Hao Ran: Writer of the Revolution

Historical Setting

In his talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art in 1942, Mao Zedong insisted on the importance of literature aimed at a mass audience, which would use the popular idiom and describe the positive aspects of the lives of peasants and proletarians. The purpose of art was to serve the people and the revolution; the artistic beauty of literature was subordinated to its political content. The Yenan talks served as the basic guide to writing after the success of the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, except for the brief "Hundred Flowers" interlude (1956-57) when public debate over the problems and limitations of the regime were temporarily tolerated. However, the flood of criticism during the "Hundred Flowers" period became too threatening and it was stopped. The principles of the Yenan talks then constituted the reigning ideology for writers and artists at least until the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976.

About the Author

Hao Ran, whose real name is Liang Jinguang, is greatly admired because of his class background. He was born in 1932 to a poor peasant family in Hebei, about thirty miles east of Beijing. He received only three and a half years of education in a local village school, but he learned to read and write. His father died when Hao Ran was seven, and his mother died when he was twelve. As an orphan, Hao took care of himself by running errands for the Eighth Route Army. He passed long winter evenings listening to stories told by old peasants and soldiers. When he was fifteen, his relatives arranged a marriage for him; he eventually had four sons. A member of the Children's Corps, Hao Ran joined the Chinese Communist Party at the age of sixteen. In 1949, he was asked to write a short play as local propaganda material for the movement to increase production and suppress anti-revolutionaries; the skit was a success and Hao Ran's literary career was initiated. He claims he did not choose to write, but found this his best means of supporting the revolution.

During the 1950s, Hao Ran worked as a newspaper correspondent for the Hebei Daily. Assigned to describe peasants and village life, he visited collective farms, participated in agricultural work, and developed close ties with the local peasants. He also continued to write plays, sketches, and songs. Gradually he specialized in short stories based on his experiences in the land reform movement. His stories praise heroic working people for the sacrifices they make for the revolution. His first volume of short stories was published in 1958, followed by the second volume in 1959, and the third in 1960.

Hao Ran was among the first party cadres sent to live on the farms to do collective labor, in 1960-1961. In the introduction to Pearls, one of his collections of short stories, Hao Ran wrote:

I shall never forget how some of these stories were written. It was harvest time and we cadres took turns watching over the threshing ground at night with the commune members. In the deep of night, I paced round the quiet square covered with grain and bathed in moonlight. As the cool breeze wafted over the fragrance of new rice, countless stirring events sprang to my mind all crying out for utterance. I turned a manure crate upside-down and spread a sack over it. Then by the light of my storm lantern I started scribbling on this makeshift "desk." [1]

In 1961, Hao Ran went to Beijing to serve as a literary editor of the Party journal Red Flag, and to study Marxist theory. After six more volumes of collected stories and some children's fiction, he began to work on his first novel, Bright Sunny Sky, the first volume of which was finished in 1964, followed by two more volumes in 1966. The novel shows the triumph of Party policy which allowed poor peasants, who have worked hard on collective farms, to share equally in profits with the middle-class peasants who contributed private plots of land to the collective. Directly confronting class privilege, which was a major obstacle to land reform, Hao Ran idealizes the peasants and young cadres who struggle for a new classless society.

During the Cultural Revolution, Hao Ran again lived and worked on an agricultural commune, then wrote his second novel, The Broad Road in Golden Light, which concerns the change from individual labor on farms to mutual-aid teams. As part of the general movement against individualism, he had not only his colleagues in the Peking Writers Association, but also actual peasants and workers, review the rough draft of the first volume and suggest revisions before it was published in 1972. For example, one peasant reader was troubled with an incident in the novel in which a former landlord criticizes a poor peasant for fighting to plant his crop without mechanized help because he cannot afford it: Hao Ran had made the poor peasant respond meekly, but the reader suggested he should be more courageous, so in the revision he becomes enraged at the landlord. "Such concern over the perfection of the work, not just the success of any individual in the process of creating a novel, moved me to tears," Hao Ran said. "The peasant readers have no desire to make me a famous writer; they only want their true story told, which is a story of the glory of revolution and the need for continuing vigilance to protect the glory." [2]

In the early 1970s, Hao Ran also served the revolution by conducting writers' workshops for the Bureau of Cultural Affairs to assist young talented writers. He remains a prolific writer, producing at the rate of about half a million words per year. Though not the most popular writer in China after the fall of the Gang of Four because of the rise of Dissent Literature, Hao Ran still continues to be an influential figure. He is respected for his brilliant descriptive passages, if not for his stereotyped characters. He does not refer to himself as a professional writer, but as a "full-time worker in the field of literature and art."

[1] Reprinted with permission from Chao Chin, "Introducing Hao Ran," Chinese Literature, vol. 4 (April 1974): 98-99.
[2] From Hsu Kai-yu, The Chinese Literary Scene, (New York: Penguin, 1976), 95.

Acknowledgment: The consultant for this unit was Dr. Marsha Wagner, Columbia University.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was the author's background so important during the Cultural Revolution?
  2. Hao Ran's first novel sold three million copies and his second novel sold more than four million copies. What aspects of his background make him especially suited to write fiction which appeals to the masses of the Chinese people?
  3. What are the values of Hao Ran's stories and novels? What types of people are the heroes? Who are the villains?
  4. Hao Ran's generation of writers lived through the Chinese Revolution, and their careers began because of the revolution. How does this background help explain the values illustrated in Hao Ran's fiction?
  5. What are the implications of Hao Ran's openness to making revisions in his work following the suggestions of peasants and workers described in the fiction?
  6. Why does Hao Ran call himself a "literary worker," rather than a writer or an artist?