Revolutionary Literature in China: An Anthology

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

Introduction to Mao Dun's "In Front of the Pawnshop"

The appearance of "Dangpuqian" (In Front of the Pawnshop) in the first half of 1932 marks an important milestone in Mao Dun's development as one of the leading Chinese writers of this century. This was his first attempt to describe the hardships of the Chinese peasantry in a short story. The degree of control over narrative, his sharp eye for detail, the analytic explorations into the economic decline of the peasants and the petty bourgeoisie, his uncompromising loyalty to realism, all these aspects of his fiction were beyond the reach of most other leftist or revolutionary writers in China at that time. It was during this period that the theme of rural poverty became much more prevalent in the works being produced by writers who, although basically urban in orientation and adult experience, were attaining a more radical consciousness and were now striving for a greater political significance by depicting the desperate plight of the peasants.

Mao Dun ( Shen Yan-bing) was born into a family of scholarly background but reduced economic and social status in the year 1896. A native of Tongxiang County, Zhejiang (Chekiang) Province, he attended several different schools in Zhejiang before going to Beijing ( Peking) for three years of college preparatory work. Unable to continue his studies for lack of funds, Mao Dun went to work for the Commercial Press in Shanghai and emerged during the early May Fourth period as a leading editor, translator and critic. A founding member of the Literary Research Society and a leading spokesman for European realism, Mao Dun was also somewhat involved with the Chinese Communist Party during its earliest days in Shanghai.1 Similar to many of his early protagonists, Mao Dun was active in both political and literary realms during the 1920s.2

It was only after the devastating defeat for the leftwing revolutionary forces at the hands of the Chiang Kai-shek rightwing forces in mid-1927, and his escape from Wuhan, where he had been editor of the revolutionary regime's newspaper, that Mao Dun began to write fiction. This was also the time when he adopted the pen name 'Mao Dun' (a pun in Chinese for the word for 'contradiction') by which he is best known as a writer. The first works that he wrote in the last three years of the 1920s, some of them written while he was avoiding Guomindang (KMT) persecution by living in Tokyo from 1928 to 1930, are quite pessimistic in tone and reflect

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