Guo Moruo, Pro­lific Poet

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Png Yu Fung Edited by Mark Zuiderveld Pho­tos cour­tesy of the Pub­lic­ity Depart­ment of the CPC Bei­jing Xicheng Dis­trict Com­mit­tee

A great lit­ter­a­teur, his­to­rian, and so­cial ac­tivist in China’s 20th cen­tury his­tory, Guo Moruo spent his last 15 years at 18 Qian­hai Xi­jie in Bei­jing.

It's an au­tumn day in Bei­jing, and a short dis­tance north from the lo­tus mar­ket be­side Shicha­hai stands a house with a court­yard. North of the front yard is a quad­ran­gle court­yard that is sep­a­rated into two sides. The main room and wing-rooms in the same court­yard are con­nected by a cor­ri­dor with eaves.

This house is lo­cated at 18 Qian­hai Xi­jie. Dur­ing the Qing dy­nasty (1644– 1911), this was the Palace of Heshen, a court of­fi­cial favoured by the em­peror. It later be­came the horse sta­ble of Prince Gong Man­sion in the late Qing dy­nasty. Dur­ing the early Repub­lic of China (1912–1949), the place was taken over by Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine com­pany, Darentang, and re­built into a house that com­bines Chi­nese and West­ern ele­ments. Af­ter the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China was es­tab­lished in 1949, Soong Ching-ling (revo­lu­tion­ary, 1890–1981) lived here. To­day, a plaque on the main en­trance reads, “The For­mer Res­i­dence of Guo Moruo.” This plaque was writ­ten in gold by Deng Yingchao (politi­cian, 1904–1992). Guo Moruo lived here from 1963, un­til he passed away in June 1978.

The two stone li­ons out­side Guo's for­mer res­i­dence are in­ter­est­ing. Un­like the usual stone li­ons that rep­re­sent strength, the two par­tic­u­lar stone li­ons are seen squat­ting livelily while play­ing on the grass. The bronze bells in front of the fes­toon gate do not match each other. They are part of Guo's col­lec­tion. One of them is made in the late Ming dy­nasty (1368–1644) while the other is from the Qing dy­nasty.

There is a long and nar­row small court­yard be­tween two rooms, where Guo and his wife would grow mel­ons and beans. Be­sides towel guard and bit­ter gourd, visi­tors also no­tice the long snake gourd.

Meet­ing his ‘God­dess’

Guo was dif­fer­ent from his peers. Born to a landowner and busi­ness fam­ily in Novem­ber 1892, he started home school­ing at a young age and has an in­fant name “Wen­bao,” that refers to the rein­car­na­tion of a leop­ard. Moruo was a name he gave to him­self by com­bin­ing the names of two rivers, “Moshu” and “Ru­oshui.” This also be­came the pen name he would use when­ever he wrote po­ems.

At the age of 14, Guo left his home­town in Shawan Town, Jiad­ing Dis­trict, Sichuan prov­ince, to study at a school in Jiad­ing. This was where he started learn­ing about demo­cratic thoughts. When Guo turned 20, he had no choice but to marry Zhang Jinghua, as ar­ranged by his par­ents. Zhang was a tra­di­tional lady with no ed­u­ca­tion. A few days af­ter get­ting mar­ried, Guo left home, leav­ing Zhang alone for sev­eral decades.

In spring of 1914, Guo went to Ja­pan to study at Kyushu Im­pe­rial Uni­ver­sity with the sup­port of his brother, Guo Kai­wen. He had wanted to study sci­ence so as to con­trib­ute his part in sav­ing the na­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, he couldn't adapt to life in Ja­pan and suf­fered from ner­vous break­downs for study­ing too hard. With these prob­lems and be­ing con­stantly wor­ry­ing about un­rest in his home coun­try, Guo be­came de­pressed and was al­ways on the verge of an­other break­down.

“It must have been my love af­fair with Anna that saved me from go­ing in­sane. In the fifth year of the Repub­lic of China, we fell in love and that gave me the de­sire to write po­ems.” Guo met the “god­dess” of his life at a cru­cial mo­ment.

In 1916, Guo, who was vis­it­ing a friend at Saint Luke's Hos­pi­tal in Tokyo, got ac­quainted with nurse Sato Tomiko, one year his ju­nior. Grad­u­ally, the gen­tle and un­der­stand­ing Sato re­moved a lone­some feel­ing within him and they de­vel­oped feel­ings for each other. Sato came from a tra­di­tional and ed­u­cated fam­ily. Her grand­fa­ther was the founder of Hokkaido Uni­ver­sity while her father was an en­gi­neer who grad­u­ated from the same uni­ver­sity. To be with Guo, Sato sev­ered ties with her par­ents, say­ing, “I feel that I am already a Chi­nese na­tional in­side out.” Sato adopted the name Guo Anna, given to her by Guo, and con­tin­ued us­ing it for the rest of her life.

Such a love ex­pe­ri­ence gave Guo an abun­dance of in­spi­ra­tion and pas­sion for writ­ing. Guo, who had read many books on West­ern phi­los­o­phy from Ger­many, the United King­dom, the United States and In­dia, was in­spired by foreign writ­ers such as Tagore and Shake­speare. Dur­ing the May 4 Move­ment that fol­lowed, Guo had a great de­sire to write new po­ems. “I write lit­er­a­ture to prove my ex­is­tence and my lit­er­a­ture will take the form of po­ems.” Aside from love po­ems writ­ten for Anna, Guo also wrote many mas­ter­pieces like “Fenghuang“(“Nir­vana of Phoenix”) and “Tian­gou“(“Heav­enly Dog”).

Guo's book of po­ems, God­dess, laid the first cor­ner­stone of a new type of verse in China. This book col­lected 50 over po­ems writ­ten by Guo from 1919 to 1921, while he was study­ing in Ja­pan. Guo used myths as a theme in his po­ems and adopted sym­bolic writ­ing tech­niques to re­flect a re­al­is­tic so­ci­ety. His imag­i­na­tive and pe­cu­liar po­ems were mostly writ­ten in a style that ap­pears to be flaunty and re­bel­lious. Guo's po­ems express his nos­tal­gic feel­ings and love for his mother­land through an in­no­va­tive way of writ­ing.

Guo first stud­ied medicine and later be­came in­volved in lit­er­a­ture. In 1921, Guo set up the Cre­ation So­ci­ety to­gether with writer Yu Dafu, writer and trans­la­tor Cheng Fangwu, and a few oth­ers, mak­ing him an im­por­tant fig­ure of the New Cul­ture Move­ment.

Join­ing the Army

Guo's life took an­other turn in July 1926 when he went on a north­ern ex­pe­di­tion

with the na­tional revo­lu­tion­ary army. He stopped shut­tling be­tween China and Ja­pan and ceased writ­ing for a liv­ing. Dur­ing the ex­pe­di­tion, Guo wrote a let­ter to Anna, in­form­ing her of the sit­u­a­tion and that he was “un­usu­ally well.”

In 1927, be­fore the April 12 In­ci­dent, Guo wrote an ar­ti­cle ex­pos­ing Chi­ang KaiShek (1887–1975) of be­trayal to­wards the coun­try, its peo­ple and the rev­o­lu­tion plan. Due to the strong re­ac­tion from the pub­lic, Guo be­came wanted. When Guo heard news of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) launch­ing the Nan­chang Up­ris­ing on 1 Au­gust, he left Ji­u­jiang to join the troops in Nancheng. Dur­ing the March, Guo proudly joined the CPC upon rec­om­men­da­tion of Zhou En­lai (1898– 1976) and Li Yi­mang (1903–1990).

Rev­o­lu­tion is pre­car­i­ous. In Fe­bru­ary of the fol­low­ing year, Guo was wanted by the Kuom­intang gov­ern­ment and had to change his name to Wu Cheng. He took on the iden­tity of a pro­fes­sor from Nan­chang Uni­ver­sity and left on a ship set for Ja­pan, start­ing ten years of life in ex­ile. As the ship left the har­bour, Guo teared up and cried.

Guo man­aged to find joy amid hard­ship. While seek­ing refuge in Ja­pan, Guo was able to con­cen­trate on writ­ing a book re­lated to an­cient Chi­nese so­ci­ety. In the book, he quoted from his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments and judg­ment of Marx­ist law of so­cial devel­op­ment. Based on sci­en­tific the­o­ries, he dis­cussed about an­cient pro­duc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties like fish­ing and hunt­ing, live­stock breed­ing and trad­ing and wrote about the as­so­ci­ated so­cial struc­tures. He also ob­served the trans­for­ma­tion of so­cial for­ma­tion through the his­toric river, started the school of his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­al­ism, and took up a dom­i­nant po­si­tion in a Chi­nese aca­demic so­ci­ety. At the same time, Guo used his knowl­edge on in­scrip­tions to write Ji­agu wenju yan­jiu (“the study of or­a­cle bone in­scrip­tions”) and Yinzhou qing­tongqi ming­wenyan­jiu (“the study of Yin Zhou bronze ware in­scrip­tion”). He com­pleted these works while un­der sur­veil­lance by Ja­panese po­lice.

Even dur­ing hard times like this, Anna took great pains and gave her best like she al­ways did. She planted a small gar­den in front of their res­i­dence to grow cap­sicum and tomato, and reared chick­ens in a coop at one cor­ner of the yard. On the side of the yard is a small flower gar­den where roses bloom. Anna man­aged to pro­vide Guo with a com­fort­able home dur­ing his times as a fugi­tive.

Their happy life came to an end in 1937 when the war against Ja­pan broke out. Guo left Anna with­out say­ing good­bye.

Upon his re­turn to China, Guo made him­self a list of rules. He was “not to drink, smoke or seek com­fort and plea­sure; to train one's body to pos­sess a boxer's spirit and fol­low monas­tic rules.”

Writ­ing to Save the Na­tion

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Shang­hai alone, Guo took part in pro­pa­ganda work. In 1937, Guo, to­gether with screen­writer Xia Yan and a few oth­ers, started Ji­uwang ribao ( Na­tional Sal­va­tion Daily Pa­per), do­ing front line re­port­ing on the lat­est news and pub­li­cis­ing the move­ment, while par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on lit­er­ary move­ments. Mean­while, they or­gan­ised a war area service corps and launched var­i­ous pro­pa­gan­dist and con­so­la­tory singing, drama and film events in­volv­ing peo­ple from lit­er­ary and art cir­cles. Af­ter the fall of Shang­hai, Guo de­cided to re­sume Ji­uwang ribao in Guangzhou af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion. While managing Ji­uwang ribao, Guo be­came ac­quainted with Yu Liqun.

Dur­ing the Chi­nese Peo­ple's War of Re­sis­tance against the Ja­panese, Guo worked closely with and showed con­cern for Yu, the sis­ter of his bo­som friend Yu Lichen, while Yu had love and re­spect for Guo. They even­tu­ally de­vel­oped feel­ings for each other. In 1938, the po­lit­i­cal branch led by Guo en­tered and sta­tioned in Chongqing, putting an end to their mis­er­able life of drift­ing from place to place. Af­ter set­tling down in Guangzhou, Guo and Yu held a grand wed­ding on New Year's Day, 1939.

Dur­ing the stale­mate in the Chi­nese War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­pan, a dark time pe­riod un­der the Na­tion­al­ist Party, Guo pro­duced many dra­matic scripts to in­spire readers. The most famous and pop­u­lar one was act five of the play Quyuan, writ­ten in Jan­uary 1942.

Mean­while, the coun­try was al­most los­ing the bat­tle and the South­ern An­hui In­ci­dent, a mas­sacre that killed sol­diers and civil­ians, took place. “There was anger among the Chi­nese peo­ple and I re­late this to pa­tri­otic poet Quyuan's (340–278 BC) sit­u­a­tion. In other words, I am us­ing Quyuan's era to sym­bol­ise the current cir­cum­stances.” Guo was filled with in­dig­na­tion when he wrote Quyuan to chas­tise the Kuom­intang's gov­er­nance.

With a stroke of ge­nius, Guo man­aged to de­pict the tragic yet famous poet and his­tor­i­cal fig­ure Quyuan and build a the­atri­cal im­age of him. The play told the life story of Quyuan in a day, with one cli­max fol­low­ing an­other. It was solemn and over­flow­ing with ro­man­ti­cism.

Guo took only 10 days to com­plete Quyuan. The play, which fo­cused on the elim­i­na­tion of dark and evil and yearn­ing for free­dom, was per­formed by at the Chongqing Guo­tai Grand Theatre in April 1942. It caused a sen­sa­tion since the play res­onated with au­di­ences. The same play was also staged in Ja­pan and the for­mer Soviet Union. It was recog­nised as the best and most in­flu­en­tial work among all Guo's his­tor­i­cal plays. Quyuan, Hufu ( Tiger­shaped Tally) and Kongquedan (Pea­cock Gall) were some of his plays on his­tor­i­cal tragedies, writ­ten by Guo dur­ing this pe­riod. He opened up a new path in lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture that com­bines moder­nity and na­tional cul­ture.

Un­pre­dictable Des­tiny

Anna suf­fered tur­moil of the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion and the plight of her life. On Au­gust 15, 1945, when news of the un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der of the Ja­panese was re­ported, Anna and her five chil­dren couldn't help but be emo­tional. She took out a ki­mono she wore in her twen­ties to have a photo taken with her chil­dren as a com­mem­o­ra­tion of the vic­tory. Her only daugh­ter praised her, say­ing, “Mum, you look even more like Vir­gin Mary in your ki­mono.” Anna replied with a smile, “Re­ally? Your dad said so, too.”

In the early spring of 1948, Anna de­cided to make a de­tour to Tai­wan where her son worked, then looked for Guo in Hong Kong. Guo was pleas­antly sur­prised to see Anna, but also re­alised that she had aged. He sighed, say­ing, “You've suf­fered so much from the Ja­panese war­lords.” Anna was speech­less to see her hus­band leave with­out a word, to­gether with a young lady and their chil­dren. His­tory has forced them be sep­a­rated and meet with new cir­cum­stances. When they fi­nally met each other again, ev­ery­thing changed. Af­ter Anna calmed down, she de­cided to live with her el­dest son in Tai­wan. Later, all of Guo and Anna's chil­dren re­turned to their mother­land. “China needs peo­ple for its devel­op­ment. I told them to re­turn, and they did,” said Anna.

Af­ter the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China was es­tab­lished, Guo took on var­i­ous roles re­lated to state ad­min­is­tra­tion and lead­er­ship in sci­en­tific cul­ture, and was ap­pointed chair­man of China Na­tional Lit­er­a­ture and Art Association, first Dean of Chi­nese Academy of Sciences, first Prin­ci­pal of Uni­ver­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy of China and Pres­i­dent of China Fed­er­a­tion of Lit­er­ary and Art Cir­cles. Dur­ing this time, he con­tin­ued com­pos­ing lit­er­ary works like Cai Wenji and Wu Ze­tian. These two his­tor­i­cal plays by Guo fo­cused on tex­tu­ral re­search of his­tor­i­cal data, re­search and lit­er­ary cre­ation. Their per­for­mances caused a sen­sa­tion.

On June 12, 1978, Guo passed away in Bei­jing. He was a great lit­ter­a­teur, his­to­rian, scholar in an­cient writ­ing, cal­lig­ra­pher and so­cial ac­tivist in China's 20th cen­tury aca­demic his­tory. His for­mer res­i­dence, where he spent over 10 years of his life, has now be­come the premises of Guo Moruo Memo­rial Hall, Guo Moruo Re­search So­ci­ety and Guo Moruo China His­tory Prize, wel­com­ing visi­tors to visit and un­der­stand more about his life story.

Back­yard of the for­mer res­i­dence of Guo Moruo

Guo Moruo’s study

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