ZHOU LIBO, PEN NAME OF ZHOU FENGXIANG (1908—1979) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

ZHOU LIBO, PEN NAME OF ZHOU FENGXIANG (1908—1979). Novelist. Born in rural Hunan, Zhou Libo graduated from Changsha Number One Middle School, a liberal institution made famous by its alumni such as Mao Zedong. While in school, Zhou was exposed to progressive ideologies and his determination to pursue freedom and independence was indicated by his chosen pen name—”Libo” is a transliteration of the English word liberty. In 1929, Zhou left Changsha for Shanghai and entered Labor University to study economics. When his involvement in the underground Communist activities was discovered the following year, Zhou was promptly dismissed by the university. He returned to Hunan and began to pursue a writing career. In 1931, he went back to Shanghai to work as a proofreader for a publisher. A year later, he was arrested for participating in the labor movement and was later released on bail. Zhou became a member of the Left-wing Association of Chinese Writers and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1934. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out, Zhou worked as a war correspondent and editor for Kang zhan ribao (Resistant War Daily) and Jiuwang ribao (National Salvation Daily), newspapers published by the CCP. At the end of 1939, Zhou was transferred to the CCP base in Yan’an and assumed the post as head of the editing and translation department of Yan’an Lu Xun Institute of Arts. He was present at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art held in 1942, at which Mao Zedong delivered his historic speeches. In the following years, Zhou was put in charge of the CCP’s propaganda work, editing newspapers such as Jiefang ribao (Liberation Daily) and Zhongyuan ribao (Central Plains Daily). After 1949, Zhou worked for, among other organizations, the Chinese Writers’ Association and served on the editorial board of the People’s Literature Press.

Bao feng zhou yu (The Storm), written in 1948, and Shan xiang ju bian (Great Changes in a Mountain Village), published in 1959—1960, are Zhou’s best-known works. Both novels deal with the land reform in the Chinese countryside carried out during the first few years of the Communist victory. Bao feng zhou yu, based on Zhou’s personal experience from 1946 to 1948 as a member of a land reform team sent to the newly liberated northeast, describes how poor peasants are empowered when the Communists give them land taken from rich landlords. The enlightened peasants begin to take control of not only properties but also their destinies, winning victory over their own ignorance while overthrowing the landed class that exploited them and defeating local bandits who mount fierce attacks against the Communist-controlled region. Like Ding Ling’s Taiyang zhao zai Sanggan He shang (The Sun Shines upon the Sanggan River), another work that deals with the land reform, Bao feng zhou yu was trumpeted as a masterpiece of socialist realism and placed third in the 1951 Stalin Literature Prize. The work was clearly influenced by Mikhail A. Sholokhov, the Soviet Nobel laureate whose novel Seeds of Tomorrow (volume 1 of Virgin Soil Upturned) Zhou translated into Chinese in the 1930s.

Shan xiang ju bian can be seen as a sequel to Bao feng zhou yu in that it reflects the immediate transformation taking place in the countryside after the land reform and depicts the social upheavals in the shift from private landownership to collectivization. Set in a village of his native Hunan, to which Zhou returned to live in 1955, the novel explores the arduous journey of the peasants as they gradually move to embrace collectivization, initially in the form of cooperatives and eventually communes. In portraying the collectivization movement as the second storm after the land reform, which shakes the foundation of rural China, the novel paints a society on its way to fundamentally transforming the peasantry into a powerful and enlightened force in socialist construction. Both novels are noted for the vivid portrayal of characters and the author’s effortless mastery of regional dialects. Another notable work is He chang shang (On the Rice Threshing-Ground), which consists of sketches and stories written after he returned to Hunan and refocused his creative energy on rural communities as his writings about factory life had failed to garner critical attention. The pieces in the book highlight the optimism Chinese peasants feel toward their future and the harmonious rural communities and new customs established after the collective production system was put into effect.

After the Cultural Revolution, Zhou published “Xiangjiang yi ye” (One Night on the Xiang River), which won the 1977—1978 national prize for a short story. It describes a brilliant military campaign conducted by the Communist troops during the Sino-Japanese War. A loyal adherent to the party line throughout his life, Zhou was nevertheless an outspoken critic of the quality of contemporary Chinese writing. See also MAY FOURTH MOVEMENT; NEW CULTURE MOVEMENT.