Mao Dun

From New World Encyclopedia

Shen Dehong
Pseudonym(s): Mao Dun
Born: July 4 1896(1896-07-04)
Tongxiang County, Zhejiang Province, China
Died: March 27 1981 (aged 84), 84
Occupation(s): Novelist
Nationality: Chinese
Writing period: 1928-1980

Mao Dun (Mao Tun July 4, 1896–March 27, 1981) was the pen name of Shen Dehong (Shen Te-hung), pseudonym Shen Yen-ping, a twentieth-century Chinese novelist, cultural critic, journalist, editor and author, generally considered republican China's greatest realist novelist. He adopted 'Mao Dun' (矛盾), meaning "contradiction," as his pen name, perhaps as an expression of his feelings towards the conflicting revolutionary ideologies in China in the unstable 1920s. His friend Ye Shengtao changed the first word from 矛 to 茅, which literally means "thatch," to protect him from political persecution.

Mao Dun exhibited his talent for writing at an early age, and at the age of twenty, he became a proofreader and then translator for the Commercial Press (商務印書館), in Shanghai, where he was invited to be the assistant editor of Xuesheng Zazhi (學生雜誌) (Students' Magazine). In 1920, he became editor of the magazine Xiaoshuo Yuebao (Monthly Fiction) and reshaped it into a mouthpiece for the New Cultural Movement (五四運動/新文化運動). When the People's Republic of China was established by the Communist Party of China in 1949, he worked as the Secretary for Mao Zedong and served as Minister of Culture from 1949 to 1965. He is regarded one of the best modern novelists in China. His most famous works are Midnight, a grand novel depicting life in cosmopolitan Shanghai, and Spring Silkworms. He also wrote many short stories. He is remembered today for his contributions to modern Chinese literature, not only through his own work, but through his support for other writers and journalists.

Early Life

Mao Dun
Traditional Chinese: 茅盾
Pinyin: Máo Dùn
Wade-Giles: Mao Tun
Real name: Shen Dehong (沈德鴻)
Courtesy name: Yanbing (雁冰)
Pseudonyms: Shen Yanbing

Mao Dun was born July 4, 1896 in Tongxiang County, Zhejiang Province, China. His father Shen Yongxi (沈永錫) taught and designed a curriculum for his son, but he died when Mao Dun was ten. Mao Dun's mother Chen Aizhu (陳愛珠) then became his teacher. He mentioned in his memoirs that "my first instructor is my mother." Through learning from his parents, Mao Dun developed a great interest in writing during his childhood. 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 was a brilliant writer even during his youth.

In 1910, Mao Dun entered middle school in Hangzhou. While Mao Dun was studying in secondary school in Hangzhou, he did extensive reading and received strict training in writing skills. He finished reading Illustrious Definite orders (《昭明文選》), Shi Shuo Xin Yu (《世說新語》) and a large number of classical novels. These novels later influenced his writing style and his ideas about writing.

In 1913, Mao Dun entered Beida yuke, the three-year foundation school offered by Peking University, where he studied Chinese and Western literature. Due to financial difficulties, he had to quit in the summer of 1916, before his graduation.

Journalistic Career

Mao Dun got his first job as a proofreader in the English editing and translation sections of the Commercial Press (商務印書館), in Shanghai, and was soon promoted to translator. At the age of twenty-one, he was invited to be the assistant editor of Xuesheng Zazhi (學生雜誌) (Students' Magazine) under the Commercial Press, which had published many articles about the new ideologies that had emerged in China at that time. In addition to editing, Mao Dun also started to write about his thoughts and criticisms of society, inspired to some extent, by the famous magazine New Youths. In 1917 and 1918, he wrote two editorials for Xuesheng Zazhi: Students and Society (學生與社會) and The Students of 1918, which were significant in stimulating political consciousness among the young educated Chinese.

His training in Chinese and English, as well as his knowledge of Chinese and Western literature had prepared him well for a career in writing. By the age of twenty-four, Mao Dun was already renowned as a novelist in the community. In 1920, he and a group of young writers took over the magazine Xiaoshuo Yuebao (小说月报; “Fiction Monthly”), to publish literature by western authors, such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Byron, Keats, and Shaw, and to make new theories of literature better known. Despite the fact that he was a naturalistic novelist, he admired writers like Leo Tolstoy for their great artistic style.

In 1920, he was invited to edit a new column: Xiaoshuo Xinchao (小說新潮) (The Fiction-New-Waves) in Xiaoshuo Yuebao. He took up the post of Chief Editor of the Monthly in the same year and was obliged to reform it thoroughly, in response to the New Cultural Movement (五四運動/新文化運動). His young writer friends in Beijing supported him by submitting their creative writings, translating Western literature, and writing about their views on new literature theories and techniques for the magazines. Wenxue Yanjiuhui (文學研究會) (Literature Study Group) was an outgrowth of these efforts. The reformed Monthly proved to be a success. It facilitated the continuation of the New Cultural Movement by selling ten thousand copies a month and, more importantly, by introducing Literature for Life, a new realistic approach to Chinese literature. During this period, Mao Dun became a leading figure of the movement in the southern part of China.

A conflict arose between the innovative and conservative factions at the Commercial Press over the reformation of content, and they were unable to arrive at a compromise. Mao Dun resigned as Chief Editor of Fiction Monthly in 1923, and in 1927 he became the chief columnist of the Minguo yuebao. He wrote more than 30 editorials for this newspaper, criticizing Chiang Kai-shek, and supporting revolution.

Political Life

Inspired by the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Mao Dun took part in the May Fourth Movement in China. In 1920, he joined the Shanghai Communist Team, and helped to establish the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. At first, he worked as a liaison for the party. He also wrote for the party magazine 'The Communist Party' (共产党).

At the same time, Mao Dun participated in Chiang Kai-shek's Northern Expedition (1926-1928), whose main purpose was to unite the country. He quit, however, when Chiang's Kuomintang broke with the Communists. In July 1928, he took refuge in Japan. When he returned to China in 1930, he joined the League of Left-Wing Writers. In 1937, when China went to war with Japan, he actively engaged in resisting the Japanese invasion. 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.

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 Chinese magazine for Western readers. He was dismissed from his position as minister in 1964 due to the ideological upheavals, but survived the Cultural Revolution and was afterwards rehabilitated. In the 1970s he became an editor of a children's magazine. He was twice elected as the chairman, and once as the vice-chairman, of the China Literary Arts Representative Assembly. Although he suffered great pain from illness in his old age, he began writing his memoirs, called The Road I Walked (我走過的路), which were serialized in the Party publication, the quarterly Xinwenxue Shiliao (新文學史料) (Historical Materials on New Literature). He died on March 27, 1981 before he could finish them.

Literary Career

Mao Dun's first contribution to Chinese literature was his reform of Xiaoshuo Yuebao, which made the magazine a forum for the circulation of "New Literature." The magazine published the works of many famous writers, like Lu Xun, Xu Dishan, Bing Xin, and Ye Shengtao. had their works published through it. Mao Dun believed that Chinese literature should have a place in the world, and supported movements such as "New Literature" and "New Thinking."

The experience of political conflict broadened his horizons in literature, and the themes of his later writing were mostly political. He helped to found the League of Left-Wing Writers in 1930, which was dissolved in a quarrel in 1936. After that, he worked together with Lu Xun to fight for the rights 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.

In 1927, he published his first novel, Disillusion (幻滅). 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 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. Among his masterpieces dealing with Kuomingtang period is the short story 'The Shop of the Lin Family,' in which a shop in a small town is forced to shut down because of backward, semi-feudal economic pressures. [1]

Mao Dun's next major work was Hong (1929, Rainbow), the story of a young woman who escapes from her bourgeois family to join the revolutionary May Thirtieth Movement in Shanghai. Ziye (1933, Midnight) was Mao Dun's magnum opus, having no less than seventy main characters and numerous plot twists and turns. The novel explores the commercial world of Shanghai and offers a sympathetic portrayal of working-class life and of the revolution. The main theme in the novel is the struggle between nationalist capitalist Wu Sunfu and his rival Zhao Botao. It played a role in pioneering revolutionary realism, and was later published in English and French.

Fushi (1941) told the story of a young woman who is a secret agent for the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45).

He left a work unfinished, the trilogy Shuangye Hongsi Eryuehua (1942). After 1943 Mao Dun did not produce any major works, but still wrote some articles and essays. In 1946 he visited the Soviet Union.


Mao Dun's achievements in literature were recognized at a celebration of his 50th birthday, which was also the 25th anniversary of his literary life. More than five hundred guests came to celebrate with him, including Russian and American friends. Wong Roufei wrote an essay congratulating him on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

In addition to his personal achievements, Mao Dun also had considerable influence on Chinese literature. He used his savings to set up a fund called the Mao Dun Literature Scholarship, to promote an atmosphere for writing fiction. The Mao Dun Literature Prize (茅盾文學獎) was created to fulfill Mao Dun’s wish to encourage outstanding novels and promote communist literature. It is one of the most honorable literary prizes in China, and has been awarded to modern Chinese authors such as Wei Wei (魏巍) and Zhou Ke-qin (周克芹) have received the prize.

List of works

Mao Dun has over 100 publications throughout his life, which includes short stories, novels, theories etc. Some of his most famous works include:

Short Stories

  • Wild Rose (《野薔薇》 Ye Qiangwei (1929)
  • The Smoke and Cloud Collection 《煙雲集》 Yanyunji (1937)

Long-short stories

  • Disillusion 《幻滅》 Huanmie (1928)
  • Three people walking San Ren Xing, 《三人行》 Sanrenxing (1931)
  • The Shop Of the Lin Family 《林家铺子》 Linjia Puzi
  • Spring Silkworms and Other Stories, 《春蚕》 Chunchan (1956)
  • Autumn Harvest 《秋收》 QiuShou


  • Hong, 《虹》 Hong [Rainbow] (1930)
  • Ziye, 《子夜》 ZiYe [Midnight] (1933)
  • 《獻給詩人節》 XianGeiShiRenJie [Giving to the poet festival] (1946)


  • 《茅盾近作》 MaoDunJinZuo [The recent works of Mao Dun] (1980)
  • 《茅盾論創作》 MaoDunLunChuangZuo [Mao Dun's Comment on Creativity] (1980)


  • 《蘇聯見聞錄》 SuLianJianWenLu [Travelling Diary of USSR] (1948)
  • 《雜談蘇聯》 JiTanSuLian [Talks on USSR] (1949)

Drama script

  • Qingming Qianhou, 《清明前後》 QianMingQianHou [Front and rear Pure Brightness] (1945)


  • 話劇《俄羅斯問題》(Modern drama "Russian Question") (1946)
  • 中篇小說《團的兒子》(Novelette "Group's Sons") (1946)


  • 《茅盾全集》 Mao Dun Quanji [Works of Mao Dun] (vol. 1-15, 1984-1987)
  • 《茅盾書簡》 Mao Dun Shujian [Introduction to the books of Mao Dun] (1st edition, collection of letters, 1984) later changed the name into《茅盾書信集》 Mao Dun Shuxinji (1988)
  • Huanmie, Dongyao, Zhaiqiu (serialized in Xiaoshuo Yuebao, starting in 1927, published later as a trilogy under the title Shih)
  • Lu, 1932
  • Chunchan, 1932-33 - Spring Silkworms and Other Stories
  • Tzu-Yeh, 1933
  • Shih, 1933 - The Cancer
  • Zhongguo Di Yir, 1936
  • Duojiao Quanxi, 1937
  • Diyi Jieduande Gushi, 1937
  • Fushi, 1941 腐蝕 "Putrefaction," about the New Fourth Army Incident
  • Shuangye Hongsi Eryuehua, 1942
  • Jiehou Shiyi, 1942


  1. Mao Tun. Retrieved December 4, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chen, Youshi. Realism and allegory in the early fiction of Mao Tun. Studies in Chinese literature and society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. ISBN 978-0253349507
  • Gálik, Marián. Mao Tun and modern Chinese literary criticism. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1969.
  • Gálik, Marián. The genesis of modern Chinese literary criticism (1917-1930). [Asian and African studies], v. 16. London: Curzon Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0847660810
  • Goldman, Merle. Modern Chinese literature in the May Fourth Era. Harvard East Asian series, 89. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0674579101
  • Hsia, Chih-tsing. A history of modern Chinese fiction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971. ISBN 978-0300014624
  • Wang, Dewei. The monster that is history history, violence, and fictional writing in twentieth-century China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1417574018
  • Li Pin. (李頻). Bianji jia Mao Dun pingzhuan (編輯家茅盾評傳) Kaifeng (開封): Henan University press (河南大學出版社), 1995. Available in HKU FPS library.
  • Shao Bozhou, et al. ed. Mao Dun de wenxue daolu. 1959.


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Chairman of Chinese Writer Association
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