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XuFancheng: The Chinese Sanskrit Scholar and Multilingual Genius

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XuFancheng was a prominent Chinese Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and painter born on October 26, 1909, in Changsha, Hunan Province, China. He was also known by other names, including HuHsu, Shiquan, and Fancheng. He studied under the guidance of Confucian scholar Wang Kaiyun during his early years. XuFancheng was a friend and follower of LuXun, a prominent Chinese writer and philosopher, and Chairman Mao was his geography teacher.


From 1927 to 1929, XuFancheng pursued a degree in history at Zhongshan University, and then he studied western literature at Fudan University. He later went to the University of Konigsberg, Germany, from 1929 to 1932, where he studied fine arts and philosophy. XuFancheng was proficient in nine languages, including Chinese (traditional and simplified), Greek, Latin, English, French, Sanskrit, Hindi, and German.

XuFancheng was among the first Chinese scholars to study the art of wood engravings. During his stay in Germany, he used to send wood engraving works to LuXun back in China. He was deeply influenced by LuXun and built his own rhetorical concepts in his translation practice and classical studies. He paid special attention to philosophy and poeticness in the ancients’ articles and uncovered hiddenness in their writings.

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Especially through the discovery of beauty in Confucianist rhetorical concepts, Xu gained confidence in writing by using his mother language. The cultural heritage discarded by some scholars during the May Fourth Movement was brought back to his reconsideration. In his practice of the register of various languages, Xu used subtle words and expressions and showed openness. He adjusted the conciseness, mystery, and complexity in ancient Greek, Indian and Chinese languages into new styles in different language variations. In his dialogs with modern poets, Xu presented his new poetic concepts and ideals by way of transcending the new cultural context.

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Upon his return to China in 1932, XuFancheng began his major translations into Chinese at the prompting of LuXun. He translated Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and several other works by the German philosopher. XuFancheng settled in Shanghai, where LuXun also lived until his death in 1936, and taught at Tongji University. As the Japanese invasion raged on in 1939, Xu moved to the National Academy of Art in Hunan, then to Kunming. He finally received a government grant and headed to Shantiniketan in eastern India in 1945.

Prof. Xu came to India under the India-China cultural exchange program and joined the Chinese Institute of Viswa Bharati University in Shantiniketan, West Bengal. He did his study and research at Shantiniketan for three years and taught the Philosophy of Ouyang Jingwu at Cheena Bhavan. He moved to Pondicherry in 1951, where he met Mother Mirra Alfassa, a French spiritual saint. XuFancheng was provided an independent house by the Mother near the beach, where he translated and printed various philosophical texts such as Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Kalidasa’s lyric poem “Meghaduta” (Cloud Messenger), Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and several of Sri Aurobindo’s works into Chinese.



XuFancheng was familiar with Greek, Latin, English, French, as well as Sanskrit and German. He was one of the great Chinese Sanskrit scholars in the modern history of India and China.

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In 2018, the International Symposium in memory of Xu Fancheng was held by the Pondicherry India-China Friendship Association with the guidance and support of Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui, who was a former student of Xu Fancheng. During the symposium, Ambassador Luo gave the keynote address and also visited the Ashram studio to see the paintings of Xu Fancheng.

On December 21st, 2018, the book “Essays in Memory of Prof. Xu Fancheng” was inaugurated by State Councilor & Foreign Minister of China Mr. Wang Yi and External Affairs Minister of India Smt. Sushma Swaraj. The book is a collection of speeches given during the symposium.

On May 21st, 2018, Ambassador Luo Zhaohui inaugurated the book “Essays in Memory of Xu Fancheng” during his farewell reception in New Delhi.

Finally, on October 26th, 2020, the Xu Fancheng Culture Study Center, a Chinese cultural study center named after Xu Fancheng, was inaugurated by Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong.

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