Mao and the Writers

The Gate of Darkness: Studies on the Leftist Literary Movement in China

by Tsi-an Hsia
University of Washington Press, 266 pp., $7.95

Literary Doctrine in China and Soviet Influence 1956-1960

by D.N. Fokkema
Humanities Press, 296 pp., $11.50

Pa Chin and His Writings: Chinese Youth Between the Two Revolutions

by Olga Lang
Harvard, 402 pp., $7.95

The Hundred Flowers

by Roderick MacFarquhar
Atlantic Books, 324 pp., $6.75

By the 1930s the intolerable quality of life and the inefficiency, corruption, and conservatism of the Kuomintang had driven nearly every serious creative writer in China to the Left. Most turned toward some form of Marxism, which not only offered the most convincing explanation of the appalling international and internal situation of China but also seemed to provide the best way of escape from it. But a common hostility to the Government and a common desire to build a new, strong, and just China did not impose any unity on the left-wing literary scene.

During the last thirty years radical writers in China have fought continuous literary battles on such issues as whether to use traditional forms or to import new ones; whether foreign models should come from the West or the Soviet Union; whether fictional characters should be morally clearcut or ambiguous. Whether books should try to elevate popular taste or whether authors should write for the people; whether revolutionary art can be completely utilitarian, or whether a writer under the direct control of the Communist Party can also be creative. Since the 1930s numerous complexities have been added to these and other controversies, and yet the issues and even the personalities involved have recurred with surprising regularity.

During the last few years several books touching on this topic have appeared in America. For Mr. Hsia Tsi-an, “Leftist” writers could hardly have been more antipathetic. When he was at the university in the 1930s, whenever other students went on strike in protest against Kuomintang oppression or Japanese aggression he would spend the day watching traditional opera. In the draft of his introduction—the book was compiled after his tragic death—he stated that he knew none of his radical contemporaries. At several points he gave the impression that for him a “Communist” was some sort of creature from outer space. While admitting that he approached some of the Communist writers of the 1930s from the outside, Mr. Hsia tried hard to understand them. However his sympathy was further hampered by his conviction that with two or three exceptions, notably the works of the great short story writer and critic Lu Hsun, the literary value of most Marxist writing in the period was nil. For instance, he described one young writer of immense popularity and wide political influence as “a back who had yet to prove that he could write a single good sentence.”1 Mr. Hsia loved complexity, subtlety, and paradox, all qualities strikingly absent in the writers he described. The only times when he could identify with them were their moments of pessimism or doubt.

Much the most interesting section of the book is on Lu Hsun and the League of Leftist Writers. The League was founded in 1930 as a cultural adjunct to the Communist Party, and it remained one of the leading radical organizations in Shanghai, until 1936, throughout the intense Nationalist persecution and the bitter internecine fighting of the Communist Party. A major reason for its…

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