In Association with

Choose another writer in this calendar:

by name:

by birthday from the calendar.

Credits and feedback

for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

This is an archive of a dead website. The original website was published by Petri Liukkonen under Creative Commons BY-ND-NC 1.0 Finland and reproduced here under those terms for non-commercial use. All pages are unmodified as they originally appeared; some links and images may no longer function. A .zip of the website is also available.

Mao Dun (1896-1981) - also Mao Tun. Pseudonym of Shen Yen-ping, original name Shen Dehong


Chinese editor and author, communist ideologue, one of the greatest modern novelists in China. Mao Dun is best known for the novel Tzu-Yeh (1933, Midnight), a  massive tale about life in the metropolitan Shanghai, and the trilogy Shih (1933). Mao Dun also published over one hundred translations of fiction, drama, and poetry.

--"None of the women and children were healthy looking. From the beginning of spring they had to cut down on their meager food, and their garments were all old and worn. They looked little better than beggars. They were not, however, dispirited; they were sustained by their great endurance and their great hope. In their simple minds they felt sure that so long as nothing happened to their silkworms everything would come out all right. When they thought how in a month's time the glossy green leaves would turn into snow white cocoons and how the cocoons would turn into jingling silver dollars, their hearts were filled with laughter though their stomaches gurgled with hunger." (in Spring Silkworms, translated by Sidney Shapiro)

Mao Dun was born Shen Yen-ping in Chekiang province into a middle-class family. After studies at the University of Beijing (Peking) he was employed by editorial office of the Commercial Press in Shanghai. Mao Dun's early writings appeared in the student magazine Xuesheng Zazhi. By the age of twenty-four he was already a well-known author. At his mother's request, he married in 1918 Kong Denzi (1897-1969), who came from a small merchant's family. Before marrying Mao Dun, she was illiterate. One of Mao Dun's short stories, 'Chuangzao' (1930, Creation), tells of an intellectual who educates his wife.

In 1920 Mao Dun and several other young writers took over the 11-years-old magazine Xiaoshuo Yuebao (Fiction Monthly), published by the Commercial Press. They started to introduce Western literature (Tolstoy, Chekhov, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Byron, Keats, Shaw, etc.) to Chinese readers and make new theories of literature more well known. Although Mao Dun was a naturalistic novelist, he admired others Leo Tolstoy, who combined in his stories the fate of an individual chatacter or families with historical upheavals.

Taking Nietzsche's teachings as his standpoint in articles published in Xuesheng zazhi (1920), Mao Dun saw the ideas of great authors as "weapons against traditional morality". In 1922, using his pen-name Xi Zhen, he translated an article about Nietzsche and the socialist dramatist Gerhard Hauptman. Mao Dun had translated Tagore, but on the eve of his visit to China, he wrote: "We are determined not to welcome the Tagore who loudly sings the praises of eastern civilization. Oppressed as we are by militarists from within country and by the imperialists from without, this is not time for dreaming."

Shih (Eclipse), Mao Dun's first major work, consists of three slim volumes, Huanmie (1927), Tung-yao (1928), and Chui-ch'iu (1928). It portrays a generation of young intellectuals, who are caught up in the tidal wave of revolutionary fervor without a true understanding of the nature of social change. Mao Dun himself had participated Chiang Kai-shek's Northern Expedition (1926-28) to unite the country, but he fled to Kuling when the Kuomingtang broke with the Chinese Communist Party.

--'"Hah. With the world all going to hell, people starving by the thousands – what does it matter if we do split up!" Ah To exploded. "In these times a man can die like a dog and no one will care. What's so terrible about splitting up!" He glared at his brother and sister-in-law as if he wanted to swallow down the irresolute pair in one gulp.' (in 'Winter Ruin,' 1933)

After finishing Eclipse, he took a boat trip to Japan, where he spent two years, living there together with Quin Dejun (1905-1993). She was a member of the Communist Party, a rebellious and independent woman. During their affair, she had two abortions. When Mao Dun left her and returned to Kong Dezhi, she tried to commit  suicide by taking sleeping pills.

In 1930s Mao Dun helped to found the League of Left-Wing Writers, which was dissolved after a quarrel in 1936. Among his masterpieces dealing with Kuomingtang period is the novella 'The Shop of the Lin Family.' In the story a  grocery story in a small town is forced to shut down under semi-feudal backward economic pressures. Mr. Lin runs his business and his small credit union in an old fashioned way, he is a trustworthy man, but eventually he becomes a victim of the changing times and credit contracts. With his bankruptcy a widow loses all her life savings and goes insane. 

Mao Dun's next major work, Hung (1929, Rainbow), was a story about a young woman who escapes from her bourgeois family to join the revolutionary May Thirtieth Movement in Shanghai. The heroine, Mei, was  partly modelled on Qin Dejun. Midnight was Mao Dun's magnum opus, which contained some 70 characters and numerous plot twists and turns. To help the reader, Mao Dun provides a character list. The main theme is the struggle between national capitalist Wu Sun-fu and his rival Zhao Bo-tao, who is supported by American capital. At the end, the defeated Wu Sun-fu leaves for Lushan with his wife. The saga enjoyed immense popularity and played a vital pioneering part in the development of revolutionary realism. Originally Mao Dun intended to treat many topics to create a social commentary on the whole China, but due to poor health, he had to publish the novel in its present form. Lamenting his indirectness, he called it one of the book's "shortcomings."

'Spring Silkworms,' written in 1932 and published in Chuncan (1933), constituted together with 'Ch'iu shou' (Autumn Harvest) and 'Ts'an tung (Winter Ruins) Mao Dun's rural trilogy. 'Spring Silkworms' tells about poor farmers, who raise a crop of spring silkworms but their high hopes are crushed and they only get deeper into debt. The author's sympathies are on the side of the simple village people toiling for their living, though their values are out of date.

Many of Mao Dun's works recorded the tumultuous history of China and the movement of history toward Revolution. Fushi (1941, Putrefaction)  told the story of a young woman, Xhao Huiming, who is a secret agent for the Nationalist Party, the Kuomingtang, during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45). His other war novels include Diyi Jieduande Gushi (1937), about the siege of Shanghai in 1937, and Jie hou shi yi (1942), which depicted the Fall of Hong Kong. The trilogy Shuang ye hong si er yue hua (1942) was left unfinished.

After the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Mao Dun traveled to many places, and started a literary magazine in Wuhan. He edited the periodical The Literary Front and besides various short stories, he wrote essays. While in Hong Kong he edited the literary page of the newspaper Libao and worked as a teacher. In 1946 he visited Soviet Union. After 1943, Mao Dun did not produce major works of literature, but continued write articles and essays. It has been argued, that his silence as a novelist and short story writer was caused by his experiences during his visit to the Soviet Union, by the depressive cultural atmosphere, and constant changes in the Party line.

When the communist government took over in 1949, he was active on several commitees. The monthly Chinese Literature, which he edited, became the most popular literary journal for Western readers. Between 1949 and 1965 Mao Dun worked as Minister of Culture and Mao Zedong's secretary.  A supporter of the Latinized New Writing since the 1930s, he suggested for a policy of "walking on two legs," the use of two writing systems, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Eventually he was dismissed in connection with the ideological upheavals in 1964. However, Mao Dun survived the Cultural Revolution and he was later rehabilitated. His last significant novel depicted wartime terror in Chungking. In the 1970s he edited a magazine of children's literature and started to write his memoirs, which were serialized in the Party publication, the quaterly Xinwenxue Shiliao (Historical Materials on New Literature). The memoirs were not finished before his death on March 27, 1981. Some of Mao Dun's stories have been filmed, including 'Chun can' (1933, Spring Silkworms), 'Lin jia pu zi' (1959, The Shop of the Lin Family) and the novel Ziye (1981, Midnight).

For further reading: Mao Dun de wenxue daolu, ed.  Shao Bozhou et al. (1959); A History of Modern Chinese Fiction by C.T. Hsia (1961); Mao Tun and Modern Chinese Literary Criticism by Marian Galik (1969); The Genesis of Modern Chinese Literature Criticism by Marian Galik (1980); Realism and Allegory in the Early Fiction of Mao Dun by Yu-shih Chen (1986); Fictional Realism in the Twentieth-Century China by David Der-wei Wang (1992); Encyclopedia of World Literature, Vol. 3, ed.  Steven R. Serafin (1999); The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China by David Der-wei Wang (2004) - Suom.: Kertomuksia  (teoksesta Rasskazy, suom. Vuokko Ahveninen, 1957); 'Syyssato' (suom. Elvi Sinervo, teoksessa Kiinalaisia kertojia, 1958)  

Selected works:

  • 'Xianzai wenxuejia de zeren shi shenme?', Jan 10, 1920 (in Dongfang zazhi)
    - 'What Are the Duties of Contemporary Men of Letters' (translated by  Barbara Buri)
  • Huan-mieh, Tung-yao,  Chui-ch'iu, 1927-1930 (novellas; serialized in Xiaoshuo Yuebao, published in 1930 as a trilogy under the title Shih)
  • Yeh ch'iang-wei, 1929
  • Shih, 1930
  • Hung, 1930
    - Rainbow (translated by Madeleine Zelin, 1992)
  • San-jen-hsing, 1931
  • Lu, 1932
  • 'Lin jia pu zi', 1932
    - 'The Shop of the Lin Family' (translated by Sidney Shapiro, in Spring Silkworms and Other Stories, 1956)
    - Film: Lin jia pu zi, 1959, dir.  Choui Khoua, screenplay by Yan Xia, starring Shu Chen, Tao Han, Bin Lin, Wei Ma, Tian Xie, Lan Yu, Liang Zhang, Ziyue Zhao
  • Chunchan, 1932-33
    - translations: in Contemporary Chinese Stories (translated by  Chi-chen Wang, 1944); in Three Seasons, and Other Stories (translated by Chun-chan Yeh, 1946); in Spring Silkworms and The Shop of the Lin Family (translated by Sidney Shapiro, 1956); in A Treasury of Chinese Litterature: A New Prose Anthology Including Fiction and Drama (translated by  Ch'u Chai and Winberg Chai, 1965); in Straw Sandals: Chinese Stories, 1918-1933 (translated by George A. Kennedy, ed. Harold R. Isaacs, 1974)
    - 'Syyssato' (suom. Elvi Sinervo, teoksessa Kiinalaisia kertojia: valikoima Kiinan kirjallisuutta, toim. Pertti Nieminen, 1958)
    -  Film:
    Chun can, 1933, dir.  Bugao Cheng, adapted by Yan Xia, starring Ying Xiao, Yuexian Yan, Jianong Gong
  • 'Ch'iu shou', 1933 (in Shenbao yuekan 2:4 and 2:5)
  • ''Ts'an tung', July 1933 (in Venxue)
  •  Tzu-Yeh, 1933
    - Midnight (translated by Hsu Meng-hsiung, 1957)
    -  Film:  Ziye, 1981, dir. 
    Hu Sang, starring Xiaoying Cheng,Yelu Gu, Fei Han, Rentang Li
  • Mao Dun zi xuan ji, 1933
  • Mao Tun tuan p'ien hsiao shuo chi, 1934
  • Yin hsiang, kan hsiang, hui i, 1936
  • Zhongguo de yi ri, 1936 (ed.)
    - One Day in China, May 21, 1936 (translated and edited by Sherman Cochran and Andrew C.K. Hsieh with Janis Cochran, 1983)
  • Diyi Jieduande Gushi, 1937
  • Wen yi zhen di, 1938
  • Su xie yu sui bi, 1940
  • Fushi, 1941
  • Shuang ye hong si er yue hua, 1942
  • Jie hou shi yi, 1942
  • Shuang ye hong si er yue hua, 1947
  • Yin hsiang, kan hsiang, hui i, 1949
  • 'T'an tsui-chin ti tuan-p'ien hsiao-shuo', 1958 (in Jen-min wen-hsueh)
  • Mao Tun san wen-chi, 1958-61 (8 vols.)
  • 'Fan-ying she-hui chu-i yueh-chin ti shih-tai, t'ui-tung she-hui chu-i yueh-chin', 1960 (in Jen-min wen-shueh)
  • Mao Tun tuan pien hsiao shuo chi, 1980
  • Duanlian, 1980
  • Mao Dun san wen su xie ji, 1980 (2 vols.)
  • Mao Dun wen yi za lun ji, 1981 (2 vols.)
  • Wo tsao kuo ti tao lu, 1981
  • Shen hua yan jiu, 1981
  • T'o hsien tsa chi, 1982
  • Mao Dun quan ji, 1986-<2001> (v. <1-9, 13-27, 29-32, 34-40>) 
  • Mao Dun san wen ji, 1994
  • Mao Tun tzu chuan, 1996
  • Mao Dun zuo pin jing xuan / Ding Ergang xuan bian, 2003
  • Zhongguo shen hua yan jiu chu tan, 2005

In Association with

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

Creative Commons License
Authors' Calendar jonka tekijä on Petri Liukkonen on lisensoitu Creative Commons Nimeä-Epäkaupallinen-Ei muutettuja teoksia 1.0 Suomi (Finland) lisenssillä.
May be used for non-commercial purposes. The author must be mentioned. The text may not be altered in any way (e.g. by translation). Click on the logo above for information.