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Liberal and Broad-Minded — Late Qing Dynasty Diplomat, Qian Xun

Rikuo Takagi
Dept. of Collection Management, Waseda Uiversity Library


“Waseda University is liberal and broad-minded, akin to schools in America”

Qian Xun the Diplomat

These opening words were left by late Qing dynasty diplomat, Qian Xun, (1853-1927) in 1903. Qian Xun was born in Huzhou City in Zhèjiāng Province, and at age 38, was posted to Europe as a member of a diplomatic mission. With three years experience overseas, he was invited to serve under late Qing dynasty political strongman Zhang Zhidong (1837-1909), and later became ambassador to Holland and Italy.

Waseda's First Exchange Students from China

Qian Xun (right)

In 1899, Qian Xun first came to Japan, leading a group of exchange students from Hubei Province. On June 12 of the same year, he had a personal tour of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (Waseda's former name) and Waseda Middle School with Shigenobu Okuma himself. After watching lectures by Tameyuki Amano and Shoyo Tsubouchi, judo, kendo, as well as middle school lessons and military drills, he was entertained by Okuma. On September 19, three of the students accompanying Qian Xun enrolled at Tokyo Senmon Gakko, becoming the school's first exchange students from China.

Engaging Himself from East to West

Zhang Zhidong

Qian Xun was involved with Japan for about seven years until his 1907 appointment as ambassador to Holland. During this time, he was not simply acting as chaperone for the exchange students, but, under orders from Zhang Zhidong, Qian Xun would, day and night, follow directives in telegrams sent from China, procuring arms and preparing for development of new schools in Hubei. In order to produce military boots, he invited Japanese technicians for an audience. While in negotiations with Shozo Nishimura (1836-1907, Japan's first leather shoemaker), no sooner had Qian Xun asked, “Can you make them cheaper?,” when Nishimura flew into a tirade, “How dare you find fault with us and not acknowledge our goodwill!” The request was initially turned down, but through mediation a deal was finally struck. Also, on a visit to Lieutenant Taro Utsunomiya (1861-1922), then-military officer at the Imperial Headquarters, an offer was made for Japan to send weapons to Hubei (here Hubei = Zhang Zhidong), but during the course of conversation, as reports remaining from the time read, a huge fuss was made when, “If the emperor flees Beijing due to the Boxer Rebellion and anarchy results, Zhang Zhidong and the southern governors will probably unite and form a government in Nanking,” was misunderstood as plans for a coup-de-tat in China being clumsily spoken about in a first-time meeting.

Praise and Censure

Chinese Exchange Students (1903)
*Courtesy of Waseda University Archives Center

Qian Xun was a man who didn't mince his words when it came to stating his mind, often inviting looks of disapproval from those around him. When he was in Beijing he proclaimed, “It's good for China to split up and for the Yangtze to be ruled by Japan.” Government officials who heard this replied in rage, “We will bash the daylights out of him next time we see him!” Lu Xun also wrote in correspondence with Qian Xun's half-brother, Qian Xuan Tong (classic writer, 1887-1939), “From the way I see it, you are of the same character as your brother, Qian Xun, fond of small talk without presenting the facts, and an extremely good tactician.” Former students implicated in the 1900 anti-China coup-de-tat attempt (Freedom Fighter Incident), told just before their execution that, “Superintendent Qian Xun has led me astray.” And his boss, Zhang Zhidong, lamented that “Qian Xun has no power” and could no longer control the students. Even so, what Qian Xun was needed for was his bargaining power, and his ability in several European languages gave him the perfect disposition as a foreign diplomat. A literary giant in the same stead as Lu Xun, Mao Dun was taught in his middle school days by Qian Xun after he retired as a diplomat (albeit only for a month). In his autobiography, Mao Dun writes of when Qian Xun praised him in his writing class with these words, “In the future you will make a living by writing.” It is highly probable that Mao Dun forever kept Qian Xun in his memory as the first person to recognize his talents.

The Foundation of the Library

Self-penned catalog of books donated by Qian Xun (opening page)

While Qian Xun was active in Japan, a major event happened at our school in 1902 when Tokyo Senmon Gakko changed its name to Waseda University, establishing a new university and technical college. Expansion of the library suddenly became a topic as the centerpiece of technical research infrastructure befitting the opening of the university. In October 1900, the school had already put out a huge request for donations of books in the Waseda academic journal (Volume 46), by printing, “We would be most grateful if all diligent scholars looked over this advertisement!!!,” with three exclamation marks. In response to that advertisement, Qian Xun donated his own collection of roughly 3800 titles to Tokyo Senmon Gakko, in two installations over two years from 1901. He had originally planned to send his collection to Japan as a study aid for the exchange students he was to look after. Written on the inside cover of one of the donated books, dated February 1899 and signed by Ding Fen is, “Superintendent Qian Xun presents this to the students leaving to pursue their studies in Japan. On this day we firmly exchanged pledges. When you see this note one day, I want you to know the kindness shown by the superintendent.” One reason he chose our university out of a number of schools can be put down to the favoritism he showed toward Okuma. This can be seen in a letter he wrote to close friend in China. “Japan has a new government lead by Hirofumi Ito, which can be said to be better for China than Aritomo Yamagata. Unfortunately we can't place Okuma in the government.” After arrival, the books were immediately stored in the library's collection, including many high quality historical archives, becoming the foundation of the Chinese collection which now numbers more than 90,000 titles. The commanding appearance of this can be seen by the surprise shown by Chinese from Shanghai on a Japanese school inspection when they exclaimed, “There are four shelves full of books donated by Qian Xun!”

Qian Xun Research

Here we have seen the relationship between the late Qing dynasty diplomat, Qian Xun, and our university. Regarding full-fledged Qian Xun research, regardless if they were local or from overseas and didn't agree with my personal opinions, a great deal of effort has gone into confirming the sources of articles in biographical dictionaries. For this, in April 2010 after four years of work, the library's Department of Collection Management, in order to aid Qian Xun research, completed the “Chronological History of Qian Xun, and catalog of his written works and donated books.” This collection has been divided into three parts. The first section is a “chronological record” of writings of Qian Xun and his contemporaries, where articles that are printed in current publications have been arranged in order of date. The second section is a “catalog of Qian Xun's works.” This is the consolidated results of investigations into works penned by Qian Xun and whether they can be presented for public reading in Japan or not. Section three is the previously mentioned donated collection, a photographic reproduction of the donated book catalog penned by Qian Xun and a reprint. This also includes a commentary and report on the current state of the collection. The main text consists of 222 A4-sized pages, with four pages of illustrations in the beginning and a 24 page index of names at the back. I can only hope that this archive collection, put together by the library, is put to good use as basic materials for research on this amazing man on many fronts, such as modern Chinese history, foreign policy history, and the history of Sino-Japanese relations.


Qian Xun came to Japan with his wife and children, and his daughter's husband. Dan Shi Li (1858-1945) was his second wife, and through writing several books of her own and with her husband, becoming a leading woman with modern knowledge, she is now highly regarded in China and has been researched by many. Both his eldest son Qian, Dao Sun (1887-1966) and second son, Qian Sui Sun (1890-1936), were enrolled in Keio Futsubu School (primary school). Qian Dao Sun, with his father's relocation, later graduated from the University of Rome, and after the formation of the Republic of China, taught at various universities before becoming head secretary at Beijing University. Nowadays, he is renowned for being the first person to translate “Tale of Genji” into Chinese, but the unpublished manuscript disappeared in the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution. His second daughter's husband, Dong Hong Yi (1878-1916), graduated from Waseda's Japanese political department in 1904, and took up a key post in the education department of the Republic's government. Furthermore, Qian Xun's half-brother, Qian Xuan Tong (1887-1939), came to Japan in 1906 and entered Waseda University, becoming a pupil of profound thinker Zhang Tai Yan(1869-1936), who had fled to Japan at the time, and going on to become a great master of literature, orthography and phonology.


In the opening I presented Qian Xun's words on the character of our university. But, incidentally, when mentioning Tokyo Imperial University, he says it is, “elaborate and calm.” It is extremely intriguing that what a foreigner had felt over a century ago can be linked to university's image today. Or is it the opposite? I think not!!!

Rikuo Takagi
Dept. of Collection Management, Waseda Uiversity Library

Born in Misakubo, Iwata County (now Hamamatsu City) in Shizuoka Prefecture. Employed as a staff member at Waseda University (library staff) in 1986. Leaving graduate school with obtaining a doctrate in oriental history at Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. Is currently in charge of collecting and organizing materials mainly related to China and the Hangul alphabet. A big fan of Shuji Terayama, Bob Dylan and Ivica Osim. His interests include trekking and skiing.