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Mao Dun
Mao Dun.jpg
Mao Dun as pictured in The Most Recent Biographies of Important Chinese People
Minister of Culture of the PRC
In office
21 October 1949 – January 1965
Premier Zhou Enlai
Succeeded by Lu Dingyi
Chairman of the China Writers Association
In office
23 July 1949 – 27 March 1981
Succeeded by Ba Jin
Personal details
Born (1896-07-04)4 July 1896
Tongxiang, Jiaxing, Zhejiang, Republic of China
Died 27 March 1981(1981-03-27) (aged 84)
Beijing, China
Spouse(s) Kong Dezhi (孔德沚)
Relations Shen Zemin (brother)
Alma mater Beijing University
Mao Dun
Mao Dun
Chinese 茅盾
Shen Dehong
Traditional Chinese 沈德鴻
Simplified Chinese 沈德鸿
Shen Yanbing
Chinese 沈雁冰
Mao Dun Memorial
Mao Dun Memorial at his home town Wuzhen
The primary school Lizhi College where Mao Dun studied in Wuzhen

Shen Dehong (Shen Yanbing; 4 July 1896 – 27 March 1981), known by the pen name of Mao Dun, was a Chinese essayist, journalist, novelist, and playwright. Mao Dun, as a 20th-century Chinese novelist, literary and cultural critic, and the Minister of Culture (1949–65), he is one of the most celebrated left-wing realist novelists of modern China. His most famous works are Midnight (子夜), a novel depicting life in cosmopolitan Shanghai, which is also considered to be the most influential work to his future writing. Furthermore, during the period of producing Midnight, Mao Dun had developed a strong friendship with one of the most famous Chinese writers, Lu Xun.

Mao Dun also worked in genres other than novels, such as essays, drama scripts, theories, short stories and novellas. He was famous for translating western literature as he had begun to acquire theoretical knowledge of European literature while studying in Peking University in 1913. Additionally, although he was not the first person in China to translate the works of Scottish historical novelist Walter Scott, he is considered to be the first person to introduce Walter Scott's work to Chinese publicity through his "Critical Biography" on Walter Scott.

He adopted "Mao Dun" (Chinese: 矛盾), meaning "contradiction", while Mao means spears and Dun means shields, as his pen name to express the tension in the conflicting revolutionary ideology in China in the unstable 1920s. His friend Ye Shengtao changed the first character from to , which literally means "thatch".

Early life

His father, Shen Yongxi (Chinese: 沈永錫) taught and designed the curriculum for his son, but he died when Mao Dun was ten. Mao Dun's mother Chen Aizhu (Chinese: 陳愛珠) then became his teacher. He mentions in his memoirs that "my first instructor is my mother". Through learning from his parents, Mao Dun developed great interest in writing as well as reading during his childhood.

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 read the Wen Xuan, Shishuo Xinyu, and a large number of classical novels, which influenced his writing style.

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. After quitting from university, he immediately get married with the daughter of Kong family (孔家), Kong Dezhi (孔德沚).

The trainings in Chinese and English as well as knowledge of Chinese and Western literature provided by the fifteen years of education Mao Dun received had prepared him to show up in the limelight of the Chinese journalistic and literary arena.

Journalistic career

After graduation, Mao Dun soon got his first job in the English editing and translation sections of the Commercial Press (商務印書館), Shanghai branch. At the age of 21, 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.

Apart from editing, Mao Dun also started to write about his social thoughts and criticisms. To some extent, he was inspired by the famous magazine New Youth (新青年). Like in 1917 and 1918, he wrote two editorials for Xuesheng Zazhi: Students and Society (學生與社會) and The Students of 1918, those were significant in stimulating political consciousness among the young educated Chinese.

At 24 years of age, Mao Dun was already renowned as a novelist by the community in general, and in 1920, he and a group of young writers took over the magazine Xiaoshuo Yuebao (小說月報), which translated means "fiction monthly", to publish literature by western authors, such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Byron, Keats, Shaw, etc., and 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: The Fiction-New-Wwaves (小說新潮) in Fiction Monthly (小说月报). He even 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 their views on new literature theories and techniques to the magazines. Literary Study Group (文學研究會) was formed partly because of this. The reformed Monthly was proved to be a success. It had facilitated the continuation of the New Cultural Movement by selling ten thousand copies a month and more importantly by introducing Literature for life, a brand new realistic approach to Chinese literature. In this period, Mao Dun had become a leading figure of the movement in the southern part of China.

On the notion of content reformation, both the innovative and conservative parties in the Commercial Press could not make a compromise. Mao Dun resigned from the Chief Editor of Fiction Monthly in 1923, but in 1927 he became the chief columnist of the Minguo yuebao (民国月报). He wrote more than 30 editorials for this newspaper to criticize Chiang Kai-shek, and to support revolutions.

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 (共產黨).

At the same time, Mao Dun participated in Chiang Kai-shek's Northern Expedition (1926–28), the main purpose was to unite the country. He quit, however, when Chiang's Kuomintang broke with the Communists in 1927. In July 1928, he went to Japan in order to take refuge. As he returned to China in 1930, he joined the League of Left-Wing Writers. Later, China went to war with Japan and he actively engaged in resisting the Japanese attack in 1937. In 1949, the communist government took over and he was responsible for working as Mao Zedong's secretary and Culture Minister until 1964.

Literary career

As a literary man, Mao Dun had a great number of achievements. Fiction Monthly (小说月报) 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 (蚀), was also called The Eclipse in English translation, which was the first actual novel written by Mao Dun and composed of three volumes, Disillusions (幻灭, 1927), Wavering (动摇, 1928), and Pursuits (追求, 1928). It is a 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. His next major work was Rainbow (虹, 1929), which became famous for having no less than 70 main characters and numerous plot twists and turns. In 1933 came his next work, Midnight (子夜), 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. 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. He left a work unfinished, the trilogy Shuangye Hongsi Eryuehua (霜叶红似二月花, 1942).

Other than Mao Dun's works, he also participated in Chiang Kai-shek's Northern Expedition (1926–28) in an attempt to unify China, which was failed and he fled to Kuling, when the Kuomintang 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. After the initiation of the Sino-Japanese 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.

When the People's Republic of China was established by the Communist Party of China in 1949, he became active in 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 Historical Materials on New literature (新文学史料), but he died on 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 (我走过的路).

Besides his achievements, Mao Dun also had great influence on Chinese literature. The Mao Dun Literature Prize (茅盾文学奖) 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 (魏巍) and Zhou Ke-qin (周克芹) have received the prize.

Marriage and personal life

Mao Dun owned a typical traditional Chinese marriage. His family got him engaged to the Kong (孔) family when he was five years old and he married the daughter of Kong family after he quit from university. After their marriage, the daughter of Kong family had been renamed as Kong Dezhi (孔德沚)and she got chances to learn some new things that she had never been able to get to know before, which made her be able to assist Mao Dun with his literary and political career during their marriage.

However, the marriage between Mao Dun and Kong Dezhi was not perfect. Mao Dun had had a two-year long affair with Qin Dejun (秦德君) during his marriage with Kong Dezhi, which is also believed to have effects on his novel Rainbow (虹). In the end, Mao Dun ended this relationship and returned to his own family.

List of works

A bust of Mao Dun in his former residence in Wuzhen, Zhejiang.
A bust of Mao Dun in his former residence in Beijing.

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)


  • Disillusions 《幻滅》 Huanmie (1927)
  • Wavering 《動搖》 Dongyao (1927)
  • Pursuits 《追求》 Zhuiqiu (1928)
  • Three people walking, 《三人行》 Sanrenxing (1931)
  • The Shop Of the Lin Family 《林家铺子》 Linjia Puzi (1932)
  • Spring Silkworms, 《春蚕》 Chuncan (1932)
  • Autumn Harvest 《秋收》 QiuShou


  • Rainbow 《虹》 Hong (1930)
  • Midnight 《子夜》Ziye (1933)
  • Giving to the poet festival《獻給詩人節》Xian Gei Shi Ren Jie (1946)


  • The recent works of Mao Dun《茅盾近作》Mao Dun Jin Zuo (1980)
  • Mao Dun's comment on creativity《茅盾論創作》Mao Dun Lun Chuang Zuo (1980)


  • "Travelling Diary of USSR"《蘇聯見聞錄》Su Lian Jian Wen Lu (1948)
  • "Talks on USSR"《雜談蘇聯》Ji Tan Su Lian (1949)

Drama script

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


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


  • Works of Mao Dun《茅盾全集》Mao Dun Quanji (vol. 1-15, 1984–1987)
  • Introduction to the books of Mao Dun《茅盾書簡》Mao Dun Shujian (1st edition, collection of letters, 1984) later changed the name into《茅盾書信集》 Mao Dun Shuxinji (1988)

Transition of female characters

1930s is a turning point of the female characters' identity in Mao Dun's works. Between the 1920s and the 1930s, which was also the early period of Mao Dun's writing career, the female characters occurring in his works mostly were in identity of “New Woman". For instance, Mrs. Gui (桂阿姨) and Qionghua (琼华) in Wild Rose (野蔷薇, 1929), Ms. Mei (梅小姐) in Rainbow (虹, 1930)

However, from the 1930s, the “New Woman” characters in Mao Dun's works started to be replaced by the females who were living in traditional Chinese family. Furthermore, female characters even started to lose their own names. As in one of Mao Dun's short novels, which was released in the 1930s, Shui zaoxing (水藻行), the only female character did not even have an actual name but only be called as “Xiusheng (one of the two main male characters)'s wife (秀生妻)” in the novel.


Political offices
Preceded by
Minister of Culture of the PRC
Succeeded by
Lu Dingyi
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Chairman of the China Writers Association
Succeeded by
Ba Jin
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