Wang Rong (1919 to 2004) And His Fateful Play Review

Wang Rong in 1984

Wang Rong (王戎) was a Chinese actor, writer and reporter whose life was turned upside down in 1955 when he was implicated in the unjust case against ‘Hu Feng’s Counter-Revolutionary Clique’. The material in this post about Wang is taken from an article of reminiscences that he wrote for the book “Hu Feng and I’, edited by Hu Feng’s daughter Xiao Feng (published in 1993), plus a short biographical entry about Wang that appears before the article and was presumably written by Xiao Feng.

Wang was born in 1919 in the city of Kaifeng in Henan Province. He later moved to Shanghai but left for Changsha in Hunan Province after Shanghai fell to the Japanese in late 1937. He later moved on to Chongqing, where he started to write and became an actor in a local theatrical company. He also met Hu Feng in Chongqing. Hu Feng advised him to redirect his writing efforts from poetry to reportage, but they had only one meeting together. Wang returned to Shanghai after the end of WWII, where he worked as a reporter, first for the Xinmin Evening Newspaper, and later for the Xinhua news agency. In 1952 Wang became an editor in the Shanghai Central Film Script Office.

Wang wrote a novel called ‘He Died Under a Shoulder Pole’ (based on his experiences in the Kuomintang army during WWII), that was published in 1946 by the Wenhui Daily newspaper in Shanghai. He later wrote three plays, ‘Who Is the Assassin?’, ‘A Korean’ and ‘Unity’, that were all published in Wuhan.

In 1955, Wang was implicated in the case against the alleged ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ and was jailed for two years, on the grounds that he ‘opposed Mao Zedong’s thinking on literature and the arts’ and ‘supported Hu Feng’s counter-revolutionary thinking on literature and the arts’. In 1958 Wang was sent to Gansu Province and from there to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region for ‘reform through work’. The first time Wang was able to return to Shanghai was in 1978. He was then 59 years old (having been jailed at the age of 36). He went to the home where he had lived with his mother in 1955 and they did not at first recognise each other. His mother (who was then 83) said when he arrived at the door “Who are you looking for?”. Wang replied “Does the Wang family live here?”. His mother replied “You are…my second son!”

There is no further biographical information about Wang Rong in the book ‘Hu Feng and I’, apart from a statement that he had retired by the time that book was published. I have been unable to find much additional information about Wang from other sources, either. There are fairly detailed entries in Baidu Baike (the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia) in relation to most of the people who were implicated in the Hu Feng case, but there is no such entry for Wang Rong. Jia Zhifang (whose article of reminiscences in the book ‘Hu Feng and I’ I translated in my last post) says in his diaries that Wang was a frequent visitor at his home in Shanghai during the 1980s. I have also been able to find the photograph of Wang Rong that appears at the beginning of this post (the photo appears on page 186 of the book ‘Storm in the Sun: Introductions, Script and Reviews’, edited by S. Louisa Wei and published in 2009 by Blue Queen Cultural Communication Ltd. in Hong Kong). That photograph was taken in 1984, when Wang would have been 64 or 65. I have also discovered that he died in 2004, at the age of 85. It appears however that he did not publish any further written work after he returned to Shanghai in 1979, apart from the article for ‘Hu Feng and I’. He may simply have retired or taken on a minor job to see him through to retirement. The unfortunate reality is that he (like many others who were implicated in the Hu Feng case) spent the prime years of his life either in jail or doing ‘reform through work’ on farms in the remote countryside. He did, however, survive to return home and to write his article of reminiscences for the book ‘Hu Feng and I’. Tragically, numerous other members of the Hu Feng ‘clique’ did not survive to write about their experiences.

My main purpose in writing this post, however, is not to tell the story of Wang Rong. It is to describe (based on his reminiscences) how he was implicated in the case against the ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ in 1955 because of a review he wrote in 1945/46 about a play in which he appeared as an actor in Chongqing. That review, and two other articles that he wrote in reply to criticisms of his review, were later distorted by senior cultural figures in China and directly led to Wang first being imprisoned in 1955 and then sent to Gansu and Xinjiang for a lengthy period of ‘reform through labour’. He was only released and allowed to return to Shanghai in 1979, after effectively losing 24 years of his life. Apart from those fragments of information, there appears to be little else available. That is unfortunate, as it is clear from his article written for the book ‘Hu Feng and I’ that Wang was an intelligent man with diverse abilities and wide interests.

This post is not primarily about Wang Rong, however. It is about the way in which a fairly innocuous play review he wrote as a young man in 1945 was subsequently distorted by important cultural figures in China and used as ‘proof’ of his involvement in ‘counter-revolutionary activities’. While the distortion of published material was common in China during the Cultural Revolution and the other ‘movements’ that preceded it, the account in Wang Rong’s article is a detailed and very clear example of it.

The Story of Wang Rong’s Play Review and Its Aftermath

In 1945, Wang Rong was an actor in the Chinese Arts Theatre Company located in Chongqing. During that year the company presented two plays: ‘Before and After Qingming’ by Mao Dun, and ‘Fragrant Flowers on the Horizon’ by Xia Yan. In November 1945, the Xinhua Daily Newspaper published notes of a meeting at which the plays were discussed. One of the people who spoke at the meeting was referred in the notes as ‘C Jun’ (‘C君’). C Jun asked whether the play ‘Before and After Qingming’ could be accused of being ‘sloganistic’ or ‘formulaic’. He said no on both counts and went on to say that the main problem confronting people in literary and arts circles in China was not sloganism or formalism but was instead the trend against politics. He said that some people were using their opposition to sloganism and formalism to hide their opposition to “politics, rationalism and Marxism”. C Jun concluded that he would prefer a play like ‘Before and After Qingming’ even if it indulges to some extent in sloganism and formalism, rather than a play that leaves people confused and fails to put across a clear message.

Wang Rong, who was 26 in 1945, says in his article that he did not agree with these views expressed by C Jun. Wang never found out who exactly C Jun was, but he strongly objected to C Jun’s saying that a person who opposed sloganism and formalism was using that as cover for being against “politics, rationalism and Marxism”. He did not initially intend to put his views into writing, saying that he considered his cultural level to be ‘not high’, as he had only completed the higher level of primary school in the Chinese educational system of the time. Wang had however by this time met the well known Chinese actor Shi Yu (石羽) as well as the theatre critic and journalist Zhang Ying (张颖). Zhang Ying was also Zhou Enlai’s secretary (representative) in Chongqing at the time. Wang says that, with their help and encouragement, he embarked on a course of independent study and also came to understand the reasons why radical change was needed in China. [Note: It was common in China at this time for intelligent individuals who had received some education but had been unable to pursue further studies for financial or other reasons to pursue independent study.] Zhang Ying had left Chongqing in 1943 to go to Yanan while she recovered from a lung condition. She was replaced as Zhou Enlai’s local secretary by Chen Shunyao (陈舜瑶 – Interestingly Chen lived on until 2019 when she died at the age of 102; she was the wife of Song Ping, who later became the head of the Organisation Department of the CPC). Chen and Wang became friends and she asked him what he thought of the Xinhua report of C Jun’s and others’ views on the play ‘Before and After Qingming’. Wang told her that he did not agree with what C Jun had said and she encouraged him to write an article setting out his own views. She also said this would be a good opportunity for him to practise his writing skills.

Wang Rong therefore set out to write a short article that he entitled “Speaking About ‘Before and After Qingming'”. He delivered it to Chen Shunyao who arranged for it to be published on 19th December 1945 in the arts supplement of the Xinhua Daily Newspaper edited by He Qifang [何其芳 – b.1912 d.1977 – a poet and essayist who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution as a ‘capitalist roader’]. Wang describes his article as ‘shallow and superficial’ and as an ‘exercise in writing’. Possibly for those reasons he does not directly quote any of its contents. The gist of what he said however was reflected in a memoir article published by Mao Dun (the author of ‘Before and After Qingming’) a full 40 years later in 1986, a part of which Wang Rong does quote. [Mao Dun’s memoir article was published in ‘New Literature Historical Materials’ Volume II in 1986]. Mao Dun related in his memoir article how the performance of his play in Chongqing in 1945 sparked off a controversy in which two different types of views were expressed by critics. He says one group of critics was typified by Wang Rong, who considered that “realist literary writing” should focus not on “political tendencies” but rather on “the close blending together of the writer’s subjective consciousness and objective reality”. It should reflect the “struggles of real life” and avoid “abstract concepts” and “empty slogans”. Mao Dun says the other group of critics considered the play had certain defects but overall was a “realist work” with “intense political inclinations”. It seems likely that the terms quoted above by Mao Dun were taken directly from Wang Rong’s original play review, or were along very similar lines to what Wang wrote. The concept of “the close blending together of the writer’s subjective consciousness and objective reality” was at the heart of Hu Feng’s literary theory, with which Wang would have been familiar at the time as a result of reading issues of Hu Feng’s literary journal ‘July’.

A week after Wang Rong’s article was published in the Xinhua Daily Newspaper on 19th December 1945, another article about Mao Dun’s play, written by Shao Quanlin, was published in the same paper. [Shao Quanllin was a prominent Chinese writer and critic who was later persecuted for his own views on literature during the Cultural Revolution and died in prison in 1971.] Shao’s article accepted that the play ‘Before and After Qianming’ had a formulaic quality, but his main purpose in writing the article was to criticise the views Wang Rong had expressed in his own article. Wang does not directly quote any of Shao’s criticisms, however. Wang says he felt there were things he needed to say in response, so he wrote a second article entitled ‘Subjective Consciousness and Political Inclinations’, that he submitted to the Xinhua Daily Newspaper. He Qifang arranged for that article to be published on 9th January 1946. Wang does not quote from the contents of this article.

Wang Rong returned to Chongqing shortly after that, where He Qifang asked him to meet with him. He told Wang that he should not carry the dispute any further and said he (He Qifang) would write an article himself to bring it to a conclusion. He Qifang’s article, entitled ‘In Relation to Realism’, was published in the Xinhua Daily Newspaper on 13th February 1946. Wang read it after he moved back to Shanghai and says it was very long, taking up a whole page of the newspaper. This article was also critical of Wang Rong, but somewhat measured in its criticism. Wang quotes the following two sections from the article:

Section 1

I know that Wang Rong was not at all concerned about common struggle and fierce conflict; he was not at all concerned with ordinary integration of the subjective conscientiousness with objective reality. Instead he was concerned with a particular type of and a radical writer’s integration of the subjective consciousness with objective reality. … I also know that when our friends in the Kuomintang rear area refer to ‘realism’, they are not at all talking about ordinary realism (or rather capitalist realism), rather it is a specific kind of realism that requires radical writers to adopt the position of the broad masses of people, and also requires Marxist writers to adopt the position of the proletariat.”

Section 2

I have also thought over and over again, when Wang Rong used literary expressions like ‘burn’, ’embrace’ and ‘struggle’, was the meaning he wanted to express no more than to emphasize what we commonly refer to as the importance of integrating theory and practice, especially the importance of practice? If that was the case, there are no problems with that.

[Please note the underlining in the above excerpts from He Qifang’s essay was added by Wang Rong and did not appear in the original essay.]

Wang wrote another article (his third) in response to the criticisms in He Qifang’s article of 13th February 1946. That article was entitled ‘An Arts And Literature Issue’, and it was published on 16th April 1946 in a periodical called ‘Grains of Wheat’ edited by students from St John’s University in Shanghai. Wang again does not quote from the contents of this (his third and final) article.

Four years later, in 1950, He Qifang published a collection of his essays entitled ‘In Relation to Realism’. He Qifang included Wang Rong’s first and second essays as an appendix to this collection, but he left out the third essay and said nothing about it. Wang says this gave readers the false impression that He Qifang’s essay published in February 1946 marked the end of the controversy and that Wang had nothing more to say. He Qifang also stated in his introduction to the essay collection that Wang’s two essays (set out in the appendix) were an ‘open rejection’ of Mao Zedong’s thinking in relation to literature and the arts, as set out in Mao’s famous ‘Speech at the Yanan Arts and Literature Symposium’. [I will not describe this speech in detail, but in essence Mao said literature and the arts should primarily serve the interests of the revolution and the workers, peasants and soldiers. Mao in effect regarded literary qualities as secondary to political qualities.]. It goes without saying that accusing a person of ‘openly rejecting’ Mao Zedong’s thinking was a very serious charge, especially coming from an important literary figure like He Qifang. As noted below, this charge later had grave consequences for Wang Rong.

He Qifang’s ‘In Relation to Realism’ essay collection was republished in 1956 and 1959. There were differences from the original 1950 edition, however. For one thing, He Qifang did not include Wang’s first two essays that had been included as an appendix in the 1950 edition. For another, He Qifang deleted the first of the sections that Wang quoted above (Section1). He retained the second section (Section 2), but changed it to read as follows:

Wang Rong would perhaps defend himself by saying that his purpose in using literary expressions like ‘burn’, ’embrace’ and ‘struggle’, was nothing more than to emphasize what we commonly refer to as the importance of integrating theory and practice, especially the importance of practice. But such a defence would be futile.

[Please note as above that the underlining in the above excerpt from He Qifang’s essay was added by Wang Rong.]

Wang Rong points out that He Qifang left out the expression “I have also thought over and over again” and replaced it with “Wang Rong would perhaps defend himself”. He Qifang also deleted the expression “there are no problems with that” and replaced it with “such a defence would be futile”.

Wang Rong points out that He Qifang’s statement in the introduction to the 1950 version of his ‘In Relation to Realism’ essay collection, that Wang’s essays were an ‘open rejection’ of Mao’s thinking in relation to literature and the arts, was later used as evidence that Wang was a ‘counter revolutionary’. This in turn led to his arrest in 1955 and in 1958 to him being sent off first to Gansu Province and later to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region for 20 years of ‘reform through labour’.

Wang only discovered in 1979, from a person who had been involved in the reinvestigation of his case, that his original ‘crime’ had been the writing of his three essays in 1945/46. After his arrest in 1955, one of his colleagues in the Shanghai Central Film Script Office, who also had the surname Wang, had written an article for the Liberation Daily (解放日报, the official daily newspaper of the Shanghai Party Committee of the CPC) “exposing his crimes”. Part of the article is quoted by Wang Rong and reads as follows:

“Wang Rong was born into a family of reactionary army officers. Near the end of the Anti-Japanese War, he wormed his way into Chongqing’s theatrical circles. Posing as a radical young actor he got to know many radical figures in literature and the arts, while at the same time following Hu Feng in his damaging activities. In 1946, in the guise of ‘criticising’ the staging of the play ‘Before and After Qingming’, that was then all the rage in Chongqing, he published two articles: “Speaking About ‘Before and After Qingming'” and “The Subjective Consciousness and Political Inclinations”. In these articles, following Hu Feng’s example, he vented his anger at the political inclinations and political standards of the play, and recklessly advocated the so-called ‘subjective fighting consciousness’.”

Wang Rong was finally rehabilitated in 1980, a full 25 years after his arrest in 1955. In 1955, he had been 36 years old; by 1980, he was 61 years old. Wang quotes the formal rehabilitation decision that was issued to him in 1980 by the Shanghai Public Security Office in full:

“Wang Rong, pseudonym Xiao Mei, male, born in 1919, a native of Xiangyin County in Hunan Province, from a family engaged in public administration. He is a professional person, now working on a farm in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. On 8th June 1955 he was arrested and investigated in connection with the Hu Feng counter-revolutionary clique case. On 25th August 1956 he was found to be an ‘ordinary member of the Hu Feng counter-revolutionary clique’. In 1958 he was sent away for work and reform. // After re-examining the case, we have found that the original decision that Comrade Wang Rong was an ‘ordinary member of the Hu Feng counter-revolutionary clique’ and the later decision to send him away for work and reform were both mistaken. We hereby correct those mistaken decisions and restore his reputation and his original wage scale.”

Wang says he was given a payment of 300 yuan as compensation for the troubles he had suffered, but he was given nothing to make up for his loss of wages over the previous 25 years. Wang also relates a conversation he had later on with a colleague. The colleague said that, were it not for the Cultural Revolution, Wang would probably still be in Xinjiang in the work and reform brigade. Wang replied saying that was not correct. He said that were it not for the Third Plenary Session of the Party’s Eleventh Central Committee, he would definitely still be in the Xinjiang work and reform brigade, and he might well have died there. Wang went on to say he could only thank the Party, not the ‘Cultural Revolution’. [NB: The Third Plenary Session took place in December 1978 and ushered in the Deng Xiaoping regime and the new era of ‘opening up to the outside world and reform’.]

At the end of his article of reminiscences, Wang sets out a quote from the document that the Central Committee of the Party issued on 18th June 1988 when it finally accepted that the criticism of Hu Feng’s thinking on the arts and literature had been mistaken. The document said:

“We should properly settle all issues in relation to Comrade Hu Feng’s thinking on the arts and literature and the views he espoused, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution on academic freedom and freedom to criticise, and the Party’s policy of ‘letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend’. Literary and arts circles and the broad mass of readers should reach proper conclusions through normal rational criticism and discussion.”

It should be noted the above document was issued a full 33 years after Hu Feng was first imprisoned. Wang’s final comments are somewhat guarded: “I wholeheartedly and warmly raise both my hands in support of the above principles. But is it possible for this type of rational criticism and discussion to be implemented in fact? I am now over 70 years old, but I am waiting, I am waiting…”

My Comments:

  • Wang Rong was clearly a confident, intelligent and sociable young man in the mid-1940s when he found himself working as an actor in Chongqing. He had become acquainted with people of influence in the CPC and he was also very interested in literature. He met Hu Feng only a few times. The first meeting took place in 1945 in Chongqing, when he asked Hu Feng for his views in relation to a poem he had written. Hu Feng told him his poem was not very good and advised him to refocus his efforts on reportage. Wang engaged in no correspondence with Hu Feng however and they were by no means close friends. Wang wrote his first article about the play ‘Before and After Qingming’ because he was encouraged to do so by Chen Shunyao, who was Zhou Enlai’s private secretary in Chongqing during the mid-1940s.
  • Wang was nonetheless later found to be a member of ‘Hu Feng’s counter-revolutionary clique’. This resulted in his arrest and subsequent being sent to Gansu and Xinjiang for many years of ‘reform through work’.
  • During his long period of imprisonment and ‘reform through work’, Wang could not understand why he had become implicated in the anti-Hu Feng case. It was only after he was released in 1979 that he discovered it was because the statements he made in his play review in 1946 about such things as the integration of the ‘writer’s subjective consciousness and objective reality’ had been deemed to be evidence of counter-revolutionary activity.
  • In a normal time and a normal place, Wang’s abilities, and particularly his sociability, would no doubt have set him up for a successful career in the arts or the media. Getting to know people like Shi Yu, Zhang Ying, He Qifang and Hu Feng would have been wholly positive career moves. But China in the 1940s and 1950s was far from a normal time and place. Wang Rong does not say if he had read Mao’s 1942 speech at the Yanan Symposium on Arts and Literature (he could have done so as it was available in the Kuomintang zone by 1945). If he had read it, he might have realised that writing about literary theory could be a risky activity. However, he was encouraged to write about the play in 1945 by Zhou Enlai’s private secretary in Chongqing. How could he have imagined it would lead to problems for him?
  • Wang Rong’s story is a good demonstration of the importance of the written word and how it can be distorted and used by powerful people to secure their own ends. That can happen many years after the words were first written. Could it happen again? Given the tenor of his remarks at the end of the article on which I have based this post, Wang Rong believed it could. And not necessarily in China alone.

Michael Ingle –

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Jia Zhifang Remembers Hu Feng

Jia Zhifang (贾植芳)

I have translated below a chapter that Jia Zhifang (贾植芳) wrote for a book of reminiscences of Hu Feng, ‘Hu Feng and I’. This book was edited by Hu Feng’s daughter Xiao Feng and published in 1993 by the Ningxia People’s Publishing House.

This chapter is rather long (around 8,000 English words), but contains much detail about both Hu Feng and Jia Zhifang. Jia was born in 1915 and died in 2008. He worked mainly as a writer and a university professor (at Fudan University), but his life was long and filled with incident. He was jailed four times, three times during the Republican period in China because of his left-wing views and activities, and once after the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, because of his alleged role in the ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ case. His last spell in prison was the longest of all, lasting 11 years, and was followed by many years of ‘work and reform’ and persecution during the Cultural Revolution.

Jia Zhifang was a very brave man with a remarkable personality. He was not ‘just’ an academic and a writer. He insisted on doing what he thought was right through a long period of major upheaval in China, despite the constant risk of being arrested and imprisoned. He published his first short story in a Taiyuan, Shanxi newspaper when he was just 15. Later he studied economics and sociology in Japan. He first got to know Hu Feng after submitting a story to him for publication in a Shanghai periodical while he was still a student in Japan. He and his wife Ren Min over time became close friends with Hu Feng, his wife Mei Zhi and their three children. The chapter I have translated below describes in detail how that friendship developed and how Jia Zhifang and Hu Feng were able to help each other through troubled times.

There are many anecdotes about Jia Zhifang. One of the most characteristic concerns how he raised funds to purchase medication for Ren Min when she suffered a stroke in 1997 (when Jia was himself 82 years old). They had been married by then for 55 years (though it is unclear whether they ever made the marriage ‘official’), but they had only enjoyed a little over 10 years of settled life together. Ren Min lived on for five years after her stroke, but Jia had then retired from university teaching and was hard pressed to pay for the medicines she needed. He did not complain but set to organising and publishing old draft articles, diaries and letters and writing reminiscences and essays, thereby raising the necessary funds.

Michael Ingle –


 Close Friendship with Hu Feng: Helping Each Other Through Troubled Times 

I first became friends with Hu Feng because we were thrown together by the shared fate of the times in which we lived.  The difficulties of that period in turn deepened the friendship between us so that we were able to help each other through very challenging circumstances.  The friendship between me and my wife Renmin, and Hu Feng and his wife Mei Zhi and their children, steadily grew as we navigated the trials and tribulations of those times.

After the so called ‘Hu Feng incident’ occurred in China in 1955, people everywhere were asking how Jia Zhifang could have become friends with Hu Feng.  In terms of age, he was 13 years older than I was.  He was born in 1902 in Qichun County in Hubei Province.  I was born in 1915 in Xiangfen County in Shanxi Province.  He was a southerner; I am a northerner.  We hailed from areas separated by more than a thousand kilometres.  We were not relatives, and our families did not know each other.  

Hu Feng and I both studied abroad in Japan, but he went there earlier than I did and also returned earlier.  He went to Japan as an exile, after he had been involved in the ‘Great Revolution’ (1924-1927) and later lived through the White terror of Chiang Kai-shek’s anti-Communist purge after the coup of 12th April 1927.  While in Japan, he was a student in the English Department of Keio University in Tokyo.  After he became involved with the Japanese left-wing literature and art movement, and also joined the Japanese Communist Party, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Japanese police.  In 1933 he was expelled by the Japanese and returned to China.   

In my case, I had been arrested and jailed by the Beiping police because I participated in the December 9th 1935 students’ patriotic movement.  After my release I fled to Japan and became a student in the Social Sciences Department of Nihon University.  After the Anti-Japanese War broke out in 1937, I immediately abandoned my studies and returned home to participate in the sacred war of resistance.  

While Hu Feng and I studied in Japan during different periods of time, we were alike in that we were both political exiles and Chinese students abroad.  This in turn was the main reason we later became friends.  Hu Feng said near the end of his life: “Although I feel guilty that many friends were dragged into the case against me, by the time they got close to me they already had their own thoughts and ideals, while I was even more motivated by my admiration for their talents.”  (See the memoir by Hu Feng’s wife Mei Zhi entitled ‘The Past Has Vanished Like Smoke’, pages 96-97).  

A year before his death, Hu Feng wrote a lengthy Afterword for a three-volume collection of his essays that was published under the name ‘Commentary Collection’ by the People’s Literature Publishing House in 1984-1985.  In this Afterword written after the terrible calamity he suffered, he reviewed the course of his whole life and literary accomplishments.  

After Hu Feng returned to China from Japan, he took on a leading role in the work of the League of Left-Wing Writers, which boasted Lu Xun as its great standard-bearer. Given the nature of his work he got to know many writers and also started to assist Lu Xun with the editing of his ‘Storm Petrel’ literary journal.  After Lu Xun’s death, encouraged by the local Party leader Feng Xuefeng, he took on the editing of the ‘Work and Study’ series of books.  After the War of Resistance broke out, he set up the literary journal ‘July’ and published it from Shanghai, then Wu Han and finally Chongqing.  After the New Fourth Army (Wannan) Incident of 1940, he was forced to stop publishing ‘July’.  In 1945 he set up and published a new literary journal, ‘Hope’, as well as the ‘July Poetry Collection’, the ‘July New Work Collection’, the ‘July Literary Collection’ and similar series of books.  

Over the period from before the war, through the whole of the Anti-Japanese War and the following War of Liberation, Hu Feng gathered about himself an ever larger group of writers and new literary figures whom he discovered among the readers of his journals.  Many of these writers became his close friends, resulting in the formation of a literary school known as the ‘Hu Feng School’ or the ‘July School’ of writers.  in 1955, however, this School was re-labelled the ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’, and most of the writers who belonged to it were branded as ‘Hu Feng elements’.  From that time on, most of them vanished from the literary world and their work could no longer be published.  

In the year before his death, when Hu Feng referred to the writers he had worked with in the Afterword he wrote for his ‘Commentary Collection’, he said with sorrow: “I have looked carefully at what I did. In the end the reason why we all became friends and kept in touch with each other was our shared attitude to the people’s revolution and our shared thoughts and feelings about literature.”  This also explains why the ‘Material Relating to the Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ published in 1955 identified the members of his School as a “counter-revolutionary faction concealed within the revolutionary camp”.  I too was one of the writers who contributed my work to the various literary journals and collected works that Hu Feng edited.

I actually got to know Hu Feng as a result of submitting my work to him for publication.  I was a student in Japan at the time.  Though I was studying social sciences at Nihon University, I had a great love for literature and had started to learn about creative writing in the early 1930s.  I had submitted work to various newspapers and periodicals and had also been involved in politically progressive social activities and organisations.  From the time I arrived in Tokyo I never stopped writing, apart from attending classes and participating in student cultural activities.  

Throughout my life I have loved to roam around bookstores.  While I was in Tokyo, I often visited the Uchiyama book shop in the Kanda district to have a look around, because it specialised in selling newly published Chinese books.  I saw this bookshop as the best way in Tokyo to keep up with the latest trends in Chinese domestic politics, society and literature.  It was there in early 1937 that I saw the first and second volumes of the ‘Work and Study’ collection edited by Hu Feng and published by Shanghai’s Life Publishing company (now ‘Sanlian Press’ or ‘SDX Joint Publishing’).  The first volume was entitled ‘Two or Three Things’ and the second ‘Open Country’.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover from its editorial style and roster of writers that this was a serious literary collection determined to carry forward Lu Xun’s fighting literary tradition.  I therefore decided to submit a novel I had written entitled ‘A Person’s Grief’, based on my experience of life as a prisoner in Beiping, for publication as one of the books in the series.  I had no idea at the time who the editor was, so I did not write a letter to accompany the draft of my novel.  Less than two months later, however, I received the fourth volume in the series (entitled ‘Daybreak’) containing my novel, along with a royalty fee of more than 30 Japanese yen and a very cordial letter from the editor Hu Feng.  

It was only then that I found out the editor of this series of books was Hu Feng.  I had been reading his work since the early 1930s when he started to write and translate using the pen name Gu Fei.  In 1932 I bought his translation of ‘Foreign Devils’ for one yuan at the Kunlun Bookstore near the entrance to the Dongan market in Beiping.  At that time Gu Fei’s poems were being published in left wing periodicals like ‘The Literature Daily Report’, ‘The Big Dipper’ and ‘Modern Culture’, even in the large format literary journal ‘Modern Times’.  I therefore already knew him through his writing and translation work; we had been friends in spirit for a long time without actually meeting.  I considered him to be an outstanding Marxist literary critic and a poet and translator in his own right.  In Chinese literary circles he was a revolutionary writer of the League of Left-Wing Writers, as well as a loyal assistant to Lu Xun in his final years.  I had also gained some understanding of Hu Feng’s character and the way he conducted himself, as well as his literary style, from my reading of the major essay Lu Xun published shortly before his death: ‘My Reply to Xu Maoyong’s Questions about the Anti-Japanese United Front’.  Lu Xun thought it was unfair that Hu Feng had been framed politically by the lies of Mu Mutian who credulously supported the ‘Si Tiao Hanzi‘ [the ‘Four Fellows’: Yang Hansheng, Tian Han, Xia Yan and Zhou Yang].  

Lu Xun described Hu Feng in this essay as a “very frank and honest man who is prone to incurring dislike”.  This remark was deeply imprinted in my mind.  I thought of it when Hu Feng was criticised by left-wing comrades in Hong Kong in 1948 for writing about subjectivism, and again in 1954 when he became the subject of even larger-scale criticism.  (I must point out that these observations and views of mine are rather superficial and can by no means sum up the true nature of the two political disasters that Hu Feng suffered.  The fault does not lie with him, however.  We can see all this very clearly now, but it was not so clear then.) 

From that same essay by Lu Xun, I also got a rough understanding of the disputes and contradictions in left-wing writers’ circles between Hu Feng and those in charge of the Party group in the League of Left-Wing Writers such as Zhou Yang.  Present day researchers all say that these disputes in the mid-1930s were the root cause of the unjust case against Hu Feng in 1955.  I got to know Hu Feng by submitting manuscripts to him for publication during the 1930s and we subsequently became close friends.  It was also in the 1930s that the seeds were sown that led to the anti-Hu Feng case in which I was also implicated.

In the autumn of 1937, I returned to China where the anti-Japanese national war was underway and threw myself into public life.  In the social and political circumstances of that chaotic war-time period, I did not seek the relatively quiet and stable life of an academic sitting in his study looking for interesting quotations and worrying about his diction.  In fact, I disdained to pursue such a life when the flames of war were raging throughout my native land.  I also did not try to make my fortune as a wartime trader, despite the fact I came from a business background.  Nor did I look out for a quiet job in which I could eke out a living.  Rather I saw myself as a Chinese intellectual with a historic responsibility to do his utmost to save his country and people from their historical suffering and help them move towards a new life.  To do that, I had to take advantage of the opportunities that were within my grasp.  In such a tumultuous period of history, my pursuit of such a purpose in life, together with my non-conformist attitude, led me to live a life that was full of frustrations and in which I received many blows and setbacks.  

After I gave up my studies in Japan and returned home, my first job was doing Japanese translation and information work for the regular [Kuomintang] army forces who were fighting in the Zhongtiao Mountains area of Shanxi Province.  Less than a year later, in 1939, China’s war of resistance against Japan experienced the first reverse in the underlying political situation and I had no choice but to leave my regular army unit.  I finally found my way to Chongqing in November 1939.  I was fixed up with a job in a newspaper office there by a close friend whose political views were similar to mine.  I then again sent something I had written to Hu Feng to see if he could publish it.  It was a piece of reportage entitled ‘Jia Jichen and his Periphery’ and was based on an interview I did with an Eighth Route Army unit commander in the Shanxi combat zone.  

I also included a short note telling Hu Feng that I had arrived in Chongqing and was working in a newspaper office.  It was a very simple letter, even though I had submitted work to Hu Feng previously in 1938 when he was editing ‘July’ in Wuhan, and he had invited me to make regular contributions.  After I relocated to the Shanxi combat zone, I had continued to send him manuscripts and news reports, and he engaged me as a special correspondent for that area.  

When I sent Hu Feng this new manuscript in Chongqing, I did not include the name of the newspaper office where I was working.  The reasons for this were straightforward.  For one thing I had a rather proud and aloof nature and did not want to appear as if I were trying to curry favour with a famous person.  More importantly, though, I thought then that as a young writer it would be best for me to treat my writing as a spare time activity.   People in literary circles tend to get involved in disputes with each other, so I thought it best to steer clear and not get mixed up in that type of thing.  Not to mention that I was a mere 20-year-old youth just starting out with my writing.  My understanding of life and society was still rudimentary and I had limited experience of the real world.  I needed to engage with actual events and people for a while to deepen my experience of life and society, get a proper understanding of the issues that China was grappling with, and acquire more background material for my writing.  For all those reasons, just as in the summer of 1938 when I was in Wuhan, even though Hu Feng and I were both living in the same city, I limited myself to sending him manuscripts and written correspondence and did not set out to visit him in person.  Our relationship at that time was limited to literature and the exchanges of ideas, what is often referred to as ‘a literary friendship’ or ‘making friends through literature’.  

But Hu Feng was a very warm-hearted person.  Less than three days after he received my letter, he came to look for me himself.  He said it had been difficult to find me because I had not given him the name of my newspaper office. He had made the rounds of virtually all of Chongqing’s newspapers, both large and small, but had finally caught up with me.  

I had just got settled in Chongqing then and was sharing two rooms in a building rented by the newspaper with some co-workers who had also studied in Japan and were single men like me.  There were only four beds, so I was sleeping on the floor.  I also worked nights, so when Hu Feng arrived I was still asleep.  I had managed to get through almost a year in a fighting army unit and had developed a level of alertness that made me a light sleeper.  So when I heard a person with a thick Hubei accent loudly calling out “Excuse me, is there a Jia Zhifang here?”, I immediately got up and looked with sleepy eyes in the direction of the door from which the calls were coming.  I saw a middle-aged man with a sturdy build wearing an old style felt hat, a faded blue cheongsam, Chinese style black trousers and dust covered home-made cloth shoes.  He was carrying a walking stick and had a black briefcase tucked under his arm.  He had a perfectly round face with strikingly clear and bright eyes that shone with the radiance of a wise, gentle and very sincere person and were a perfect match for his simple and unadorned Chinese style of dress.  His proper Chinese scholarly appearance made you feel he was a close and respected friend you had already known for a long time.  

At that moment a number of my colleagues who were already up and heard the shouting rushed to the door yelling “Hu Xiansheng, you’re here, please come in!”  One of them pointed to me on the floor and said “That’s Jia Zhifang.” Hu Feng had by then come into the room and while exchanging pleasantries with my colleagues came to a stop and had a close look at me.  I was rather flustered as I was preoccupied putting on my clapped-out grey uniform and self-conscious about my swarthy and emaciated appearance.  My down and out look must have been a surprise to him (or maybe not).  In any case that must be why he stood there speechless with a look of disappointment on his face.  His eyes were moist, to the point that he seemed to be paying no attention to all the people smiling genially around him.  He at once pulled a pile of bills out of the pocket of his cheongsam and handed them to me as I sat on the floor, saying in a gentle tone of voice “This is 20 yuan.  There are some royalties outstanding for the manuscripts you sent for publication in ‘July’ from the front.  I did not want to send cash to the combat zone, so I’ve held on to it and brought it to you now.”  

It was only then that he paid attention to everyone calling for him to sit down, removed his felt cap and took a seat.  These old classmates and now colleagues of mine had been working as journalists in Chongqing for some time and all knew Hu Feng and respected him as an important figure.  They accordingly hosted lunch for us at the small restaurant where we took our meals.  They all forked out cash to pay for extra dishes.  I had just started working in Chongqing and hadn’t a penny to my name.  I was completely dependent on these colleagues to keep body and soul together, and they helped me because we shared the same ideals and interests.  

I was very moved by this visit of Hu Feng, as I was able to experience at first hand his enthusiasm and his sincere character and manner.  He was the epitome of an unaffected and down to earth intellectual.  I can also say that was the true start of our friendship with each other.  For many years after that he and I were frequently in touch with each other as friends, but on no occasion did I detect any egotistical, false, evasive, philistine or mercenary qualities in his character.  He was not pushy and arrogant, nor did he see himself as a cut above everyone else, like so many other bureaucratic cultural figures with their vile behaviour.  He was an intellectual who was very concerned about truth and justice and who took people’s feelings seriously.  Exactly as Mao Zedong once said about Lu Xun: “There is not the least bit of servility or obsequiousness in his character.”  Hu Feng was a revolutionary writer with a fearless devotion to the cultural aspects of the people’s revolution, a true friend whom you could trust and rely on. 

However, as it turned out I was in Chongqing for less than three months before a friend who worked at my newspaper and was in the underground Party organisation arranged me to go and work in a Kuomintang news office in Shanxi Province.  I had no choice but to leave Chongqing then, but my contacts with Hu Feng during my stay there left me with very happy memories.

At that time Hu Feng was living with his family in Beibei on the outskirts of Chongqing.  He told me that after the big bombing raids on Chongqing, Mei Zhi and the children had moved out to the country.  He was travelling back and forth and dealing with all the ‘July’ editorial work on his own, reading manuscripts, corresponding with contributors, dealing with the printers, designing the title pages, checking final proofs and so on.  Every time he came into town he would write in advance to let me know and invite me to meet up to talk.  

We usually met in the small room he had rented in Chongqing.  It was very plain, with two worn cane chairs and a writing desk with its paint peeling off taking pride of place among the furnishings.  There was some kitchen equipment in a corner of the room.  Hu Feng told me that before Mei Zhi and the children moved to the country they had all lived here together.  When we got together for one of our long and wide-ranging talks, we would each sit on a cane chair.  We sometimes went to a teahouse in the Hualongqiao area; if it was a mealtime, we would look for a small restaurant for a dish of noodles or a bowl of soup with a few baked cakes.  He once took me to a Hubei style snack shop to try some local specialities from his home area – dried bean curd and dumplings in soup.  

When we met, we would talk about everything under the sun – literature, the literary world, our own lives and experiences, as well as the war situation.  Once when Hu Feng was talking about politics and his own circumstances, he said “It’s as if I’ve been stuffed into a sack with a cord.  If the situation changes, all they need to do is give the cord a pull and I cannot get away.”  I could tell from his vehement tone that his assessment of the domestic political situation and his political attitude were crystal clear: he totally loathed the Kuomintang regime’s persistent hostility to and persecution of progressive intellectuals.  It also reflected his determination and audacity in pursuing his work in such a perilous political and cultural environment.  

When we got together for informal discussions in that small room of his, Hu Feng would also give me some of the manuscripts piled up on his writing desk to look through.  They had all been submitted for publication in ‘July’ and I remember one that had been written with a writing brush on hemp paper by a writer who signed his name ‘Huangji”.  This was a play script entitled ‘Sesame Oil’.  Hu Feng said this writer had previously submitted a piece of reportage about life in the army, and that both pieces of work reflected the writer’s sincerity and true feelings for life.  The writer was a doctor working in the liberated zone and had sent it from Yanan. 

I had my own experience of the close attention Hu Feng gave to manuscripts submitted by young writers whom he identified in the lower levels of society.  It is true to say he carried on the editorial tradition of Lu Xun in his own editorial style. His standard for selecting manuscripts for publication in his journals was not based on the reputation of the writer but was entirely dependent on his assessment of the conceptual and artistic quality of the work.  He was in essence a literary theorist and critic.  The great majority of the writers who belonged to what is known in China’s modern literary history as the ‘July School’, the school that came into being during Hu Feng’s long publishing career, were people he got to know because they submitted manuscripts to him and whom he then developed as writers and poets.  However, his uncompromising and conscientious editorial stance also unwittingly offended several individuals who had already achieved fame as writers.  The fact he was later tagged with the label of heading up a ‘faction’ or a ‘clique’ very likely resulted from this.

1941 was the year of the New Fourth Army Incident, which had repercussions throughout China and the world.  I had already left the job an underground Party comrade introduced me to, and I now received yet another blow from fate as a result of that Incident.  I was stranded in Xian living with some small tradespeople and engaging in petty trade to eke out a living.  At times I had to rely on my family to help me out.  The main thing I did then was read books.  I did some writing, but I was the only reader of the things I wrote.  I did not want to send my work off for publication in nondescript newspapers and periodicals I was not familiar with.  

I regarded creative writing as a serious undertaking, not simply a means of putting food on the table.  Nor did I see it as a stepping stone to achieving a high social position and wealth.  By this time, I had lost contact with Hu Feng and my friends in other parts of the country, and I was completely cut off from people in cultural and intellectual circles. 

One day by chance I read a report in a wall newspaper that Hu Feng had left Chongqing and moved to Hong Kong after the New Fourth Army Incident.  The report also said he had ‘died for his country’ after the Japanese army had stormed Hong Kong.  Reading this was like being struck by a bolt of lightning.  In a fit of grief and indignation I could not help but think of Hu Feng’s analysis of the war situation and the domestic political scene while we were in Chongqing.  

Not long after that I read a report in a locally published government controlled literary periodical called ‘Yellow River’ that said “After Hong Kong was occupied by Japanese troops, the left-wing writer Hu Feng followed his comrade Yuan Shu [b.1911-d.1987, Yuan was considered to be ‘the Richard Sorge of the Far East’] to Nanjing where he became the Assistant Minister of Propaganda in the Propaganda Ministry of the Wang Jingwei Puppet Government”.  ‘Yellow River’ was edited by the well-known female writer Xie Bingying [b.1906-d.2000b].  She had previously been involved in work for the Great Revolution Army and had studied at the Kuomintang Military School.  She had also once been a member of the League of Left-Wing Writers, but by this time was little more than a hack writer for the Kuomintang.  When she went to Japan for the second time in the 1930s and studied at Waseda University, she and Hu Feng were both members of the League of Left-Wing Writers branch that was established in Tokyo in 1931.  The political stance of the periodical she now edited was crystal clear: from start to finish it published many articles attacking the forces of the Left.  So I was absolutely furious when I read this report about Hu Feng.  

At around the same time I saw a report with similar content in a small paper posted in the streets called ‘The Chinese’.  I thought this was yet another case of Kuomintang literary hacks spreading malicious rumours to discredit Hu Feng.  Given the internal political situation at the time, I also thought it was not just meant to discredit him.  As I totally trusted Hu Feng’s political and moral views and he was now a close friend, I regarded the actions of this small paper that deigned to call itself ‘The Chinese’ but still published these foul lies, as an example of what Lu Xun once described as “despicable behaviour violating the current moral standards of the Chinese people”.  When Lu Xun said that Hu Feng was “honest and frank, and easily aroused hostility”, he may have had in mind circumstances like these where rumour mongers try to discredit people on their own side.  ‘The Chinese’ was just like ‘Social News’ in the 1930s, they were both fundamentally anti-Party papers.  As the saying goes, ‘You learn from experience’.  

I drew these angry conclusions from my experience of life at the time.  It was therefore with pleasure and satisfaction that I later read an article Hu Feng wrote for a Guilin literary journal in which he gave a sharp retort to these rumour mongers.  The title of the article was ‘A Dead Man Returns to Life’ and I believe it was published in ‘Literary and Artistic Creation’ or a similar journal.  The title was borrowed from Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘When We Dead Awaken’, and I thought Hu Feng was fully justified in publishing it.  Given the political situation at the time, his personal reputation was at stake.  Soon after that, I read a report in a newspaper that he had returned to Chongqing and was teaching at Fudan University there.  I was really pleased to read this news and sent him a letter with my regards, to which he quickly replied.  He said in his reply that after returning to Chongqing he had met a person at a meeting who had studied with me in Japan.  That person told him I was stranded in Xian and living in difficult circumstances.  He said he was extremely concerned about me. 

While I was living in Shaanxi Province I was cheated out of some borrowed money because I was such a poor businessman.  I therefore decided to go into the army for a second time and was engaged in translation work for a Kuomintang engineering regiment stationed on the bank of the Yellow River.  I was translating Japanese military engineering books for the regimental commander, who had a family connection with the engineering department of a Japanese army school.  These books had titles like ‘Military Engineering Training Methods’ and ‘The Use of Smoke Screens’.  I had also then started living together with my wife Ren Min whom I had met while at university in Xian.  

Two years later my army unit became suspicious about my background and thought I might be involved in illegal activities.  They had even worked out a way to deal with me: bury me alive on the spot.  By that time the Kuomintang regime had ordered its government and party army units stationed in the Northwest region to execute immediately any ‘other party elements’ and ‘leftist elements’ they came across.  A low-level staffer (a copy clerk) by the name of Wang in the regimental headquarters heard this news and warned me straightaway.  That enabled my wife and me to get away in time to avoid my execution.  

In 1945 I made up my mind to leave the Northwest.  I got together the novels, stories and articles I had written during my years there, picked out the ones I was reasonably happy with and sent them all off to Hu Feng at Fudan University in Chongqing.  I threw everything else I had written into a disused well.  I also let Hu Feng know we were about to leave the Northwest.  Hu Feng later published most of the stories I sent him in various issues of his new periodical ‘Hope’.  I later learned that a few of the things I sent him were lost by the printers, while he arranged for some stories to be published in the periodical ‘War of Resistance Literature and Art’.  After I arrived in Shanghai in 1946, he combined several of my stories that he had published in a book entitled ‘Rhapsody of Life’.  That was published in 1947 by Shanghai’s Storm Petrel Bookstore as one volume of the ‘July Literary Collection’ series that he edited.

Before I arrived in Shanghai in 1946, I landed up in Xuzhou after passing through several other towns.  During my stay there, around the end of May or the beginning of June 1945, I was arrested and imprisoned by spies acting for Wang Jingwei’s puppet Japanese government, on grounds of inciting defections from his regime.  I was held in custody until after the Japanese forces surrendered on 15th August that year.  

I then read a report in a Shanghai newspaper that Hu Feng had returned to Shanghai, so I was able to resume corresponding with him and submitting my work to him for publication.  My wife and I decided to move on to Shanghai ourselves, arriving in May or June of 1946. We were not able to find a place to live at first, so we stayed with Hu Feng and his family for around six months. 

China was then in the throes of radical change, and that was also the time when I became a full-time professional writer.  At the end of 1946 Hu Feng introduced me to the China Times newspaper, which employed me to edit a weekly arts and literature supplement.  This paper was part of Kong Xiangxi’s financial group (Kong’s family was one of the Kuomintang’s ‘Four Big Families’).  The paper’s general manager was Hu Egong, who came from the same area in Hubei Province as Hu Feng, and in fact was also an underground member of the Party.  I began editing the weekly arts and literature supplement ‘Qingguang’ (‘青光’) in January 1947.  But after just two months of publication and eight issues in total, we were forced to stop publishing because of the steadily worsening political situation, the collapse of the Political Consultative Conference, and the intensifying and broadening military clashes between the Kuomintang and the Party.  

The summer of 1947 saw the student demonstrations against ‘Civil War, Starvation and Persecution’.  I accepted an invitation from the underground student run paper ‘Student News’ to write a short article entitled ‘For The Fighters’ for a commemorative supplement called ‘5th May’.  Other well-known democratic personalities including Guo Moruo and Ma Xulun were also asked to submit articles.  Around the same time, I was also asked to submit a short article for publication in a small paper run by Fudan University students called ‘A Window on Literature’.  That article was published with the title ‘Long Life to the Rioters!’  I used the term ‘Rioters’ because the official newspapers were using it to describe the students demonstrating in the streets.  After someone informed against us, my wife and I were abruptly arrested in September 1947 for inciting student unrest by agents from the Kuomintang’s Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, along with several students who were living with us at the time and who also worked at ‘Student News’.  This was the third time during my short life of just over 30 years that I found myself thrown into jail over political issues.  As it was my writing that had led to this, the agents who arrested me, just like the officials who had arrested me in the past, busied themselves with investigating what they described as my ‘background’.  They appeared to have found nothing after six months of this, but I had no choice but to carry on languishing in jail and resign myself to my fate.  

In the spring of 1948, the higher-ups sent an immaculately dressed official to see me.  He looked the part of a ‘secret agent’ and was accompanied by an official from the organisation where I was being held (they really were a pair of top-quality goods).  He said he had been asked to ‘have a look at me’.  The smartly dressed fellow was smoking a high-grade Three Castles cigarette and said with an irritating drawl “You’ve been here a while.  We’re not fools.  You know perfectly well what kind of person you are, and we also know.”  They seemed to be leading up to something, but it was only later that they got to the point.  As it turned out, they were extremely concerned about my ‘prospects’ and suggested to me a ‘promising way out’.  “This will not be at all hard for you, just one small thing and it’s done.  You just need to take us to Hu Feng so that we can arrest him or, if you would feel uncomfortable doing that, just tell us his address and that will do instead.  Then we could be your friends, and everything would be just fine.  Otherwise, hahaha…”.  

The two officials looked at each other and laughed in such an endearing way.  But when I laughed loudly in response, they stopped and stared at me with astonishment.  After laughing a while longer, I finally stopped and said to them: “Gentlemen, you made a mistake in targeting me.  I’ve been drifting along in Shanghai, short of food, writing articles and submitting them wherever I could for publication to get some food on the table.  I don’t know any people in literary circles, including this Hu Feng person you have mentioned.  I am very sorry indeed to let you down, hahaha…”.  They seemed at first to be rather flustered about this but soon got themselves under control.  The well-dressed fellow laughed hollowly, coughed and said: “I want to say one more thing.  We are doing this out of kindness to you.  Whether you want to help us or not is up to you.  You now hold your fate in your own hands.  We will give you some time and allow you to think things over for a while.  You need to put a proper value on yourself.  You’re just over 30 are you not?  Such a pity!” 

I was then taken back to my cell and carried on waiting there for those demons to decide my fate.  They later changed tack and asked me to write an ‘Anti-Communist Manifesto’ for the Kuomintang controlled Central Daily News, as a condition of my release from custody.  I refused to do that too.  So I carried on in prison until late in 1948, when some friends intervened and I was at last released on bail.  

It was only after I was released that I heard from my wife, who had been released before me, that Hu Feng and his wife had been rushing about doing everything they could to get me out of jail, in addition to taking care of her.  The background to this was that Hu Feng had heard me say in one of our regular talks that when I was employed by the Kuomintang during the War of Resistance, I had met a Kuomintang officer called Chen Zhuo.  Hu Feng had therefore written to Ah Long in Nanjing, asking him to find Chen to get me out on bail.  Unfortunately, Ah Long did not know Chen Zhuo either and had no success in finding him. Seven years later, however, when the third batch of documents in relation to the ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ were published in 1955, this letter from Hu Feng to Ah Long was included and treated as proof that Hu Feng and members of his ‘clique’ had close ties with Kuomintang spies.  It was only in 1980 when the Ministry of Public Security issued its report on its re-examination of the Hu Feng case that they clarified the true nature of this ‘proof of guilt’ based on the facts of what really happened. 

During the final days of the War of Resistance, I had been able to obtain copies of the books in the ‘New July Collection’ edited by Hu Feng and published by the Storm Petrel Bookstore.  After the War ended in victory in 1945, Storm Petrel published the books comprising the ‘July Literary Collection’, also edited by Hu Feng.  

In August 1947 the Kuomintang issued its ‘Riot Suppression Decree’ and launched an all-out attack on the People’s Liberation Army.  In order to escape persecution by the Kuomintang, Storm Petrel moved its office from Shanghai to Hong Kong.  While I was still being held in prison, Storm Petrel’s proprietor Yu Hongmo had returned to Shanghai on business.  Hu Feng told him I had been arrested and asked if he had any connections he could use to get me released on bail.  Yu Hongmo readily agreed to help.  He happened to know a person from his hometown in Fujian Province, Luo Meizhong, who was the deputy head of the Kuomintang’s Trust Bank.  There was also a business connection between Yu and Luo’s families.  I discovered later that Luo had studied in Japan during the 1930s like I did, but I did not meet him there.  After being approached by Yu, Luo wrote to the head of the Kuomintang’s Bureau of Investigation and Statistics and managed to get me released on bail based on the fact that we had both studied in Japan.  

Yu Hongmo had been a student in Japan during the 1930s at the same time as I was there.  He had studied at Chuo University in Tokyo and joined the arts and literature society called ‘East Flowing Waters’ that was set up by Chinese students in Japan.  He published a collection of stories called ‘Tempered with Fire’ during his stay in Tokyo.  When he returned to China after the War of Resistance broke out, he became involved in politically progressive publishing.  When the Hu Feng case occurred in 1955, Yu was also implicated and arrested.  He attempted suicide at that time but survived.  During the Cultural Revolution in 1968 he again attempted suicide and tragically died, but his reputation was later restored.  In 1983 Hu Feng wrote a commemorative article in memory of him entitled ‘The July Writers and the Storm Petrel Bookstore’.  I have also described in an article of reminiscences (entitled ‘In a Kuomintang Jail’ and published this year in ’The Bund’ magazine) how he was able to get me released from jail with the help of Luo Meizhong.   

While I was in prison for more than a year, I was cut off from news of the outside world.  After my release, I went to see Hu Feng and he showed me the critical article about him entitled ‘Petty Bourgeoisie Arts and Literature Thinking’ written by Shao Quanlin, Lin Mohan, Qiao Guanhua and others, that had been published in Hong Kong in successive issues of the ‘Popular Literature Collection’.  It appeared that this ‘Collection’ was in fact specially created to criticise Hu Feng.  

My personality is different from Hu Feng’s.  I have never been the absolute scholarly intellectual and cultural figure that he was.  During the War of Resistance, I was trapped more than once in whirlpools of political turmoil and acquired practical experience of what it means to be engaged in social and political battles.  I told Hu Feng after he showed me this article that the War of Liberation was on the verge of finally ending in victory, so he should keep calm and not be ruled by his emotions.  If he over-reacted, he could easily attract criticism and be labelled a troublemaker.  I said this because the criticism emanating from his Party friends in Hong Kong had a strong whiff of gunpowder about it and was certainly not the work of just one or two people.  

Notwithstanding my advice Hu Feng went on to write his long paper ‘The Path of Realism’ as a response to the criticism from Hong Kong and asked me to have a look at the draft.  I expressed no views on the content, but insofar as it concerned a few individuals I suggested he should be a bit more tactful, use more considered language when discussing matters of principle and try to deal with the issues solely on their merits.  He originally intended that the paper should be published in a single issue of the ‘Chinese Writers’ journal and it was sent off to the printers.  ‘China Writers’ was a journal of the Literature and Arts Association and was published by the Kaiming Press of which Ye Shengtao was editor-in-chief.  However, the journal’s editorial board opposed its publication, and it was not published.  In fact, the journal itself ceased publication at that time.  Hu Feng had no alternative but to buy the typeset moulds and publish the article himself through his ‘Hope Press’.  A short time later the Party arranged for him to move to Hong Kong and from there to the liberated area in the Northeast.  

From the autumn of 1950 I started my career as a university teacher.  Chinese modern literature was by then recognised as a specific field of study and was being taught in university classrooms.  I was responsible for supervising doctoral students and foreign post-graduate students in this specialist field.


In this memoir, I have mainly discussed my contacts and friendship with Hu Feng during the period before 1949.  It was our contacts and friendship during that historical period that led to my being implicated in the Hu Feng case in 1955.  I will now make a few summary points.  

As I have said in another memoir of Hu Feng: “Speaking of those of us who were involved in this case, each individual’s fate was invariably linked with the joys and sorrows of the times in which they lived”.  

I was arrested three days after the first batch of materials relating to the ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ was published in the newspapers on 13th May 1955.  

At the end of March 1966, having already spent 11 years in jail, I was formally sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment on the charge of being a ‘core member of the Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’.  A week later I was taken under guard to my former work unit at Fudan University to do ‘penal labour under surveillance’ in the university printing house, starting my work there in early April 1966.  

I went on to live through 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, during which I was the object of unending public criticism, insults, beatings and discrimination by members of the Rebel Faction and the ‘Revolutionary Masses’.  

Finally, at the end of 1980, the Central Committee of the Party issued an official document redressing the unjust case against the ‘Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’.  The Shanghai court that originally found me guilty issued a declaration rescinding its original judgment and declaring that I was innocent, and my political reputation and work status were restored.  

I lived through almost 25 years of suffering and misery.  At the end of it all, however, the testing and hardship that Hu Feng and I suffered during these disastrous times further deepened the understanding and friendship between us.  

As I said in the afterword to the ‘Short Story Collection’ I published in 1982: “I will forever be grateful to Comrade Hu Feng for the warm-hearted support and selfless assistance he gave me during this very long period, in both my life and in my literary pursuits.  The story ‘A Person’s Sorrow’ that I have placed at the beginning of this collection has a profound meaning for me in terms of commemorating Hu Feng.”  

In an article entitled ‘Continuing to Talk About Myself’ that I wrote for the June 1989 issue of the Shanghai arts and literature journal ‘Harvest’, I also said: “Early last year, I said to a reporter who came to interview me for the China News Service: ‘Hu Feng was a sincere and decent man.  He had the Chinese intellectual’s understanding of the need to be prepared for the unexpected and a sense of having a historic mission to accomplish.  He well understood that unremitting persistence and effort are required to accomplish one’s goals.  His contribution to Chinese literary culture was very substantial.'”  

I have set out in this Memoir my appreciation for a friend I knew I could absolutely trust and depend on as a result of many years of life experience.

October 1990, Shanghai             

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Hong Kong After The Japanese Attack in December 1941

I set out below a translation of part of an essay that the Chinese writer Sun Dian (孙钿) wrote for a book of reminiscences of Hu Feng entitled ‘Hu Feng and I’. ‘Hu Feng and I’ was edited by Hu Feng’s daughter Zhang Xiaofeng (张晓风) and published in 1993 by the Ningxia People’s Publishing House. Sun Dian’s essay is entitled ‘A Shared Fate with Hu Feng’ (‘与胡风同命运’).

This excerpt is taken from pages 280 to 283 of Sun Dian’s published essay. I chose this section to translate because it describes in dramatic terms the atmosphere and circumstances of Hong Kong in the early weeks after the Japanese attacked on 8th December 1941, and in particular the impact on mainland writers and intellectuals like Hu Feng who were living there at the time. Sun Dian (1917-2011) was born in Shanghai. He was a poet, essayist and novelist who became involved in revolutionary activities while still in his teens. Some of his poems and essays were published in Hu Feng’s journal ‘July’ during the late 1930s. He became a member of the Communist Party of China in 1937 when he was 20 and was sent to Hong Kong not long after to do underground work for the Party under the direction of Liao Chengzhi.

Part of Sun Dian’s work for the Party in Hong Kong involved looking after Chinese writers and intellectuals who moved from the mainland to Hong Kong during the war years. Hu Feng was one of these writers. He arrived in Hong Kong early in 1941 with his wife Mei Zhi, their seven year old son Xiaogu and baby daughter Xiaofeng. According to their own memoirs, Hu Feng and Mei Zhi found it difficult to adapt to life in Hong Kong. It was not easy for them to find adequate accommodation, especially for their two young children. They also found it hard to understand Cantonese and make the adjustment to the local food, having previously lived in Shanghai, then Wuhan and Chongqing. After a period of life together in Hong Kong, Mei Zhi took the children to Shanghai where her mother lived. She left their daughter Xiaofeng in the care of her mother and returned to Hong Kong with Xiaogu. The excerpt from Sun Dian’s essay starts with events that occurred not long after Mei Zhi’s return.

Sun Dian/孙钿

Excerpt from Sun Dian’s essay ‘My Shared Fate with Hu Feng’

It was several days later before I was again able to visit Hu Feng in his run-down apartment building.  When I met up with Yang Gang and Ye Yiqun at the Wensha Restaurant in Hong Kong’s Queen’s Road, I asked them about Hu Feng.  Yiqun said that Mei Zhi had returned from Shanghai.  The next day, in the afternoon, I took the ferry from Central over to Kowloon to see Hu Feng, Mei Zhi and Xiaogu.  Mei Zhi had left their daughter Xiaofeng in Shanghai. Their small flat was filled with the happy sounds of a family reunited after a lengthy absence. I said: “You should find another place to stay.”  Hu Feng replied: “Let’s wait a few days and we’ll think about it then.  A Chinese businessman from Singapore who I am hoping will invest in ‘July’ [Hu Feng’s literary journal] is due in Hong Kong soon.  If we move, I am afraid he will not be able to find us.”  

I never imagined that just a few days later war would break out in Hong Kong.  On the 8thof December 1941, with shells flying about and bombs dropping all around, the city rapidly descended into chaos.  I was rushing about everywhere trying to deal with this new situation.  Liao Chengzhi and Lian Guan came to see me very early the next morning.  They decided that for safety’s sake we should move the mainland writers and intellectuals who were living in Kowloon to Central and arrange for those who were already living in Central to move to other accommodation there.  We decided what each of us should do and immediately set to work.  The trams and buses were not working, so we had to rush about the streets on foot.  There were people scurrying back and forth everywhere.  At one point I happened to see Liao Chengzhi in a sea of people; we nodded to each other from a distance but a moment later he was lost in the crowd again.  A shell suddenly came flying down, everyone rushed to take cover in nearby buildings, and I scurried into the front door of a bank.  The shell exploded on the ground, and I waited until things had quieted down before I went back into the street.  There were corpses lying about soaked in pools of blood.  

I took a ferry over to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.  I first went to see Ye Yiqun in Prince Edward Road to tell him what had happened.  I then went on to Hu Feng’s place to tell him and Mei Zhi to get their things in order as fast as they could, and that Yiqun would come by to get them and Xiaogu.  I also asked Hu Feng to go and see Song Zhidi and Gao Shiqi who were staying nearby, to make sure they were also ready to move and let them know Yiqun would be along to get them.  I then took a ferry back to my own place in Central. There I burned all my documents and letters and got my clothes and manuscripts in order.  I packed my internal Party documents into my suitcase in readiness to leave.  By evening time, the power was cut off and my small flat was a total mess.  Sounds of shells reverberated on and off.  I was exhausted and lay down on my bed, only then remembering that all day I had drunk only a few cups of water and had nothing to eat.  

Early next morning my maid arrived, and I told her she would not need to come to work again.  She said her hometown was out in the countryside and she wouldn’t be able to get back there right away.  She had a six-year-old son and asked me to take him along with me.  This woman had been assigned to work for me by the Party and had been with me for me for two years.  In the interests of their own safety, I thought it was best for them both to stay behind.  

I had no time for breakfast but left as soon as I could to look for another place to stay.  Around midday enemy planes flew over again and again on bombing raids.  I was worried that Yiqun may not have been able to help everybody move from Kowloon over to Central.  I saw there were still ferries running, so I took one back over to Kowloon.  The streets of Kowloon were a scene of desolation, with very few pedestrians about.  There were only a few people who looked like hooligans, wearing shorts and with their hats askew.  All the shops had closed their doors.  

It was a long walk from Tsim Sha Tsui Dock to Prince Edward Road.  I first went to Hu Feng’s place to see if they had been able to move over to Central, but they were still at home waiting for Yiqun to arrive.  Yiqun may have missed them, or he may have asked another person to help them move and that person had forgotten.  I told Hu Feng and Mei Zhi to go over to Central immediately and meet me at the offices of China Business News.  I also went to Song Zhidi’s place, but there was no-one there and Gao Shiqi had also left. 

I then walked back to an apartment house at Tsim Sha Tsui to look for Yiqun.  This was a place where writers and intellectuals from the mainland used to gather in Kowloon, but that too was empty.  By now it was dusk, and I remembered that Ge Yihong’s place was nearby.  I had had no previous contact with him, but I went to look for him in case he might have been missed out.  I saw his tall frame standing at the window, all alone.  He told me calmly that he was waiting for Yiqun to arrive to take him over to Central.  I told him he shouldn’t wait any longer and we should take a ferry together over to Central.  He quickly got his luggage together and we went to Tsim Sha Tsui Dock, only to find the ferries had stopped working.  As it gradually got darker, we walked along the water’s edge.  I was happy to pay the high price demanded to hire a small wooden boat.  The boat was buffeted about by the waves and the seawater soaked our clothes as we crossed the harbour.  In the end the two of us safely got to the other side and we went ashore at Central, with the sounds of bombardment all around us.  I found a place for Yihong to stay and then hurried on to the China Business News offices.  There I found Hu Feng, Mei Zhi and Xiaogu along with two oversea Chineses, a sister and brother from South Africa.  They found some small rooms nearby to stay overnight, but I told them I would do what I could the next day to find them a proper place to stay.  I then went back to my own flat, where my maid and her son were waiting for me to come back for dinner.  

That night was filled with the sounds and turmoil of aerial bombardment, artillery shells and anti-aircraft fire.  Early next morning, I realised that after these past few days of anxiously rushing about, I had not been able to sort out new accommodation for myself.  I first got in touch with the Party and then went to find Hu Feng.  I told him I was worried that I had not yet been able to find a place for him.  Mei Zhi said a friend of hers had some lodgings that were empty, so she and I went over to Wan Chai to have a look.  We managed to get the property owner’s agreement, as well as the Party’s, and then we all moved into this temporary refuge.  Luckily it was a big space and fully furnished; we were able to divide it into front and back rooms using wooden boards.  Hu Feng, Mei Zhi and Xiaogu occupied the front room, and I took the back one with the two overseas Chinese plus my maid and her son.  There was a bed for each room.  I shared the bed in the back room with the South Africa fellow, while my maid, her son and the South African girl shared a makeshift bed on the floor.  Hu Feng and his family had the use of a wardrobe, a dressing table, a large bed and a sofa.  This was evidently the property owner’s own residence.  We were extremely lucky to find such a good place to stay amid the turmoil and chaos all around us.  I was also aware that the owner and his wife were staying in an attic room overlooking the street, which cannot have been easy for them.  

I warned Hu Feng that he and Mei Zhi should not go out unless they had to go to an air raid shelter.  My maid and I went out to buy food for us all.  We were able to get rice flour and some tinned food.  I reckoned our running water might well be cut off, so we bought orange juice and soda water to drink, also cigarettes and charcoal.  The atmosphere in the streets around us was tense and frightening.     

To disguise our true identities, we decided to set ourselves up as a business family.  We changed our names and agreed on fictitious relationships between ourselves, so we would be prepared for whatever might happen.  As the days passed, the war became more and more intense.  One night the air raid alarms sounded, we heard the roar of antiaircraft fire, and the skies were filled with spiralling enemy aircraft.  We all groped about in the dark and took cover under the stairs.  There were some nights when we had to crawl out from under our quilts two or three times and rush down the stairs.  During the day, from the window of our front room we could look out at the mountain foothills in the distance and see British and Japanese troops fighting at close quarters with small arms.  The British soldiers were pulling a Red Cross flag behind them.  The soldiers wearing their light green uniforms and the nurses in white uniforms were the size of little fingers in the distance.  We could not hear the reports of their gun shots, we could just see the flames from the muzzles of their guns flashing in the distance.  

The Japanese army had disembarked.  Hu Feng spent the days smoking to relieve the tension, puffing out smoke and blowing smoke rings and delighting the children.  Our water had been cut off and we had used up our stored water.  Even the water in the toilet cistern was finished, so we had to use orange juice and soda water to cook our food.  We were cooped up in our rooms and in no mood for conversation.  I often played chess with Hu Feng and we sometimes played poker with the children.  Xiaogu had a grown-up way of speaking for his age, so we called him ‘grandpa’.  Meanwhile, Mei Zhi prepared three meals for us all every day.  Surrounded by the flames of war we dragged out a miserable existence. 

Two nights before Christmas Day it was unusually quiet; there were no sounds of shelling and no bombing raids, just the occasional sound of people running in the streets, sporadic gun shots and shouting.  The war had arrived in the streets of Hong Kong.  Early in the morning of Christmas Eve, looking out from the third storey window over the street, we saw a large number of army horses on the grounds of the racecourse across from us, as well as a Japanese flag and soldiers.  The city had been occupied by the Japanese.  

During the morning of Christmas Day, we heard knocking at the door.  Mei Zhi, the girl from South Africa and my maid went straight to the pile of firewood in the toilet off the kitchen that we had earlier prepared as a hiding place.  Hu Feng was sitting by our round table, as if we were in the middle of playing a game of poker.  I opened the door.  A Japanese soldier carrying a sword came in, along with a Chinese collaborator who was wearing shorts.  The collaborator had a piece of cardboard in his hand bearing images of a pistol, a food jar and a couple of watches.  He showed the cardboard to me and Hu Feng and speaking in Cantonese said: “Quick, open your drawers and let the Imperial army soldier have a look.  Do you have any of these?”  He pointed at the images scrawled on the cardboard.  I pointed to the image of the pistol, saying: “None of those! None!”  Hu Feng also shook his head to indicate we had no weapons.  The Japanese soldier went into the inner room and rummaged through the opened drawers, groaning through his nose.  He then walked over to the door, his eyes smoothly scanning all around.  I hurriedly picked up a tin of cigarettes and a tin of food that I gave to the collaborator.  They both then left.  I closed the door behind them, and Hu Feng and I both heaved a sigh of relief.  Xiaogu was hanging about behind his father and said: “It was just like seeing a movie!”  Hu Feng laughed and gave him a shove saying: “Quick, go and get your mother and the others to come out.”   

My comments on this passage

This is an account of a number of capable people scrambling for safety in the midst of the chaos after the Japanese invaded Hong Kong in late 1941. They managed to change their accommodation and were not badly harassed by the Japanese. They did not remain long in Hong Kong after the events described here. Hu Feng and his family moved on soon after to Guilin in Guangxi Province, and from there back to Chongqing where he and Mei Zhi had spent the early years of the war with Xiaogu. Two things stand out for me:

  • Hu Feng was 39 in 1941 and Sun Dian was 24. Neither was involved in combat roles (thought Sun Dian did have numerous roles in the military during his career). I have read elsewhere that Chinese intellectuals like Hu Feng were generally not expected to take up active military roles, whether for the Party or for Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Government. There were exceptions to this, but that appears to have been the norm at the time. Hu Feng was of course also getting on in years, with a young family to look after.
  • Mei Zhi is described as preparing three meals a day for the group of seven people who were occupying the apartment she had been able to find. Meanwhile her husband and Sun Dian played poker and smoked (while keeping the children amused!). This is consistent with other accounts I have read about the lives of Hu Feng and Mei Zhi over many years. Mei Zhi was a highly intelligent woman who published children’s literature in China, plus a number of memoirs after Hu Feng’s death in 1985. She was devoted to her husband and their children, and she was also well aware of her husband’s extraordinary talents and historical importance. She must, however, have been frustrated at times with the subsidiary role she had to perform. Hu Feng relates in his own memoirs that he once returned home in Chongqing during the war years to find a note Mei Zhi had left for him, telling him that his behaviour was intolerable (a mild translation of the characters he used). Life in China between the 1920s and 1950s cannot have been easy for anyone, but for women it was indeed harsh.

Michael Ingle –


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A Meeting at the Beijing Capital Theatre

The Capital Theatre in Beijing

On a visit to China in October 2018 before the pandemic, I attended a play at the Beijing Capital Theatre. The play was ‘Huabian’ (‘哗变’ or ‘Mutiny’), based on the novel ‘The Caine Mutiny’ by Herman Wouk. This post is not about the play, however, but rather about a meeting held in this Theatre in 1957 during the ‘Anti-Rightist Campaign’.

I attended the play in 2018 partly because it had received good reviews and it was indeed a good production, but mainly because I wanted to see the inside of the theatre itself. I had passed it many times on walks around central Beijing and I was aware that it was built in 1954. After attending the play there in 2018, however, I seldom thought of it again until just a few days ago when I read an essay by the famous Chinese novelist, Ba Jin, in which he described a meeting he attended there in 1957. The essay is entitled ‘Remembering Xuefeng’ (‘纪念雪峰’) and it was first published in April 1979 in Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao newspaper.

Ba Jin was born in 1904 and died in 2005, at the age of 100. He was one of the leading Chinese writers of the 20th century, and wrote many novels, short stories and essays. I purchased one of his essay collections in Chinese entitled ‘Suixiang Lu’ (‘随想录’, or ‘Random Thoughts’) in a book store in Shanghai in 2019. The book contains numerous essays on Ba Jin’s own fate and that of other Chinese intellectuals and writers in the various ‘movements’ that began in the 1950s and culminated in the Cultural Revolution. One of those essays is about Feng Xuefeng (1903 to 1976).

Feng Xuefeng was a poet, writer and editor, and also a long time member of the Communist Party of China. He was a close friend of Lu Xun and an authority on his work. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China he became the head and chief editor of the People’s Literature Publishing House, vice-chair of the China Writers’ Association and the chief editor of Literature and Art News. He was also well known in China for his relationship with the writer Ding Ling. When he met her in the late 1920s, however, she was already in a relationship with the writer Hu Yepin and the three of them agreed that Ding Ling should remain with Hu. Not long after that Hu Yepin was himself arrested and shot by the Kuomintang government because of his pro-communist leanings. He was one of the ‘Five Martyrs of the Left League’ who were all executed at the same time in 1931 despite appeals to Chiang Kai-shek to spare their lives.

Ba Jin begins his essay by describing how he first met Feng in 1936. Ba Jin had previously read and admired Feng’s poetry that had been published in the collection ‘Hupan’ (‘湖畔’, or ‘Lakeshore’) in 1922, when Feng was just 19 years old. Ba Jin had also heard in 1928 that Feng had joined the Party. They did not meet however until they both became involved in the planning for Lu Xun’s burial following the latter’s death in 1936, when they attended a dinner together. Ba Jin describes Feng as ‘upright, sincere and well intentioned’ (鲠直/gengzhi,真诚/zhencheng,善良/shanliang). He did not have the arrogance (架子/jiazi) of a typical Party member but was amiable and easy to approach. Ba Jin says he had certain faults, however, in that he was not cool-headed and could act impulsively. Ba Jin also describes how Feng worked indefatigably in various Party roles and in publishing, in addition to his poetry and novel writing.

Ba Jin next describes meeting up with Feng in Beijing in 1957. At that time the Anti-Rightist Movement had already started. Ba Jin had travelled from his home in Shanghai to attend a meeting in Beijing. He got in touch with Feng before returning to Shanghai, and Feng invited him to his home for a visit. Ba Jin later became aware that Feng had already been targeted by the Anti-Rightist Movement, but he did not know that at the time of this visit. He and Feng had a long talk about their many common interests. Ba Jin asked some questions about the Anti-Rightist Movement that Feng answered in a straightforward way. Feng then asked Ba Jin to go out for dinner with him. They went to a restaurant at the Xin Qiao Hotel (now the Novotel Beijing Xin Qiao Hotel near Chongwenmen where I once stayed myself). Ba Jin realised from Feng’s lack of familiarity with the menu that he seldom dined in restaurants and recalled that Feng had been known for his “hard working and plain living style” when they were both living in Chongqing during World War II. After dinner Feng appeared extremely reluctant to see Ba Jin leave and pressed him to accompany him and his wife for a walk around the area near their home. Thinking back on Feng’s behaviour that night, Ba Jin realised that he had likely already become the object of criticism and had premonitions of the disaster that was about to come crashing down on him.

Ba Jin then returned to Shanghai, but was back in Beijing one or two months later to attend the last session of the Party members’ group of the China Writers’ Association. That session was held in the Beijing Capital Theatre. Ba Jin says that when he arrived at the Theatre, there were already many people sitting in the stalls area, including Feng who was sitting at one end of the front row. Ba Jin was now well aware that Feng had become the target of criticism as a ‘Rightist’. Ba Jin says he could not understand how that could be so, but he nonetheless went up on the stage where he and another writer by the name of Jin Yi gave a joint talk. Ba Jin says the purpose of the meeting was to criticise three people: Ding Ling, Feng Xuefeng and Ai Qing (all famous writers who had spent time at the Party’s wartime base in Yanan) and label them as ‘Rightists’. [The Chinese term Ba Jin uses to describe the ‘labelling’ process actually means ‘to put the hat of a Rightist’ on the person in question.] Ba Jin and Jin Yi then proceeded to criticise each of the three writers, repeating the descriptions others had used before them. They described Ding Ling as “a bookist”; Feng Xuefeng as a person who “had placed himself above the Party”; and Ai Qing as a person who “focusses on making contacts with people high and low”. In 1958 Feng was stripped of his Party membership and removed from his editorial roles.

The stalls area of the Capital Theatre in Beijing. Feng Xuefeng sat at one end of the front row at the meeting in 1957.

Ba Jin goes on to explain why he participated in this criticism. He says he “had faith in other people” (i.e., who had previously criticised the three writers), but he also wanted to protect himself from becoming a target of criticism. He says that he had made a speech before the Anti-Rightist Movement began in which he had said: “At the present time, if someone is exposed, if they are criticised, then no-one will dare to stand up to defend them out of a sense of justice”. Ba Jin says he was concerned that if anyone who heard him say that “exposed” it, then he too could become a target of the Anti-Rightist Campaign. This was not an unjustified concern on Ba Jin’s part. He and his wife both suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution some years later. Ba Jin spent several years in a ‘niupeng’ (‘牛棚’ or ‘cattle shed’ – a type of detention house set up for educated people during the Cultural Revolution), while his wife was required to sweep the streets around their home. Their house in Shanghai was twice invaded and searched by Red Guards.

Ba Jin goes on to express huge regret for what he said that day in 1957 at the Beijing Capital Theatre. He says that every time he has thought of what he said in the many years since the meeting was held, it is like “a needle constantly stabbing at his heart” for which “he blames himself”. He says he sometimes imagines hearing the sound of shouting and looks around to see the ghosts of so many people who died unjustly hovering behind him. He finally asks: “How can I account to myself for this?”

My Thoughts on Ba Jin’s Essay

Ba Jin’s participation in the criticism of Feng Xuefeng at the meeting in Beijing in 1957, and Feng’s own fate were by no means exceptional in China during the period between 1950 and 1978.

Ba Jin was not immune from criticism despite his fame as a novelist and short story writer. Like most other Chinese writers and intellectuals he was forced to participate in the criticism of people who were targeted by the Anti-Rightist and other ‘Movements’. Back in the early 1950s, Ba Jin and Ding Ling for example had both been involved in criticism of the writer and editor Hu Feng. Many of the critics, just like Ba Jin, were later targeted for criticism themselves.

Feng Xuefeng was also one of many long-term members of the Party who were singled out for criticism and expelled from the Party despite their decades of service to the Communist cause. The reasons for this were often extremely arbitrary and had nothing to do with their own merits or demerits as individuals. These are well known historical facts, of course, but that does nothing to compensate the great number of talented, committed and hard working individuals who suffered so much.

There are many other people I could write about whose stories are equally distressing, but I decided to write this particular article because of the two locations in Beijing that figure in Ba Jin’s essay that I have previously visited myself: the Beijing Capital Theatre and the Xin Qiao Hotel.

Michael Ingle –

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The Arrest and Imprisonment of Geng Yong

I set out below a translation of part of an essay that the Chinese writer Geng Yong (耿庸) wrote for a book of reminiscences of Hu Feng (胡风) entitled ‘Hu Feng and I’.  ‘Hu Feng and I’ was edited by Hu Feng’s daughter Zhang Xiaofeng (张晓风) and published in 1993 by the Ningxia People’s Publishing House.

Geng Yong was a Chinese editor and writer who died in 2008.  He was one of many writers caught up in the 1955 case against Hu Feng’s ‘anti-Revolutionary clique’.  I have discussed that case in more detail in my post below published on 24th August 2022 and entitled ‘Hu Feng: Mid-20th Century Chinese Writer and Editor at the Centre of the ‘Unjust Case Against the Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’.

I decided to translate this particular passage from Geng Yong’s essay, because it describes in moving detail the circumstances of his arrest in May 1955 and some of the events that occurred during his 11 year period of imprisonment.  There are many references to Geng Yong’s wife Wang Hao (王皓) in this passage.  She too was imprisoned in 1955 but was released after two years in 1957.  She then became a target of persecution in the ‘anti-Rightist campaign’ of 1957 to 1958 and committed suicide by throwing herself into the Huangpu River in Shanghai.  She and Geng Yong had three young children at the time of their arrest. They were never to meet again after May 1955.

The reference in the excerpt to ‘Shu Wu’s masterpiece’ relates to the publication of personal letters between Hu Feng and Shu Wu (舒芜) (also a Chinese writer) that Shu Wu provided to a journalist from the People’s Daily newspaper.  Those letters were published by the People’s Daily in May 1955 and were regarded as key evidence that Hu Feng and the writers whose work he published were guilty of ‘counter-Revolutionary activities’. 

The excerpt briefly refers to four other writers who were arrested because of their connection with Hu Feng: Zhang Zhongxiao (张中晓), He Manzi (何满子), Jia Zhifang (贾植芳) and Xu Shihua (许史华).  I have written in more detail about Zhang Zhongxiao in my post of 24th August 2022 referred to above.  I will be writing more about the three other writers in future posts on this site.

The excerpt also refers to a person named Wu Qiang (吴强).  He was a leading figure in the Shanghai branches of the China Writers’ Association and the Literary Federation. It appears he was involved in the arrest of Geng Yong as a representative of the Chinese writing establishment in Shanghai.

Excerpt from Geng Yong’s essay entitled ‘The Twists and Turns of Memory’. This is my own rather free translation of the actual Chinese title, which means: ‘The Thicket of Branches and Tendrils of My Memories’/’枝蔓丛丛的回忆’). The excerpt is taken from pages 602 to 606 of the book ‘Hu Feng and I’ (‘我与胡风‘) edited by Hu Feng’s daughter Zhang Zhong Xiao and published in 1993 by the Ningxia People’s Publishing House.

On the morning of 15th May, just as dawn was breaking I was woken up by the noise of several people rushing up the stairs.  Wang Hao had just asked me who was making such a din in the stairs, when I heard Wu Qiang outside my room shouting “Lao Geng, Lao Geng, you’d better get up”.  I asked him what was going on so early in the morning; he said from outside the door that it must be something important if people have come so early [Geng at this point uses a Chinese expression which literally means: “you only go to the main hall of a Buddhist Temple if you have business there”].  In fact he was bringing along four or five police officers dressed in plain clothes to arrest me.  

I got out of bed straightaway and took them all downstairs to the living room. Once we started talking I found that only one of the plain clothes officers was in the room with us.  Wu Qiang pulled out a copy of the newspaper in which Shu Wu’s ‘masterpiece’ had been published, asking me whether I had read it, otherwise he would give it to me so I could read the People’s Daily’s editor’s note that had been published above it [The People’s Daily is a Chinese newspaper controlled by the Party].  He stared at me with half smiling eyes, as if he felt a bit awkward.  He then asked me how and when I met Hu Feng, and urged me to hand over each and every letter that Hu Feng had sent me.  He said “The problems with Hu Feng are very serious, you shouldn’t pretend you are not involved with him”.  

The more Wu Qiang said the less I paid attention to him.  He went on: “Your book ‘Research on ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ is an anti-Party book.  You and other Hu Feng elements regularly meet at your house.  You stood up a meeting of the East China Writers’ Association and attacked Zhang Jin’s criticism of Hu Feng’s idealistic arts and literature thinking, you have distorted and vilified Marxism, you and your Hu Feng colleagues at the New Literature and Art Publishing House have done many bad things.  You have had a role in all of this.  There is no need to mention anything else, these things alone are enough to prove you have actively collaborated with Hu Feng’s anti-Party and counter revolutionary activities, in Shanghai…”. 

I interrupted Wu Qiang at this point and stood up to say: “You cannot arbitrarily say somebody is anti-Party or counter revolutionary!  I am not counter revolutionary, I have never been counter revolutionary…”.  Wu Qiang also got up and interrupted me, saying: “You shouldn’t be speaking with me”, while pointing to the plain clothes officer sitting beside us, “you should speak with him”.  The plain clothes officer stood up then and reached over to give me a piece of paper, saying “You’ve been arrested.  Sign your name here.”  Wu Qiang had left and there was no use talking to the plain clothes officer, so I took the pen he had given me and signed my name in the place he indicated.  I did not read whatever was written on the paper but said I hadn’t yet had a chance to wash my face and brush my teeth.  He let me go upstairs and I saw there was a plain clothes officer in my room, plus another in the next room speaking with Wang Hao’s younger brother Wang Wenzhen. 

After I’d washed and brushed my teeth the plain clothes officer who had followed me into the bathroom picked up a comb from the shelf and gave it to me, saying “give your hair a comb”.  I did what he said.  I wanted to have a word with Wang Hao but I could not find her.  The officer said she was downstairs and said I should go down.  I turned around and went downstairs, where I discovered there was a plain clothes officer in my small study rooting through my desk drawers.  I felt mortified, as if everything was all of a sudden completely abnormal. Although at the same time I realised that for these officers this was a completely normal part of their duties that would bring them credit.  

I caught up with Wang Hao at the door to the kitchen.  She was holding a dish of jianbing [a type of Chinese pancake].  I blurted out to her “They want to arrest me”.  She started crying and I said to her “You mustn’t cry, there’s nothing to worry about, I’ll be back in two days.  Where have the children gone?”  Wang Hao said “The officers asked the childminder to take them out to play.  You’d better eat these pancakes.”  The officers had thought of everything, even getting the children out of the way.  I was lost in thought, but picked up a pancake and turned around to ask the officer “What’s going on, time to go?”.  He really had things all worked out, and asked me to go to the living room and take out of my pockets anything I would not need and leave it behind.  All I had in my pockets were a handkerchief, less than half a pack of cigarettes, half a pack of matches, a few bank notes and a Parker fountain pen.  He put the matches to one side but then changed his mind and gave them back to me, saying “bring them all along, they’ll be useful”.  I did what he said.  

We then went to the back door.  I stood there for a moment and called back to Wang Hao, saying “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be able to come back in two days, you tell the children that as well.”  Wang Hao did her best to calm herself and replied, saying “if you have something to say, say it, but if you haven’t, don’t say anything, it’s best to ‘seek truth from facts’.”  I felt she was about to start crying again and felt awful about it, but with a smile I said “see you again soon”.  I hurriedly turned around and left the house.  I did not want to see the tears blurring her eyes.

But from this point on I was not able to ‘see her again soon’.  I ended up being punished by my own bookish and naïve optimism.  My confident assertion that I would be back within two days was heartlessly turned into an absolute and eternal lie.  However, around four months after I said to Wang Hao “see you again soon”, while I was in a prison cell of a detention house or jail that had no name on the outside, I heard her voice many times reading newspapers.  By that time I had already heard the voices of Zhang Zhongxiao, He Manzi and Xu Shihua.  I also knew from the times they were called out for interrogation that their prison numbers were respectively 1045, 1046 and 1047.  When I was transferred at the end of 1956 to a prison cell across the yard used for drying clothes and bedding, I also heard the voice of Jia Zhifang answering a prison warder’s questions and knew that his number was 1042.  As my number was 1041, I reckoned that I must have been the first among my friends who had been imprisoned here. 

But as hard as I tried I could not make out the number of Wang Hao.  Every time I heard her voice I felt my heart shrink and that dragging her into this case was a terrible sin on my part.  As for our three children, they were completely innocent but had suddenly become orphans.  How would they be able to carry on living?

Later on, I stopped hearing the voice that made my heart tremble; my only consolation was the thought that my wife had been released.  In the autumn of 1956, I was grateful to a well-intentioned official who brought me a photograph of her that showed she had not changed apart from her straight hair now being curled.  He also told me she was now working at the Shanghai Cultural Publishing House, and that our eldest son Dongning was a student at an elementary school.  I really appreciated receiving that news from him.  

Some years later, after I had been transferred to the Shanghai No. 1 Detention House, one day this same official suddenly brought Wang Hao’s mother and second older sister to visit me.  For a person like me who had spent almost 11 years in prison, I was very moved to be able to meet close relatives for the first and only time in that whole period of time.  They brought me a package of cookies, plus four books that had been well reviewed in newspapers and that I had asked Wang Hao to buy for me: ‘The Song of Youth’, ‘Tracks in the Snowy Forest’, ‘Red Crag’ and ‘Story of the Red Flag’. [It appears from this reference to Wang Hao that Geng had been able to start corresponding with her at some point during his years in prison].  Wang Hao’s mother and sister also brought with them a copy of the same photo of her that I had been given by the official back in 1956.  

The books had to be approved by the prison management before I could read them.  When an official actually gave me the books there were in fact only two: ‘Tracks in the Snowy Forest’ and ‘Story of the Red Flag’.  I mentioned to him that there were two other books, but he told me quite frankly: “Those two books describe prison fights.  We can’t give them to you, so we’ve sent them back”.  I did not really mind about this, however.

I later happened to be talking with a fellow prisoner who I understood was a former secretary of a Party Branch or General Party Branch.  He had read the two books they would not give me, and said “That is not surprising, how could they let you learn from books how to go about prison fighting?”  I couldn’t help laughing at this.  As it was, I spent a couple of months reading one of them off and on before I managed to finish it.  As for the other book, I could not get through a single page, whether it was the first page or any other page I happened to leaf through.  This was despite the fact I was absolutely desperate to read.  I read the first and third volumes of ‘The Collected Works of Marx and Engels’ over and over I don’t know how many times.  I read a volume of Song poems and a not very good Soviet novel called ‘Courage’ that I had already read before, to the point that pages were coming loose.  I also read every day all the newspapers I could get hold of.  

But it was the photo of Wang Hao that constantly tugged at my heart.  On the day her mother and older sister visited, the first thing her sister said when I went up to them was “Ah Quan [a nickname of Wang Hao] is very busy with work, so she asked mother and me to come to see you”.  How did I did not realise straightaway that this could not be true?  It was clear when we met that they could hardly hold back their tears.  Why did I feel this was just because they were meeting me in a prison with guards looking on, for the first time after we had been parted for a very long time?  I wondered, if Wang Hao had decided to break off her relationship with me, surely her mother and sister would not have come to see me?  In that case the most likely explanation was that she had already died. But I didn’t believe this, didn’t want to believe it, was not willing to believe it, and blamed myself for wishing her dead.  But the feeling that “she had died” was stronger than the thought that “she might have died”.  

I then remembered!  On 27th August 1947 (this was said to be the birthday of Confucius), Wang Hao and I were on a steamer bound for Taiwan and we were talking about ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’ [a very famous Chinese novel written by Cao Xueqin].  I remembered this because she suddenly said to me as we were talking on the steamer that the character in the novel I liked the most must be Lin Daiyu.  But I did not like Lin Daiyu at all, in fact I did not really like any of the characters in the novel.  She laughed at this as if she didn’t believe me, but then in all seriousness said: “You Sanjie, you don’t like You Sanjie?”  I turned the question around and asked her if she liked You Sanjie.  She said she did, it was You Sanjie’s personality that she liked the best, “because her character was so unyielding and passionate, she was so determined to uphold her human dignity that she preferred to die rather than submit”.  

There was another time that surprised me even more.  We were in Guangzhou just over six months after it had been liberated.  Wang Hao was working at the time as an accountant at the Red Chamber Dance Hall in Liwan Cape that was said to be linked with the police.  She had been introduced to this job by an artist called Dai Yinglang who was the chief editor of the ‘New Business Evening Paper’ (and who was said to carry a pistol on his person).  Dai Yinglang and I invited a fellow called Yan Qingshu to drink tea with us at this dance hall.  He had travelled to Guangzhou from Hong Kong to find accommodation for his family. 

While we were in the tea room, I went to find Wang Hao in her office and the two of us went to check on our child whom we found sleeping soundly in a room at the back. When I went back to the tea room, Dai Yinglang and Yan Qingshu were in the midst of discussing Qing Wen and Shi Xiangyun [both characters in ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’]. Qingshu pulled up a chair for Wang Hao and asked her “You must like Qing Wen and Shi Xiangyun, don’t you?” Wang Hao said before she even sat down “I like You Sanjie.” Despite everyone being shocked into silence, she carried on saying “Cao Xueqin [the author of ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’] was not fair to You Sanjie, or maybe he just did not understood the nature of her personality, to write about her in the way he did. Every time I hear that Jia Baoyu or Lin Daiyu [also characters in ‘Dream’] were opposed to this or that aspect of feudalism, I just think it’s laughable. Their minds were full of feudal thinking, their opposition to feudalism was just a matter of taking one aspect of feudal thinking to oppose another aspect. You Sanjie was not like them. You Sanjie is definitely a weak person, she lacks both the means and the strength to resist the pressures of her surroundings; she can’t even secure the consolation of a loving relationship. The way ahead for her is either to submit and surrender, or to die. She is not prepared to submit or surrender, or to die at the hands of her oppressors, so she decides instead to take her own life. The suicide for love of Katerina in ‘The Storm’ [a play by the 19th century Russian playwright Aleksandr Ostrovsky] is a ray of light in a dark kingdom. You Sanjie’s understanding that as a human being she has no alternative but to commit suicide, is a much fiercer attack on feudalism than anything Jia Baoyu or Lin Daiyu say or do.”

Qingshu and Yinglang were both fascinated by what Wang Hao was saying, but I stopped her there.  “Let it be” I said.  “Don’t forget, didn’t You Sanjie also have an air of feudalism about her?”  Qingshu and Yinglang both laughed, Wang Hao too, but she went on to say “Yes, yes, even now some people have an air of feudalism about them.  You have and I have.  But when You Sanjie killed herself, she also killed off the feudal monsters that she carried about with her.”

Thinking back to Wang Hao’s comments about You Sanjie in that tea room in Guangzhou, I sensed that if she really had died it was more than likely the result of suicide.  On 24thMarch 1966, a matter of hours before I was finally released from prison, an official I had never seen before asked me a final question: “Have you been thinking how Wang Hao has been getting on?”  I answered “I’ve been thinking she has either divorced me, or she has died.”  I didn’t have a chance to add “she would never have divorced me, so it’s more likely she has died’ before he cut in and said “Yes, she became alienated from the people and is dead.  Her death is no concern of yours.”  I cut in on him, hearing myself speak as if I was sobbing but not at all unclear, saying “Her death is my concern, whatever you may say, it is absolutely my concern”.

[The expression in the above paragraph, ‘became alienated from the people’ , was an expression often used during the Cultural Revolution in China, to justify the deaths of individuals who died from persecution]    

Michael Ingle –                                                                      

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Hu Feng: Mid-20th Century Chinese Writer and Editor at the Centre of the ‘Unjust Case Against the Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’

Hu Feng in 1934


During the course of my Chinese studies over the past eight years, I have read about many mid-20th century Chinese academics and literary figures whose stories appear to be little known in western countries.  One of these people is Hu Feng.  The contents of this article are based on some of the materials I have reviewed to date in the course of my research into his life, plus the lives of his wife Mei Zhi and several of the writers whose work Hu Feng published and who were drawn into the mid-1950s movement against him and his ‘counter Revolutionary clique’.

Hu Feng was born in 1902 and died in 1985 at the age of 82.  He was a successful poet and commentator on social and political issues, as well as an early supporter of the Chinese Communist Party.  He also edited and published a number of literary journals between the 1930s and the 1950s (in particular ‘July/七月’ and ‘Hope/希望’).  Hu Feng worked closely with many young writers whose work had not previously been published and introduced them to Chinese readers through his journals.  The poets whose work he published in ‘July’ became known in China as the ‘July School’ of poets (e.g., Ah Long/阿垅, Fang Ran/方然, Lv Yuan/绿原 and Niu Han/牛汉).  Hu Feng held very strong views on the nature of literature and believed it should be based on ‘the reality of life’ and reflect ‘subjective’ views.  He also expressed the view in correspondence with writers such as Lu Ling (路翎) that the attitudes and life views of characters in novels should be demonstrated implicitly by their behaviour rather than in a didactic way.  These views ran counter to the views of Mao Zedong outlined in his ‘Speech at the Arts and Literature Symposium in Yanan’ in May 1942.  Mao strongly believed that ‘revolutionary literature‘ should support other revolutionary activities aimed at defeating the nation’s enemies and liberating the people.  In particular it should serve the interests of the ‘工农兵/gong nong bing/workers, peasants and soldiers’, rather than focus on the psychology of ‘petty bourgeois intellectuals’ and excusing their shortcomings.  Mao said the thinking and feelings of writers and artists should be determined by ‘objective reality’ and not by subjective or abstract views of reality.  

Hu Feng was increasingly criticised for his thinking on arts and literature from 1948 on, when Qiao Guanhua (乔冠华), in the journal ‘Popular Literature Collection’ (‘大众文艺丛刊’) published in Hong Kong between 1948 and 1949 under the direction of the Party, criticised Hu Feng’s ‘subjective spirit’ and his belief that ‘wherever there is life there is also struggle’. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the criticism was taken further by Zhou Yang, a literary theorist who held a number of important cultural roles during the 1950s/60s until he was himself imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution.  Mao Zedong himself became involved in the criticism of Hu Feng in comments on articles about Hu Feng published in the People’s Daily.  Hu Feng refused to alter his views despite the criticism and persisted in believing that it was solely a dispute about literary values with no political implications.  He also wrote a very detailed and lengthy defence of his views, which is known as the ‘Three Hundred Thousand Character Letter’ (‘三十万言书’).  He delivered this to the authorities in July 1954, in the hope that it would be read by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai and that they would then accept he was motivated by literary considerations alone.  This was all to no avail and Hu Feng was finally arrested on 16th May 1955 on grounds of being a ‘Counter Revolutionary’.  His wife Mei Zhi was detained at the same time.  Hu Feng spent 10 years in prison in Beijing and Mei Zhi six years.  They had no contact with each other until near the end of this period.  

Hu Feng was released from prison in Beijing at the end of 1965.  He and Mei Zhi were both later required to move to Chengdu, where they spent several years in a ‘work and reform’ tea plantation.  Hu Feng was then imprisoned again in Sichuan Province until his final release in January 1979; Mei Zhi was allowed to join him there during the last six years of his imprisonment.  During this second period of imprisonment, his original 14 year sentence was replaced by a ‘sentence without limit’ (in effect life imprisonment).  Hu Feng believed the extension of his sentence was due to meddling by a member of the Gang of Four, who may have harboured a grudge against him dating back to a dispute during the 1930s involving an essay written by Lu Xun.  After Hu Feng and Mei Zhi were both finally released in January 1979, they were able to return to Beijing where they were finally reunited with their three children.  By that time Hu Feng was 77.  His physical and mental health had badly deteriorated during his prison years and he was effectively an invalid until his death five years later in 1985.  While Hu Feng wrote part of his Memoirs before his death, his wife Mei Zhi (who was herself an accomplished writer of children’s stories), completed them after he died based on diaries and other written materials plus her own recollections.  

At the time when Hu Feng was arrested and during the following months, many of the writers whose work he had published were also detained and investigated as members of ‘Hu Feng’s Counter Revolutionary Clique’.  According to figures provided by Wang Wenzheng (王文正), an official who was involved in the investigation at the time and who later published a book of memoirs in relation to the case entitled ‘My Personal Experience of the Hu Feng Case’ (‘我所亲历的胡风案’), more than 2,100 people were drawn into the case.  Of those 92 were arrested and imprisoned for varying lengths of time, 62 were ‘isolated and investigated’ (隔离审查), and 72 were ‘temporarily removed from their posts for self-examination’ (停职反省). 

Wang Wenzheng (undated photo)

The writers who were identified as members of Hu Feng’s ‘clique’ were all relatively young and in the early stages of their literary careers when they were arrested.  I will mention three of them here:

  • One was Zhang Zhongxiao.  He was 25 in 1955 and had suffered from tuberculosis for many years.  He became interested in literature through a teacher at his high school who had a large collection of books including some back issues of Hu Feng’s journals ‘July’ and ‘Hope’.  He wrote to Hu Feng in July 1950 after a period of two years he had spent at home trying to overcome his tuberculosis.  In that letter he said: “During these two years, my temper has changed a lot; it is as if I hate everyone.  For two years I have been sleeping in bed, the situation at home is not at all good, I have been using all my strength to overcome my tuberculosis, I think this is the reason that has made me hate everything.  For two years I have suffered in a way I never did before, I now understand what it means to be impoverished, what it means to be sick, what it means to struggle, I detest this social system!” (page 104 of ‘Hu Feng and I’).  Mei Zhi says this was a very long letter, around four thousand characters.  However, a very short excerpt from the above quote was later included in an article published in the People’s Daily entitled ‘Materials In Relation to Hu Feng’s Counter Revolutionary Clique’.  That excerpt read: “During these two years, my temper has changed a lot, it is as if I hate everyone…I detest this social system!”.  This was presented in the People’s Daily as the “ferocious face” of a “counter-Revolutionary element” (page 105).  Wang Wenzheng uses the Chinese term for “quoting out of context” or “garbling a statement” (断章取义/duanzhang quyi) to describe this editorial practice.  Zhang was later arrested in Shanghai and interrogated over a period of several months.  Wang Wenzheng was responsible for his interrogation and says he was unable to find any evidence of ‘counter Revolutionary thought’ in three months of interrogation meetings with Zhang (page 174).  Zhang became increasingly ill during that period and was finally released to recover at home.  He was later employed at a Xinhua bookstore in Shanghai but was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and died in 1967 or 1968 at the age of 36 or 37 (his exact date of death is not known because there were no witnesses and no clear records).
Zhang Zhongxiao (on left) in 1954
  • Another was Lu Ling.  Lu Ling was 32 in 1955 and was the writer with whom Hu Feng had the closest relationship.  He wrote a large number of novels and plays, including ‘The Rich Man’s Children” (‘财主的儿女们’) and ‘’The Starving Guo Sue’ (‘饥饿的郭素娥’) many of which are still being read in China and have high ratings on Douban.  He got to know Hu Feng at the age of 17 (in 1940) and maintained close links with him, including much correspondence and many visits, throughout the period until they were both arrested in 1955.  A selection of their correspondence has been published, including Hu Feng’s detailed advice on Lu Ling’s writing style and overall approach to his fictional characters and themes.  Hu Feng happened to take along the only draft of a novel written by Lu Ling that he was editing when he moved from Chongqing to Hong Kong in 1941.  He lost the draft during an air raid in Hong Kong (he always took his papers with him when he had to go to air raid shelters), but Lu Ling rewrote the novel and it was finally published several years later.  Lu Ling was held in prison for 20 years until he was released in 1975 for a period of ‘lao gai’ (work and reform).  He worked as a street sweeper until 1980 when a Beijing court declared that he was innocent of any crime.  According to the lengthy entry about him in Baidu Baike, when his street cleaning boss came to tell him the news, he was in the midst of sweeping and said: “There is nobody to take over my work, the streets are so dirty, I just have to sweep them clean”.  Lu Ling’s nerves had suffered badly during his prolonged period in prison and he never recovered his full powers as a writer.  He did however write a very detailed and moving recollection of Hu Feng for Xiao Feng’s book ‘Hu Feng and I’.  He lived on until 1994 when he died at the age of 71, having been imprisoned at the age of 32.  
Lu Ling, in middle of front row – 1947
  • A third was Lü Ying.  He was 40 in 1955 and was not initially arrested as he was not considered to be an important member of Hu Feng’s ‘clique’.  Lü Ying was regarded as a rather eccentric character with a very dour manner.  However, at a joint meeting of the Literary Federation and the China Writers’ Association held in Beijing in late May 1955 and chaired by Guo Moruo (郭沫若), that was organised for the specific purpose of passing a motion criticising Hu Feng, Lü Ying was the only person who stood up to defend Hu Feng and vote against the motion.  He said “In relation to Hu Feng, I do not think we should say this is a political issue, it is in fact an academic matter and a dispute about views on art and literature, let alone saying Hu Feng is a counter revolutionary”.  This was a remarkable stance to take for a person who is described by Wang Wenzheng as “a man of short stature, thin face and unprepossessing appearance” (page 128), in front of an audience of 700 other writers and the legendary poet and Party intellectual Guo Moruo.  Wang also describes Lü as a “naïve scholar with no understanding of the times” (page 128).  Lü carried on speaking for some time and was eventually dragged from the speakers’ platform.  He was later placed under house arrest for a year but no further action was taken against him.  During the Cultural Revolution, however, he was remembered as a “Hu Feng element who had escaped the net” (page 129) and was sent to prison, where he died in 1969, at the early age of 54.      
Lü Ying – undated photo

Sources of Information

There is a great deal of published material in relation to Hu Feng, his wife Mei Zhi and the writers with whom he worked. The great bulk of it is in Chinese and has not been translated into English, apart from the book by Mei Zhi referred to below. The materials include ‘Hu Feng’s Memoirs’ (‘胡风回忆录’) published in 1997, the various journals he published, several collections of his essays and poems, collections of letters that he exchanged with other writers, and the ‘Three Hundred Thousand Character Letter’ mentioned above. After Hu Feng’s death, his daughter Xiao Feng (晓风) edited a book of recollections about him by 37 different writers with whom he worked, entitled ‘Hu Feng and I: 37 Recollections of the Hu Feng Case’ (‘我与胡风:胡风事件三十七人回忆’). That book also contains chapters on three writers who died before Hu Feng after they were imprisoned or persecuted due to their links with him: Lü Ying and Zhang Zhongxiao (to whom I have referred above) and Feng Dahai (冯大海). These three chapters were written by Mei Zhi. Mei Zhi also wrote a book based on the period from 1955 to the end of Hu Feng’s life, entitled ‘The Deeply Unjust Case Against Hu Feng’ (‘胡风沉冤录’). This book has been translated into English with the title ‘Hu Feng’s Prison Years’, and provides a good insight into Hu Feng’s and Mei Zhi’s respective views on the way in which they were treated during the period from 1955 up to their return to Beijing in 1979, and also on issues that arose during the Cultural Revolution. It contains a very frank and moving description of Hu Feng’s state of mind and behaviour during the final years of his time in prison in Sichuan Province, which he spent together with Mei Zhi. Hu Feng succumbed to mental illness during this period, after so many years of having one accusation after another heaped upon him.

Wang Wenzheng, an investigator involved in the interrogation of members of Hu Feng’s ‘clique’, as mentioned above published the book ‘My Personal Experience of the Hu Feng Case’ in 2007.  Wang Wenzheng was later one of the judges involved in trying Mao’s widow Jiang Qing and other members of the ‘Gang of Four’.  His book looks at the story from a different perspective from what we find in ‘Hu Feng’s Memoirs’, the ‘Deeply Unjust Case’ by Mei Zhi, and ‘Hu Feng and I’ edited by Xiao Feng.  Wang expresses clear sympathy for the plight of Hu Feng and the writers in his ‘clique’ whom he interrogated in Shanghai.  How sympathetic he was at the time of the investigation in the mid-1950s is less clear.  He was nonetheless a conscientious investigator with a strong sense of responsibility, who at the age of 33 found himself playing an important role in an investigation that was being heavily reported in newspapers around the country and in which Mao Zedong himself, and the whole of the ‘Zhong Yang’ (中央, central authorities), took a deep interest. Wang’s book is full of interesting background facts.  For example, he notes that over 50 individuals were involved in the investigation (most of whom were transferred from work in public security organisations and municipal Party committees).  He includes a commemorative photograph of 23 of them, all smiling for the photographer as if they were on a day’s outing at a famous beauty spot.  He also describes in detail his first trip on a plane in February 1956, a multi-stop trip from Shanghai’s Longhua Airport to Chongqing, where he interviewed a witness in relation to an aspect of the case in which Zhou Enlai’s personal secretary Huang Yanpei (黄炎培) was implicated.  He even mentions how his ears were ‘buzzing’ when he stepped down from the plane.  Wang does not, however, delve too deeply into the reasons why the case happened in the first place.  Instead he tends to fix the blame on ‘history’ and Mao’s determination to consolidate the Party’s support among the population in the early years after it took power in 1949.  It is also notable that despite the fact Wang was involved in an ‘investigation’ with potentially grave consequences for the people being investigated, he makes very little reference to the legal basis for the investigation.  It was all done at the behest of the ‘Zhong Yang’; there was simply no need for any further justification.

The abundance of sources partly arises from the fact that the main roles in this tragic story from the early days of the Chinese Communist regime (it really was tragic for a large number of people) were played by writers.  Hu Feng in particular had a tendency to dash off a poem, an article or a letter whenever a new thought came into his mind.  He was an extremely diligent man who carried on working continuously throughout the Anti-Japanese War period (1937 to 1945) despite moves from Shanghai to Wuhan, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Guilin and back to Chongqing, and intensive periods of Japanese bombing along the way.  There are many references in the materials to people visiting him and finding him sitting behind a desk piled with stacks of letters and manuscripts.  He was a leading figure in literary societies during the war years, frequently organising and attending meetings and events arising from their activities.  He had regular meetings and contacts with Zhou Enlai, with leading writers and intellectuals of the period including Lao She, Guo Moruo and Qiao Guanhua, plus the many writers whose work he published.  He also had to deal with the day to day practicalities of publishing his journals and books, including the typesetting and printing, obtaining printing paper and funds to pay for it all, plus getting permission to publish from the Guomindang government, all during a chaotic historical period.  He also describes in his ‘Memoirs’ a great deal of socialising with colleagues and friends; he appears to have especially enjoyed evenings that involved talking and drinking into the early hours.  Throughout all of this he relied on Mei Zhi to look after their home, cook meals and raise their children.  

Hu Feng’s wife Mei Zhi, their daughter Xiao Feng and two sons made considerable efforts after Hu Feng’s death to put on record the full story of his life and the ‘deeply unjust case’ against him.  Xiao Feng states in the afterword to her book ‘Hu Feng and I’ that their intention was to “leave behind some first hand material for later generations” (page 848).  Xiao Feng also stresses the relative youth of the writers who were branded as ‘Hu Feng elements’ (‘Hu Feng fenzi’), and who were forced to give up their writing careers for decades.  That is why she asked many of them to contribute their recollections to the book she edited, with a view to “making people understand that this kind of historical tragedy must not be allowed to happen again” (page 848).  She finally dedicates her book to “all the people who suffered for the sake of truth and the cause of Chinese literature, including [her] father Comrade Hu Feng” (page 850).  Mei Zhi, at the beginning of the chapter she wrote on Zhang Zhongxiao for Xiao Feng’s book, says the reason for publishing these recollections was “in the hope that the dreadful treatment that destroyed the youth and in some cases the lives of these progressive young writers with their broad aspirations and revolutionary enthusiasm would never be repeated” (page 98).

How Hu Feng’s Personality Contributed to his Fate

Why did Hu Feng find himself at the centre of a dispute that started with differences of views about literature but ended with a major political movement directed at him and the writers whose work he published?  He was after all an early supporter of the Chinese Communist Party and had great respect for Mao Zedong.  He worked closely over many years with Zhou Enlai and leading left-wing cultural figures.  He was nonetheless later accused of being a ‘counter Revolutionary’.

My view is that Hu Feng’s fate (and that of the writers who were drawn into the case with him) was mainly determined by (i) aspects of his personality and political naïveté and (ii) by Mao’s Zedong’s insecurity about the fate of his revolution that led him to launch a series of ‘movements’ aimed at consolidating his position.  There are many references in the materials to Hu Feng’s ‘conscientiousness’, ‘persistence’ and ‘earnestness’.  These would normally qualify as good characteristics, but in Hu Feng’s case they are frequently described as ‘excessive’.  He also had very high standards when it came to choosing work for publication in his journals.  One of the writers who contributed recollections to Xiao Feng’s book “Hu Feng and I” was Ji Fang.  Ji Fang relates that Hu Feng was not prepared to publish work that failed to meet his standards, even if it came from friends or well established writers.  The fact that a writer submitted one good work did not mean the next work would merit publication.  Ji says Hu Feng “paid an extremely high price for this; he disappointed distinguished writers and friends, to the extent of being seen as a person who flaunted his own independence, indulged in cliques and movements” (page 394).  Another of the contributors to “Hu Feng and I” was Lu Ling (referred to above).  He relates a conversation he had in 1940 with He Jianxun (何剑薰), an academic who later became the head of Chinese studies at Chongqing University and whose work had been published in the journal ‘July’.  He told Lu that “Hu Feng is somewhat isolated in literary circles and had not associated much with other people since his days in the League of Left-Wing Writers (of which Hu Feng had been the Secretary, a role from which he resigned in 1935)”.  Ji also said “Hu Feng does not cooperate with people and his journals are not open (kai fang/开放) to famous writers…he is also somewhat isolated and eccentric (gupi/孤僻) and could get into difficulties if he continues this way” (page 473).  This description may seem at odds with other descriptions of Hu Feng stressing how much he enjoyed meeting writers and friends socially, but He Jianxun appears to have been focussing on the substance of Hu Feng’s relations with ‘the powers that be’ in literary circles in China.  This group clearly contained individuals like Zhao Yang and Guo Moruo who could be dangerous if they felt they were slighted by Hu Feng.     

It appears that Mao Zedong at some point in the early 1950s decided he could further shore up his own position by ‘making an example’ of Hu Feng.  Wang comments in his book that if Mao Zedong and the ‘Zhong Yang’ had not selected Hu Feng as their target, then “against the background of that historical period, it is quite possible they would have identified a ‘Zhang Feng’ or a ‘Li Feng’ to criticise instead” (page 108).  Mao explained some of his motivation in a foreword he wrote to a booklet of ‘Materials in Relation to the Hu Feng Counter-Revolutionary Clique’ that was published in June 1955, shortly after Hu Feng’s arrest.  The ‘materials’ in question included private correspondence between Hu Feng and writers whose work he published, that was seized when Hu Feng and the writers were arrested.  Mao said: “The reason why we are focussing on Hu Feng’s case, is because we need to use this case to educate the broad mass of the people.  We need in particular to educate the cadres who have reading ability and the members of the intelligentsia. … These materials are very penetrating and clear-cut, and absolutely capture our attention. … So long as the broad revolutionary people study the right things from these materials, this will inspire their revolutionary ardour and increase their ability to discriminate.  We will then be able step by step to ferret out all the hidden counter-Revolutionary elements.”  

Hu Feng says a number of times in his Memoirs that he did not ‘understand’ (‘不知’/’bu zhi’) politics.  Mei Zhi also had serious misgivings about his decision to write and submit the ‘Three Hundred Thousand Character Letter’ (of which she produced a fair copy, as she did for many of his writings), fearing that it could be used as a means of counter-attacking her husband, which eventually proved to be the case.   Hu Feng’s says in his Memoirs that he read Mao’s 1942 speech at Yunnan in 1943.  The impression he got from Mao’s speech was that it “took realism as its starting point” and “strengthened confidence in a realist approach” (pages 420 to 424).  However, Hu Feng makes no mention of the parts of the speech that appeared to be clearly directed against aspects of his own literary theories.  Hu Feng ultimately failed to adjust his literary views because he remained absolutely convinced that they were right.  He could not see their relevance to politics and strongly believed the ‘Zhong Yang’ would agree with him if he could just explain himself directly to Mao and Zhou Enlai.       

Many other Chinese writers and cultural figures adjusted their views and writing style in line with Mao’s expectations.  At meetings of the Chinese Literary Federation and the China Writers Association held in late 1954 and early 1955, resolutions criticising Hu Feng and his ideas about literature were supported by many of China’s leading writers at the time, including Mao Dun (茅盾), Guo Moruo (郭沫若), Ding Ling (丁玲), Lao She (老舍), Ai Qing (艾青), Nie Gannu (聂绀弩) and Sha Ting (沙汀) (Wang’s book, pages 103 and 104).  Wang Wenzheng explains that these writers voted to criticise Hu Feng out of concern for their own safety.  He says “they could not but believe they were in peril themselves, the more they criticised the better for them, because this was an opportunity for them to make their position clear; in that kind of political atmosphere, to remain silent would be seen as expressing support for Hu Feng’s position” (page 104).  The famous novelist Ba Jin (巴金) also wrote a number of essays that were critical of Hu Feng and Lu Ling around this time.  Wang points out that Ba Jin later expressed profound regret for his actions in an essay written near the end of his life and entitled ‘Cherishing the Memory of Hu Feng’ (page 105).  In this essay Ba Jin explained the pressures he was under at the time to join in the criticism of Hu Feng.  He says: “I thought of the ‘literary inquisitions’ (文字狱) during the Qing Dynasty and shivered with fear; I did not dare to speak up. … In those years, there was one movement after another; there were endless large meetings and small meetings, we all had to attend and get through the ordeal.  Everybody was fending for themselves and had no time to look out for others.”   It is interesting that Mei Zhi says in her ‘Unjust Case’ book that she too was reminded of past literary inquisitions in China.  I would note that it is clear from the materials I have read that Hu Feng later resumed friendly relations with Lao She (who himself committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution in 1966) and Nie Gannu.    

Hu Feng as a Son, Father and Husband

Hu Feng does not give us a great deal of detail about his family background or his own early years in his Memoirs.  He was born in Qichun County (蕲春县), in eastern Hubei Province, in an agricultural area that has long been famous for growing herbs and was once known in China as the ‘County of Scholars’, because more professors and doctors had been born there than in any other county.  He says that his father started his working life as a maker and seller of bean curd, while his mother was the orphaned daughter of a farm labourer who was taken into Hu Feng’s family when she was a child, as a future daughter-in-law (a ‘tongyangxi’/’童养媳’).  Hu Feng says that as a youth he worked in pasturing cattle, collecting firewood and similar activities.  He also associated with the local ‘hard working youths’.  Over time the family acquired property and Hu Feng was able to go to school, funded by his father and older brothers.  According to one of Hu Feng’s Chinese biographers, Ma Tiji (马蹄疾), his father and brothers hoped Hu Feng would go on to become a public official, so that he could further help the family.  He started at the local village school at the age of 11, and then went on at the age of 17 to Wuchang (now part of Wuhan) where he attended a middle school.  In 1923, at the age of 21, he moved on to the ‘attached middle school’ of Southwest University in Nanjing.  He says in his Memoirs that it was there he was first influenced by ‘revolutionary thought’ and the ‘behaviour and moral character of revolutionaries’.  He also says he participated in the May 30th Movement of 1925, which started in Shanghai but also included protests and boycotts in Nanjing.  He later moved on to the preparatory school of Peking University, but he says that did not meet his expectations in terms of his ‘search for idealism’, so he moved on a year later to the English Department of Tsinghua University.  He remained there for only a few months before returning to Qichun, where he says he experienced some ‘twists and turns’.  In the autumn of 1929 Hu Feng moved to Japan and became a student in the English Department of Keio University in Tokyo.  He says however that he devoted his main energies in Japan to studying Marxism, the Japanese ‘proletarian literature movement’ and ‘revolutionary activities’.  He became friends with a number of Japanese ‘proletarian’ poets and writers including Kiyoshi Eguchi (1887-1975) and Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933).  He published articles in two Japanese periodicals, ‘Fine Arts Research’ and ‘Lectures on Proletarian Literature’, with the aim of introducing China’s ‘revolutionary literature’ to Japanese readers.  He also joined the Japanese Communist Party and the Japanese Anti-War Alliance.  In the spring of 1933, he was arrested by the Japanese police because of his involvement in organising ‘left-wing anti-Japanese cultural groups’ while in the country as a foreign student.  He was expelled from Japan in July 1933 and then returned to Shanghai.  It appears that Hu Feng did not attend many lectures while he was a student in Japan.  It is also unclear how much English he learned either in Japan or during his short time at Tsinghua University in Beijing.  However, he did acquire the ability to speak and read Japanese fluently, as he later translated a number of Japanese books into Chinese and often associated with Japanese writers and political activists who moved to China.

Hu Feng met his wife Mei Zhi in Shanghai in the early-1930s through their joint involvement in the League of Left-Wing Writers.  They were married in late 1933 and had three children, two sons and one daughter.  Hu Feng was then 31 and Mei Zhi 19.  Mei Zhi’s mother was also an important member of their family until her death in the late 1950s.  The family remained close despite the upheavals of the war years and the subsequent extended imprisonment of both Hu Feng and Mei Zhi.  Life must have been a challenge for the children during the ongoing ‘movements’ of the late 1950s and then the Cultural Revolution; for example, Mei Zhi says in her book ‘Unjust Case’ that their younger son was pressured to break off relations with his father when he tried to join the Communist Youth League in 1965.  However the children later worked together with their mother to achieve full pardons for their father.  Both sons went on to become successful university professors and one is still publishing academic articles in his early 70s.  The best decision Hu Feng ever made was without doubt his decision to marry Mei Zhi.  She stood by him and gave him her support from the beginning to the end, despite having misgivings at times about some of his actions (which she fully expressed to him).  She was an extremely practical and adaptable woman, who was able to face up to all the challenges that came her way, even if she could not always overcome them.  Mei Zhi died in 2004 at the age of 90. 

Hu Feng maintained his basic trust in the Chinese Communist Party up to the end, though he was clearly very unhappy about his long imprisonment and much of the treatment he received during it.


Hu Feng and Mei Zhi in 1984

Michael Ingle –

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The Story of Hu Feng

I will be posting on this website the results of my research into the life of Hu Feng. Hu Feng was a Chinese writer and editor who was heavily persecuted as the alleged head of the ‘Hu Feng Counter-revolutionary Group’ (‘胡风反革命集团’). He spent 20 years in prison and ‘labour/reform camps’ between 1955 and 1975 and died in 1985 at the age of 82. This website will not just be about Hu Feng, but also his wife Mei Zhi and a number of the Chinese writers who were persecuted as alleged members of his ‘clique’, some tragically dying while they were in custody. This is a very large story and I intend to post large amounts of material over the next few years. Most of the original material is in Chinese and has not previously been translated into English.

Hu Feng and his wife Mei Zhi


Hu Feng (胡风), his wife Mei Zhi (梅志) and the writers involved in his ‘counter-revolutionary group’ (often called a ‘clique’ in western translations) left extensive accounts of their activities over the years, in the form of books, articles, correspondence and personal memoirs. They generally wrote very clear modern Chinese. Mao Zedong also had some direct involvement, as he wrote or edited many damning ‘editorial comments’ about Hu Feng and members of his group during the 1950s. He too wrote very clear modern Chinese, notwithstanding the nature of the content. Hu Feng was both an editor and a writer; he would write an article at the drop of a hat when he had something he wanted to say. Some of the personal correspondence between Hu Feng and the writers in his group has been lost over the years, but enough remains for us to form a fairly clear view of their lives, achievements and motivations. There are some exceptions, however, particularly in the case of writers such as Zhang Zhongxiao (张中晓), Lv Ying (吕荧) and [ ], who died either while in prison or as a result of persecution during the Cultural Revolution. We can be grateful to Hu Feng’s wife Mei Zhi for her accounts of those individuals that were published in the book of collected essays edited by Xiao Feng (晓风 – Hu Feng’s daughter) referred to below.

The key sources I have consulted are the following:

‘The Memoirs of Hu Feng’ (‘胡风回忆录’) [Started by Hu Feng and completed by his wife Mei Zhi after his death, based on diaries and other documents left by him plus her own recollections]

‘Hu Feng and I: Thirty Seven Recollections of the Hu Feng Incident’ (‘我与胡风:胡风事件三十七回忆’) [A collection of essays edited by Hu Feng’s daughter Xiao Feng]

‘A Record of the Unjust Case Against Hu Feng’ (‘胡风沉冤录’) [By Hu Feng’s wife Mei Zhi. There is an English translation of this book, but I will be relying on the original Chinese version and any quotes from it will be my own translations.]

‘My Personal Experience of the Hu Feng Case’ (‘我所亲历的胡风案’) [By Wang Wenzheng (王文正), who was involved in the interrogation of several members of Hu Feng’s group of writers who were taken into custody in Shanghai in 1955]

[NB: I will add further sources as I work through them]

Overall Plan

This website will be a work in progress for a number of years, but I hope it will eventually come together as a comprehensive biography of Hu Feng (or at least a source of detailed information for other biographers), with additional material in relation to his wife Mei Zhi and a number of the writers who were involved in his group. I intend to include many quotes from the original Chinese sources that I will translate into English myself, with appropriate footnotes.

I aim to include chapters covering the following:

  • An outline account of Hu Feng’s life.
  • A chapter on Hu Feng’s ‘thought’ in relation to literature, in particular his espousal of the values of ‘realism’ and ‘subjectivism’, and his opposition to ‘formalism’ and what he saw as the excessive popularisation of literature.
  • A detailed exploration of the circumstances that led to the criticism of Hu Feng’s work and that of other writers in his group, including his lengthy rebuttal of that criticism in a document which is generally known as ‘The Hu Feng 300,000 Character Letter’.
  • A detailed account of the arrest and interrogation of Hu Feng, Mei Zhi and many writers in his ‘group’ in 1955, and their subsequent imprisonment, including the political background and the (sham) legal basis for it.
  • A chapter on aspects of Hu Feng’s personality that underlay his success as a writer and editor and introducer of young literary talent, but very likely also contributed to his persecution and Mao Zedong’s decision to single him out as the focus of one of his ‘anti’ campaigns.
  • A chapter on Hu Feng’s wife Mei Zhi, who was an accomplished writer of children’s literature on her own account but also a devoted supporter of her husband throughout their lives together and mother of their three children (all of whom went on to have successful careers in China). She had great strength of character and in many ways is the ‘heroine’ of this story. I do not plan to include detailed information in relation to their children, one of whom is still active as an academic in China.
  • A chapter on Hu Feng and Mei Zhi as a couple and as parents, and also as members of their own respective families.
  • A number of chapters on writers in Hu Feng’s ‘group’, including in particular Lu Ling, Zhang Zhongxiao, Ji Fang and Lv Ying. I will also be discussing the role of Shu Wu (舒芜), who was a key member of Hu Feng’s group of writers, but who has been described as a ‘Judas figure’ because he supplied personal letters he received from Hu Feng to a journalist from the People’s Daily (this is mentioned in the Baidu Baike (百度百科) entry on Shu Wu). Those letters were later used as evidence in support of the persecution of Hu Feng and his group. Like the many other Chinese writers and intellectuals who failed to defend Hu Feng when he was criticised and after he was arrested, Shu Wu had his own reasons for what he did and I aim to express those as fairly as I can.
  • A chapter on the difficulties faced by Chinese intellectuals like Hu Feng and the writers in his group in dealing with the rapidly changing political scene in China between the 1930s and the 1960s, having to cope with the demands first of Chiang Kai-shek’s National Government and later Mao Zedong’s Communist Government, plus the relevance of their story and the persecution they suffered to the present day.

Michael Ingle –

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