Harvard College Library

Pao-liang Chu Connects Author with Alias in Twentieth-Century Chinese Authors and Their Pen Names

Pao-liang Chu, Senior Chinese Cataloger in the Harvard-Yenching Library, connects author with alias in Twentieth-Century Chinese Authors and Their Pen Names

October 14, 2003 -- Chinese authors have a penchant for pen names. Whether to avoid persecution by authorities during periods of political repression in China, to avoid embarrassment if an authors’ first work is not successful, or simply to amuse readers, thousands of Chinese authors have written under assumed names. This presents a challenge for scholars who study a work believing it is written by the author inscribed on the title page, never realizing that name is only a substitute. The newly revised reference book Twentieth-Century Chinese Authors and Their Pen Names (Guangxi Normal University Press, China) by Pao-liang Chu, Senior Chinese Cataloger in the Harvard-Yenching Library, demystifies 20th century Chinese pen names and gives scholars a reliable resource to connect the real with the alias.

"My research on pen names began when a professor came to me baffled that Hao Ran, whose real name was Xia Kangnong, had two different birth dates, 1902 and 1932. He asked me which was correct. After hours of research I discovered that Hao Ran was actually the pen name for two different authors, Xia Kangnong born in 1902 and Liang Jinguang, born in 1932. But, reference materials attributed all works by Hao Ran to Xia Kangnong," said Chu.

After this discovery, Chu began collecting any information he could find concerning Chinese pen names, often scribbling a name or a connection between two names down on scraps of paper and then storing the notes in a box on his desk. When the box was full, he decided to compile the information and write a reference work identifying Chinese writers and their nom de plume. Chu discovered that certain 20th century Chinese authors have published under more than 100 different names, complicating research, records, and Chu’s attempt to make clear who is who.

The first edition of the reference work was published in 1977 and a second edition followed in 1989. The newest edition, published this year as the ninth volume in the Harvard-Yenching Library Bibliographical Series and supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, has over 5,000 additional entries and totals 1,500 pages. It is organized alphabetically, referenced by both real names, in capital letters, and pen names, in lowercase.

"Chinese authors used pen names for many reasons. If an author had two articles printed in the same journal, one would be published under a pen name. Sometimes a writer adopted various names and published articles that supported the views proposed in his earlier works. But pen names were most important during periods of political repression when the fear of making any statement that challenged the authorities forced writers to use different names," said Chu.

This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
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