HU YEPIN (1903—1931) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

HU YEPIN (1903—1931)
The Dictionary

HU YEPIN (1903—1931). Fiction writer, poet, and playwright. A Fujian native and self-educated man, Hu Yepin had a brief but venturesome life. He was enrolled in the naval academy in Yantai, Shandong Province, and when the academy was disbanded, he was barely 15 years old. He drifted to Beijing and for a while scraped out a living as an apprentice in a jewelry store. Despite his ordeals, Hu read and wrote feverishly and eventually found his calling in literature. He was friends with Shen Congwen and was married to Ding Ling, also a struggling writer at the time. Among the May Fourth generation writers, Hu was one of the few who possessed an ease with the new vernacular language. His prose flows naturally, without the awkward mixture of the classical and the vernacular, a common feature in the works of many of his contemporaries.

Hu’s early writings reflect his own sense of despair over poverty and hopelessness that permeate the Chinese society at the time. These semiautobiographical stories, featuring young intellectuals beaten down by the challenges in life, are loaded with romantic sentimentalism and self-pity. “Wang he chu qu” (Where to Go), a self-portrayal published in the mid-1920s, depicts the hard life of a young writer, an idealistic vagabond who struggles through poverty, loneliness, and callous treatment from his countrymen. The despondency felt by this character comes from dire economic conditions rather than unrequited romantic love as portrayed by many May Fourth writers. Another prominent cast of characters in Hu’s writings are the working poor in both the city and the countryside. “Yu zhong” (In the Rain) depicts a rickshaw puller’s miseries inflicted by bandits and unruly soldiers; “Hai’an bian” (The Seashore) paints a vignette of a fisherman struggling in a thunderstorm as he returns home from the market; “Huo zhuzi” (A Pearl in the Brain), arguably his best work, tells an allegorical tale about how superstition leads to the murder of a poor man whose unusually shaped head is said to contain a pearl, a desired object in the eyes of his fellow villagers.

In all of Hu’s stories, everything works against the poor: natural disasters, social unrest, human greed, and their own traditional beliefs, an observation reminiscent of Lu Xun’s criticism of the fatuity of the Chinese national character. Hu’s instinctual reaction against social injustice predisposed him toward the Communist ideology. He joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1930, and in the same year published a novella Dao Mosike qu (To Moscow) and a novel Guangming zai women qianmian (A Bright Future), seeking political solutions to China’s social problems. His activities in the Left-wing Association of Chinese Writers put him on the government’s blacklist. He was arrested in 1931 and subsequently executed.