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 – michaelingle01@gmail.com

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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 – michaelingle01@gmail.com                                                                      

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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 – michaelingle01@gmail.com

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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 – michaelingle01@gmail.com

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