Zhao Shuli

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Chao Shu-li
Related People

Biography in English

Chao Shu-li (1903-), writer and newspaperman, was known for his short stories and novels, which embodied the May 1942 literary directives set forth at Yenan by Mao Tse-tung. He edited the Hsin ta-chung [the new masses], later known as the Kung-jen pao [the workers' paper] Chinshui, Shansi, was the birthplace of Chao Shu-li. His father was acountryman,who farmed and who worked at such diverse village arts as straw weaving and geomancy. As a child, Chao attended the village school, herded cattle, and carried charcoal. Later, he entered the junior middle department of the Ch'angchih provincial Fourth Normal School. As he grew older he turned his hand to anything that offered a living in the harsh conditions of the rural areas. He joined one of the local folk music recreation groups, called the pa-yin-hui, and learned to recite ballads as well as to play the gongs and drum. In 1926 he took part in the anti-warlord movement sponsored by Shansi students and as a result was imprisoned for a short time in 1927.

In the early 1930's Chao studied for a period in the provincial capital, Taiyuan, where he wrote articles for local newspapers to support himself. In 1939 he joined the Communist Eighth Route Army and was assigned to special cultural work in the T'aihang mountains. This mountain stronghold north of Ch'angchih developed into a major wartime base for the Communists and served also as the field headquarters for the Eighth Route Army. There Chao Shu-li joined a group publishing a small newspaper, Hsin ta-chung [the new masses], on which he served as both reporter and editor. In 1942 a small mimeographed journal, Lao-paihsing [the common people], was circulated in the Communist areas of southeast Shansi. This was a one-man effort; Chao wrote the editorials and features, drew the illustrations, and set the type. That year Chao spoke at a Communistsponsored forum on literature and art in the T'aihang area and advocated the writing of more colloquial literature for the peasants. This statement echoed the May 1942 literary directives laid down by Mao Tse-tung at Yenan.

In May 1943 Chao Shu-li's short story Hsiaoerh-hei chieh-hun, usually translated Blackie Gets Married, appeared. This was a simple sentimental tale, discrediting village superstitions and asserting the right to freedom of choice in marriage. The story was earthy, direct, and human despite its propaganda message. Six months later Chao published The Rhymes of Li Yu-ts'ai, which concerns a village ballad performer. This character's witty rhymes about prevailing rural conditions were designed to promote the new order. Both these tales were meant to be read aloud to country people, and the latter embodied the actual rhyming technique of the traditional performer. Blackie Gets Married was highly praised by P'eng Te-huai, then deputy commander in chief of the Communist forces, and 30 to 40 thousand copies were sold in Shansi alone. A dramatic adaptation was performed in all the Communist areas, and later the tale was made into a film. Chao sprang into fame overnight as a leading Communist author. His reputation soared when Chou Yang (q.v.) hailed him as an artist whose language and subject matter embodied the literary principles laid down at Yenan in 1942. Following these first successes, Chao Shu-li wrote a novel, T'ieh-so, later translated into English as Changes in Li Village. It described the fortunes of a Shansi village from 1928 to 1946. Written in direct narrative style, the book achieves a certain quality of sincerity and readability although it does not maintain its freshness throughout. An English version of this novel was published by the Foreign Language Press at Peking in 1953.

By 1947 Chao Shu-li's literary standing in the Communist areas of China had become such that other writers were urged to emulate him. When the Communists came to power in 1949, Chao moved to Peking with his paper, the title of which was changed from Hsin ta-chung to Kung-jen pao [the workers' paper]. In the summer of 1949 he took a prominent part in the meetings convened to establish the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, of which he became a member. In 1951 Chao returned to Ch'angchih, Shansi, where some of the first experiments in agricultural production cooperatives were being made. Chao Shu-li lived with the villagers for two years and made use of his experiences in writing Sanliwan Village, which he began in 1953 and finished in the spring of 1955. It was serialised in Jen-min wen-hsueh [people's literature], from January to April of 1955, and afterwards published in book form. The novel was written to glorify the advantages of collective farming. Against a background of village romances and family intrigues, it tells of dissenters who finally are converted to the system. It was published to coincide with Mao Tse-tung's 1955 call for national conversion of arable land into agricultural cooperatives. In 1952 the Chao Shu-li hsüan-chi [selected works of Chao Shu-li] was published in Shanghai. Of peasant stock himself, Chao Shu-li fully understood the story-telling qualities that appealed to his Chinese readers and achieved a simple but forceful characterization by his direct use of the colloquial language. His intimate knowledge of the background enabled him to interpret village rights and wrongs in a convincing manner, but the uncompromising standards of the Communist party line damaged the literary integrity of his work.

Biography in Chinese

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