, was seen as an enemy, a counter-revolutionist, and was dealt with accordingly.

With the rise of the Communist Party in China after 1949, began the fall and destruction of a number of immeasurable cultural vestiges from China’s ancient past and also its more recent past. Among the valuables destroyed during the time where also numerous minds that were a great influence on Chinese culture. These minds either showed a deep passion for China’s traditional culture or were beautiful literature, poetry, and play creators. Their works influenced the many minds and hearts of the Chinese people. All of them had one crime in common — questioning whether the CCP was doing good or harm to the Chinese people, especially by systematically whipping out the people’s past. Marcus Garvey once said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Chen Yinke (1890-1969)(Image Credit: By UnknownUnknown author (梅州网) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Chen Yinke (1890-1969). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Like many other great minds, Chen Yinke (1890-1969) was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution in China.  What did he do? What crimes was he being scrutinized for? The following may give some insight into the reasons declared by the CCP, but no real answers that could satisfy a reasonable and compassionate mind.

The price of being an academic and scholar of traditional culture

Chin Yinke was an academic, an expert in contemporary Chinese history. He was also a researcher in classical literature, a linguist fluent in 20 languages, and a member of the Academia Sinica. Chin Yinke was considered one of the most original and creative historians in 20th century China. His family had a distinguished tradition in classical learning, so he was exposed from an early age to the Chinese classics, to history, and to philosophy.

Chin Yinke came around a lot during his lifetime. As a student, he had the privilege of studying in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and Paris. Because of his mastery of so many languages, including English, French, and foremost Sanskrit and Pali, Xia Zengyou (1863-1924), who was a famous historian and poet of the late Qīng period as well as a noted lay Buddhist scholar, once said to Chen: “It is good for you to be able to read books in foreign languages. I know only Chinese, so I have no more to read after finishing all the Chinese books.”

Like other great minds, Chin Yinke was persecuted during China’s cultural revolution because of his vast knowledge and passion for the traditional culture and history of China before the Culture Revolution. He was stripped of his vast collection of valuable and rare texts, among which were classical pieces of poetry. Everything was forcefully taken away from him.

When the feather cuts like a sword

Chen Yinke was also popular for his own poetic works, some of which dealt with his contemporary time, the state it was in, and a comparative reflection of the past versus the quality and virtue of his contemporary time. He never openly criticised the CCP, but in his poems, he pointed out that something very wrong was taking place.

Memorial Tomb of Chen Yinke (Image Credit: By User:Zhangzhugang [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons)

A memorial to Chen Yinke. (Image: Zhangzhugang via wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many of the contemporary intellectuals of his time admired him in secret; they regarded him as being as knowledgeable as a modern Confucius. The articles he published were considered, by those who revered them, to have a lot of depth.

He never lifted a hand or uttered a word against the CCP during the Cultural Revolution; however, through the inner meaning of his works, he showed that he was not comfortable with the price that the Chinese people and its culture had to pay for the rise of the CCP. The inner meaning of his works seemingly hurt the revolutionary establishment so bad that they considered Chen Yinke a threat. During the Cultural Revolution, his salary and that of his wife were frozen, and they were forced many times to write statements to clarify their political stand in favor of the CCP.

Thoughts of freedom

During the 1920s, Chen Yinke wished that research could be of thoughts of freedom and the spirit of independence. Chen eventually died in Guangzhou on October 7, 1969, apparently due to heart failure and sudden bowel obstruction. The ashes of Chen and his wife today lie in a tomb at the Lushan Botanical Garden.

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