T.H. Tsien, Authority Of Chinese Language, Dies at 105

T.H. Tsien, Authority Of Chinese Language, Dies at 105
Gutenberg Movable Type Alejandro Slocker/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

A sad day in the field of ancient Chinese writing and literature has been marked by the death of T.H. Tsien, one of the brightest scholars of Chinese paleography and bibliography in the world. He passed away on April 9 in Chicago at age 105.


Tsien had been a part of the University of Chicago since the late 1940’s. At the time of his death, he was an emeritus professor of East Asian languages and civilizations and an emeritus curator of the East Asian Library of the university, according to The New York Times.

In 1941, T.H. Tsien risked his life to smuggle thousands of rare books to safety while working under the Japanese government in Shanghai. The scholar authored several Chinese books, but he wrote many books in English, too.

Tsien was fond of reminding the world that movable type printing originated in China centuries before Gutenberg introduced it.

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Tsuen-hsuin Tsien was born on Dec 1, 1909 in eastern China. As a youth, he worked in publishing and contributed in student publications against then-warlords. As a result, he was arrested. After his release, he joined the Nationalist Army, which helped defeat the warlords and unite China in 1928.

Tsien took up the profession of a librarian during the Japanese occupation, which went from 1931 up to the end of the Second World War. He ensured that precious Chinese literature, which included writings as old as from the first millennium B.C., would not go into the hands of the Japanese government.

Tsien passed away leaving behind two daughters, Gloria Tsien and Mary Tsien Dunkel, along with a brother, Cunxue Qian, and a sister, Cunrou Qian. His wife, Wen-ching Hsu Tsien, died in 2008.