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 –

About Michael Ingle

Retired lawyer studying the Chinese language and history of the mid-20th century
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