By Howard Goldblatt
Ifirst met Professor Hsia at a conference on Taiwanese literature in Texas, soon after he had published a generous review of my book on Xiao Hong 萧红 in the Journal of Asian Studies. I was, naturally, predisposed to like him. And I did. He entered the room loudly, shook my hand, and told me what a great paper I’d written, much better, he said, than the one by the colleague I was talking with. My new friend knew Professor Hsia, and had a good laugh. I was abashed. Some say that Professor Hsia was an acquired taste. Well, those who acquired it were the better for it. For my generation—scholars of the modern period who had been force-fed histories by Wang Yao 王瑶, Liu Shousong 刘绶松, and Dingyi 丁易, each thinner than the one before—Hsia’s History of Modern Chinese Fiction energized us. I took pleasure in introducing Professor Hsia to Xiao Hong 萧红, whom he had written off, and helped edge him toward his eventual advocacy of another Northeastern novelist, Duanmu Hongliang 端木蕻良.
Professor Hsia’s dialectical exchanges with Jaroslav Průšek opened up a broad-ranged dialogue over the value of literature, primarily fiction, from the May Fourth Era and on into the Eileen Chang 张爱玲 era. Professor Hsia was not enamored of Lu Xun 鲁迅, but loved Eileen Chang. While my tastes leaned in the opposite direction, I never tired of reading his views. We next met during a gathering in Santa Barbara with the Hong Kong filmmaker King Hu 胡金全, with several students of Professor Hsia’s brother, Tsi-an Hsia 夏济安, of National Taiwan University, in attendance. There was plenty of star power, current and future, during those few days, including Bai Xianyong 白先勇, another writer favored by Professor Hsia.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Professor Hsia on several more occasions and was privileged to communicate with him by mail over the years. His letters were always gracious, his attentions exuberant. C. T. Hsia was one of a kind—in the best possible way.
Howard Goldblatt has translated Mo Yan, Chu T’ien-wen, Jiang Rong, Su Tong, and Bi Feiyu (with Sylvia Lin). He is the recipient of two translation grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and, in 2009, a Guggenhiem Fellowship.
From Chinese Literature Today Vol. 4 No. 1