Mao Dun - One of the Best Realist Novelists in the History of Modern China
Mao Dun (July 4, 1896–March 27, 1981) was the pen name of Shen Dehong, a 20th century Chinese novelist, cultural critic, and journalist. He was also the Minister of Culture of China. He is currently renowned for being one of the best modern novelists in China. His most famous work is Midnight, a grand novel depicting life in Shanghai, and Spring Silk Worms and Other Stories.
He adopted 'Mao Dun' (矛盾), meaning "contradiction", as his pen name to express his sigh for the contradicting revolutionary ideology in China in the unstable 1920s. His friend Ye Shengtao changed the first word from 矛 to 茅, which literally means "thatch", to prevent him from political persecution.
Wuzhen - hometown of Mao Dun
Mao Dun had already started to develop his writing skills when he was still in primary school. In one examination the examiner commented on Mao Dun's script: '12 year old young child, can make this language, not says motherland nobody'. There were other similar comments which indicate that Mao Dun had been a brilliant writer since his youth.
While Mao Dun was studying in secondary school in Hangzhou, extensive reading and strict writing skills training filled his life. He finished reading Illustrious Definite orders (《昭明文选》), Shi Shuo Xin Yu (《世说新语》) and a large number of classical novels. These novels influenced his writing style and his idea of writing.
Mao Dun entered the three-year foundation school offered by Peking University in 1913, in which he studied Chinese and Western literature. Due to financial difficulties, he had to quit in the summer of 1916, before his graduation.
The trainings in Chinese and English as well as knowledge of Chinese and Western literature provided by the fifteen years' education Mao Dun received had prepared him to show up in the limelight of the Chinese journalistic and literary arena.
Xiaoshuo Yuebao Reform was Mao Dun's first contribution to Chinese literature. The magazine then became a place where "New Literature" circulated. Many famous writers like Lu Xun, Xu Dishan, Bing Xin, Ye Shengtao, had their works published through it. Mao Dun supported movements such as "New Literature" and "New Thinking". He believed that Chinese literature should have a place in the world.
The experience of political conflict broadened his horizon in literature, therefore the theme of his later writing was mostly based on this. He then helped to found the League of Left-Wing Writers in 1930. After that, he worked together with Lu Xun to fight for the right of the society and the revolutionary movement in literature. The harvest period of Mao Dun's writing is considered to have been from 1927 to 1937.
Shi, the first actual novel written by Mao Dun, was composed of three volumes, Huanmie (1927), Dongyao (1928), and Zhuiqiu (1928). It is the story of a generation of young intellectuals, who are caught up in the world of revolutionary fervor without a true understanding of the nature of social change. Mao Dun participated in Chiang Kai-shek's Northern Expedition (1926-28) in an attempt to unite China, but this failed and he fled to Kuling, when the Kuomingtang dissolved relations with the Chinese Communist Party. In the 1930s he was one of the key founders of the League of Left-Wing Writers, which was dissolved in a quarrel in 1936.
Mao Dun's next major work was Hong (1929), which became famous for having no less than 70 main characters and numerous plot twists and turns. In 1933 came his next grand work, Midnight, which gained great popularity, to a point that it was also published in French and English, and it allowed to develop a sense of revolutionary realism. He left a work unfinished, the trilogy Shuangye Hongsi Eryuehua (1942). After the initiation of the Sino-Japanese War War in 1937, Mao traveled to many places and started a literary magazine in Wuhan. He edited the periodical Literary Front and the literary page of the newspaper Libao in Hong Kong and worked as a teacher. After 1943 Mao Dun did not produce any major works, but still wrote some articles and essays. In 1946 he visited the Soviet Union.
In 1927, he published his first novel, Disillusion (幻灭). His most famous and important novel, Midnight (子夜), was published in 1933. It is a naturalistic novel exploring the commercial world of Shanghai in detail. In addition, his fiction offered a sympathetic portrayal of working-class life and praise of revolution.
When the People's Republic of China was established by the Communist Party of China in 1949, he became active on several committees and he worked as the Secretary and then the Minister of Culture for Mao Zedong until 1964. He started the monthly literary journal Chinese Literature, which became the most popular for western readers. He was dismissed from his position as minister in 1964 due to the ideological upheavals. Despite this fact, Mao Dun survived the Cultural Revolution and was afterwards rehabilitated. In the 1970s he became an editor of a children's magazine, and began working on his memoirs, which were serialized in the Party publication, the quarterly Xinwenxue Shiliao (Historical Materials on New Literature), but he died in March 27, 1981 before he could finish it. His influence on Chinese literature continues to the present day because he used his savings to set up a fund called the Mao Dun Literature Scholarship to promote an atmosphere for writing fiction.
Mao Dun's achievements in literature were also seen at his 50th birthday, which was also the 25th anniversary of his literary life. More than five hundred guests came to celebrate with him. Russian and American friends also joined the celebration. Wong Roufei wrote an essay as congratulations on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. Mao Dun's influence and achievements in the literary field were witnessed. On the other hand, he was twice elected as the chairman and then once elected as the vice-chairman of the China Literary Arts Representative Assembly. His status in the literary field has been highly recognized. Although he suffered great pain from illness in his old age, he still kept writing his memoirs, called The Road I Walked.
Besides his achievements, Mao Dun also had great influence on Chinese literature. The Mao Dun Literature Prize was created due to Mao Dun's wish that outstanding novels should be encouraged and communist literature should be promoted. It is one of the most honorable literature awards in China. Many famous modern Chinese literary authors like Wei Wei and Zhou Ke-qin have received the prize.