Hsiao Ch'ien

Other names: 

Qian Xiao

Xiao Bingqian

Date of birth: 
27 Jan 1910
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Date of death: 
11 Feb 1999
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1939
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



Milton Village, Cambridge

School of Oriental and African Studies, Christ College, Cambridge

King's College, London


Hsiao Ch'ien was born into a sinicized Mongolian family in Beijing, China, in 1910. His father died before his birth and his mother died when he was seven. In 1931, he enrolled at Furen University where he and a young American named William Allen founded the English magazine China in Brief. In 1933, he entered the Faculty of English at Yenching University but switched to the Faculty of Journalism later that year before graduating in 1936.

In 1939, just before the Second World War broke out, he travelled to England to teach Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies and serve as a foreign correspondent for Takung Pao. After the outbreak of war, he also served as a war correspondent. SOAS relocated to Cambridge during the Second World War so, after spending one night in London, Hsiao Ch'ien went to Cambridge. He was classified as an 'enemy alien' by the Home Office but this changed after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the Chinese became members of the grand alliance.

The BBC chose Hsiao Ch'ien to report back to China about the European war and the war effort of the English. Around this time, he became good friends with Mulk Raj Anand and supported the Indian call for independence. He voiced his support for the Indian cause in his weekly BBC broadcast but the censors deleted it before it went on air. Later George Orwell, who was head of the BBC's Far Eastern Division, invited him to do several special broadcasts to the Indians and Americans, but strictly on the subject of literature.

SOAS moved back to London in July 1940 and Ch'ien took up residence in a house that catered especially to Asians; he shared the ground floor flat with a Tamil named Rajarantu, who later became the first deputy premier and foreign minister of Singapore. In wartime London, Hsiao Ch'ien socialized with Bloomsbury Group affiliates like Bertrand Russell, Leonard Woolf and E. M. Forster, with whom he became close friends. According to his autobiography, he first met Forster at the PEN Club memorial meeting for Rabindranath Tagore held on 9 May 1941. However, according to India Office files, this meeting was hosted by Krishna Menon and the India League. The speakers were Edward Thompson, Hewlett Johnson (Dean of Canterbury), Nagendranath Gangulee (Tagore's nephew), Beatrix Lehmann (actress), Bhicoo Batlivala, Helen Kirkpatrick (Chicago Daily Tribune) and M. Maisky (Soviet ambassador). Other attendees included Mulk Raj Anand, Tahmankar, Sunder Kabadia, Krishnarao Shelvankar, Alagu Subramanian, Iqbal Singh, Sasadhar Sinha and Asha Bhattacharya led the singing of Tagore's songs.

In June 1944, Hsiao Ch'ien became a journalist for Dagongbao and set up an office in Fleet Street, London. Soon afterwards he was sent to France and other parts of Western Europe as a war correspondent; he covered the meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco, and attended the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.

Hsiao Ch'ien returned to Shanghai in 1946 and took up writing. He was considered right-wing by the Chinese government and banished to the countryside but later received redress. He died in 1999 in Beijing.


Mulk Raj Anand (friend), Bhicoo BatlivalaZ. A. Bokhari, E. M. Forster (friend), Margery Fry (stayed at Fry's cottage in Aylesbury), John Lehmann (PEN Club), George Orwell (BBC), Bertrand Russell (attended tea parties with Russell), Stephen Spender (PEN Club), M. J. Tambimuttu, H. G. Wells (PEN Club), Leonard Woolf (met at Monk's House).

Involved in events: 

China Campaign Committee, organized by Victor Gollancz, Kingsley Martin, Margery Fry, Harold Laski (the society lobbied on behalf of China's resistance against Japan in the war)

Published works: 

Etching of a Tormented Age: A Glimpse of Contemporary Chinese Literature (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1942)

China but not Cathay (London: The Pilot Press, 1942)

'China's Literary Revolution', in E. M. Forster, Ritchie Calder, Cedric Dover, Hsiao Ch'ien and others, Talking to India: A Selection of English Language Broadcasts to India, ed. and with an introduction by George Orwell (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1943), pp. 27-34

The Dragon Breads versus The Blueprints: (Meditations on Post-War Culture) (London: The Pilot Press, 1944)

A Harp with a Thousand Strings: A Chinese Anthology (London: Pilot Press, 1944)

The Spinners of Silk (London: Allen & Unwin, 1944)

British Graphic Arts (Shanghai: Zung Kwang Publishing Co., 1947)

(as Qian Xiao) How the Tillers Won Back Their Land (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1951)

(as Qian Xiao) Chestnuts and Other Stories (Beijing: Chinese Literature, 1984)

(as Qian Xiao) Semolina and Others (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing Co., 1984)

Traveller without a Map, translated by Jeffrey C. Kinkley (London: Hutchinson, 1990)

(as Qian Xiao) 'Letters from Cambridge'

(as Qian Xiao) 'Symphony of Contradictions'

(as Qian Xiao) 'Bloody September'

(as Qian Xiao) 'Three Days in London'

(as Qian Xiao) 'London under Silver Kites'

Contributions to periodicals: 

New Statesman and Nation (1939)

Daylight: Volume I: European Arts and Letters Yesterday: Today: Tomorrow ('The New China Turns to Ibsen', 1941, pp. 167-74)

Life and Letters Today, 81, May 1944, pp. 102-10, 110-19 ('Epidemic' and 'The Galloping Legs', published under the title 'Two Chinese Stories')


O. M. Green, International Affairs Review Supplement 19.11, 1943 (China But not Cathay)

Mulk Raj Anand, Life and Letters Today 43.86, 1944, pp. 52, 54 (The Spinners of Silk)


Secondary works: 

Chen, Theodore Hsi En, Thought Reform of the Chinese Intellectuals (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960)

Gittings, John, 'The Scholar Who Went Back Home', obituary, Guardian (18 February 1999)

Hsia, Chih-Tsing and Wang, David D., A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999)