Yin C. Liu: Soas teacher of Chinese

Yin C. Liu taught Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) of London University from 1949 until 1981 and was an honorary member of the school. For more than three decades, she was the face of Chinese teaching at Soas, training entire generations of later China specialists in modern and classical Chinese, as well as modern and premodern vernacular literature.

Born Yin Cheng in 1914 in Tientsin, China, she was educated at various schools and colleges there, including St Joseph's College, where she studied English. In 1940 she married the scholar, poet and translator Liu Jung-en, who was at that time Professor of English at the famous Nankai University. Together with him she edited a wartime literary journal Wenyi zhoukan ("Literature Weekly") in which she published translations of English literature.

Already in those days she was active as a teacher of Chinese, including a course for English students which she taught in 1947-48. In late 1948 or early 1949, when her husband was already in Britain on a British Council scholarship, she made the acquaintance of Professor Walter Simon, Professor of Chinese at Soas, who spent the better part of 1948 and 1949 in China and Japan to purchase books for the Soas library. Simon offered her a position as his research assistant in what was then the Department of the Far East, and sent back several telegrams to London to urge the school to arrange for a job offer to be made and a work permit to be arranged.

Simon's meetings with Liu took place in Beijing around the time that the Communist army arrived in the city, and Simon's cables repeatedly refer to the "fast-changing situation". In what appears to have been a tumultuous and eventful episode, Liu and her young daughter left China for Hong Kong, leaving behind virtually everything they owned, just before Communist rule was established. It was from Hong Kong that she and her daughter sailed to London, arriving in September 1949. A salient detail is that Soas undertook to reimburse not only her travel from China to Britain, but also her return travel after the termination of her appointment. Her appointment, however, would continue for 32 years.

After four years as a research assistant in the department, Liu was appointed Special Temporary Lecturer in 1953. Her position was funded by the Royal Air Force and involved special classes in Chinese taught to RAF staff. RAF funding ceased after 1958, by which time Liu had given more than sufficient evidence of her abilities as a teacher (she had by then also been invited to teach one day a week at Oxford, where she taught Chinese conversation and calligraphy) and as a scholar (her book Fifty Chinese Stories was accepted for publication in 1959, and published in 1960, with a second edition appearing in 1967). At the enthusiastic recommendation of the department, she was appointed Lecturer in 1959.

As a Lecturer, Liu remained committed to improving the Chinese language and literature programme at Soas. During a period of sabbatical leave in 1964-65, she undertook a remarkable journey around the world to study Chinese teaching methods elsewhere, taking in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Leningrad, Moscow, Delhi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. That China remained closed at the time will have caused her great regret, although she did return to visit there later.

She also made ample contributions to the administration of the school, serving on Academic Board for a number of years, and taking up the new office of Adviser to Women Students for a period of three years in the early 1970s. In her report to Academic Board on her experiences as a student adviser, she refers to the specific difficulties experienced by "women students from eastern countries", mentioning in passing that, already in those days, 35 per cent of Soas students were from overseas.

In the same report, she provides the perfect rationale for having academic staff functioning as what we would now call personal tutors. She writes that the adviser "could be considered by the student as an outsider in whom it is easier to confide than in someone within the student's own department. At the same time he is not a total stranger who is unfamiliar with problems in the academic field."

Her excellence as a teacher was recognised by her receiving Soas teaching awards for two consecutive years in 1971 and 1972, and her overall contribution to the school and to the department is perhaps best summed up by a single sentence in a letter from her then Head of Department, Professor Charles Bawden, to the Soas Director in 1974: "She is quite invaluable."

She remained a frequent visitor to the school for many years after her retirement, attending lectures and functions and catching up with old friends.

Michel Hockx

Yin Cheng, Chinese scholar: born Tientsin, China 15 August 1914; Special Temporary Lecturer, Department of the Far East (later China and Inner Asia Department), Soas 1953-59, Lecturer 1959-81; married 1940 Liu Jung-en (died 2001; one daughter); died Oxford 31 March 2008.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform