Revolutionary Literature in China: An Anthology

By John David Berninghausen; Ted Huters | Go to book overview

Introduction to Guo Mo-ruo's "Revolution and Literature"

Guo Mo-ruo, the author of the following article, is today a leading member of the Chinese establishment. Since Liberation he has held an almost innumerable number of different influential positions in the cultural field, the most important being that of president of the Academia Sinica, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a post he still holds. He has also been honored with the vice-chairmanship of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and has acted as one of the four vice-premiers under Premier Zhou En-lai (Chou En-lai). In 1926, when the present article was written, however, Guo Mo-ruo was a much more controversial personality in the field of Chinese culture and politics.

Born in 1892 in southwest Sichuan (Szechuan), Guo Mo-ruo, with the original name of Guo Kai-zhen, grew up in a wealthy merchant-landlord family. Because of the position and wealth of his family he got a thorough traditional education in the classics starting at an early age. Later on, in late 1913, he followed the example of many other young Chinese intellectuals of the time and went to Japan in order to get a "modern" university training of a more Western type as was available in that country. He chose to study medicine, but as his natural artistic inclinations simultaneously found inspiration in the discover of Western literature, especially its Romantic variants, he soon became intensively involved in more literary pursuits.

Thus the famous literary group Chuangzaoshe (Creation Society) was established in 1921 by Chinese students in Japan partly, at the initiative of Guo Mo-ruo, and from the start he was considered a leader of the group. Soon Guo and his friends found themselves engaged in sometimes quite bitter feuds with other literary groups. In the beginning they propagated a view of literature which was deeply influenced by European Romanticism and idealist literature and philosophy. They worshipped genius and art as autonomous phenomena with intrinsic value. However, increasingly concerned about the social and political situation prevailing in China and influenced by their contact with Marxist philosophy, they gradually changed their position towards a revolutionary or "proletarian" standpoint. During the latter part of the twenties the Creation Society became a main channel for the propagation of an engagé literature of social consciousness and clear class stand. By that time, however, Guo Mo-ruo had already left his editorial and literary work in Shanghai and was participating more directly in the revolutionary efforts to transform China.

When Guo Mo-ruo wrote the article "Revolution and Literature" he had been in Guangzhou (Canton) a few weeks as the new dean of the Department of Literature of Zhongshan University. This was in the final year of the First United Front between the Communists and the Guomindang (KMT) and the political atmosphere of Guangzhou was dominated by a spirit of revolutionary optimism in anticipation of the launching of the Northern Expedition. Guo was going to participate in this offensive as a leading member of different political departments of the revolutionary forces.

This situation and these feelings are clearly reflected in the straightforward and uncompromising revolutionary message of "Revolution and Literature." First published in the Creation Society, organ, Chuangzao Yuekan, 1, 3, 1926, the argumentation and theoretical position of the article undoubtedly derive from Guo's increasingly intensive study of Marxist theory during the two years previous to this. However, the mechanical character of the argumentation reveals that Guo had not yet managed to assimilate fully the dynamic nature of Marxist dialectics. Guo's postulation of an "eternal progress" of revolution furthermore seems to have more in common with traditional Chinese theories of historical development than with classic Marxist theory with its enunciation of communist society as the ultimate stage of historical development. Finally the preoccupation with such unmaterialistic things as great literary men, genius and psychology betrays Guo the Romantic behind Guo the Marxist. Thus this article can be said to be an example of both the achievement and the difficulties of ideological reorientation for Chinese intellectuals of the twenties.

Lars Ellström


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