Shen Congwen

28 Dec 1902
10 May 1988
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Shen Congwen (December 28, 1902 – May 10, 1988), formerly romanized as Shen Ts’ung-wen, is considered to be one of the greatest modern Chinese writers, on par with Lu Xun. Regional culture and identity plays a much bigger role in his writing than that of other major early modern Chinese writers. He was known for combining the vernacular style with classical Chinese writing techniques. Shen is the most important of the “native soil” writers in modern Chinese literature.

He was slated to win the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature, but died before he could be awarded the prize.

It is possible to visit his former residence in Fenghuang county, Hunan province.

In 1924, his first short story was published. He began publishing short stories and essays regularly in Fiction Monthly and Crescent Moon, two highly influential literary magazines of the New Culture Movement. In the 1930s he gained fame with his longer works such as Border Town and The Long River.In Beijing Shen Congwen met several influential figures of the New Culture Movement including Ding Ling and her husband Hu Yepin. He lived with the couple for some time before the three writers moved to Shanghai together in 1927.

In Shanghai, Shen, Ding and Hu edited a newspaper literary supplement called Red and Black and later The Human World Monthly, the literary supplement for the Human World Bookstore in Shanghai. In early 1929 the trio published the first edition of their own literary magazine called the Red and Black Monthly. At the time a philosophical battle was begun in the Shanghai literary scene concerning the proper role of writers and art in the forming of new Chinese society. On one side were the communists represented by the Creation Society whose slogan was changed to “Literature is the tool for class struggle!” Rival literary magazine The Torrent argued strongly against “proletarian revolutionary literature.” The Crescent Moon Society was decidedly anti-political, and it is with this group that Shen Congwen found his literary philosophy fitted best.

In the fall of 1930, Shen moved to Wuchang where he taught a three-hour course at Wuhan University. In the spring of the following year, Shen returned to Hunan following the death of his father. Arriving back at the university in March, was too late for a reappointment and lost his teaching job there. He then taught at Qingdao University (renamed Shandong University in 1932) for two years before returning to Beijing. In 1933, he became the editor for the Art and Literature section of Tianjin’s Da Gong Bao, one of the most influential magazines then.

Shen died of a heart attack on May 10, 1988 in Beijing at the age of 85.Despite his political rehabilitation several years earlier the state-run media in China was silent upon his death. A one-line obituary was published four days later, calling him a “famous Chinese writer” and failed to mention his political troubles, the resurgence of his work, or the importance of his work in the canon of Chinese literature.The New York Times published a detailed, paragraphs-long obituary describing him as “a novelist, short-story writer, lyricist and passionate champion of literary and intellectual independence”

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