Mao Dun

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Mao Dun (July 4, 1896–March 27, 1981) was the pen name of Shen Dehong (Shen Yanbing), a 20th century Chinese novelist, cultural critic, and journalist. He was also the Minister of Culture of China from 1949 to 1965. He is currently renowned as one of the best realist novelists in the history of modern China. His most famous works are Midnight, a grand novel depicting life in cosmopolitan Shanghai, and Spring Silkworms. He also wrote many short stories.

He adopted 'Mao Dun' (矛盾), meaning "contradiction", as his pen name to express the tension in the conflicting revolutionary ideology in China in the unstable 1920s. His friend Ye Shengtao changed the first character from 矛 to 茅, which literally means "thatch", to protect him from political persecution.


Early life

His father Shen Yongxi (沈永錫) taught and designed the curriculum for his son, but he died when Mao Dun was ten. Mao Dun's mother Chen Aizhu (陳愛珠) then became his teacher. He mentions in his memoirs that "my first instructor is my mother". Through learning from his parents, Mao Dun developed great interest in writing during his childhood.

Mao Dun had already started to develop his writing skills when he was still in primary school. In one examination the examiner commented on Mao Dun's script: '12 year old young child, can make this language, not says motherland nobody'. There were other similar comments which indicate that Mao Dun had been a brilliant writer since his youth.

While Mao Dun was studying in secondary school in Hangzhou, extensive reading and strict writing skills training filled his life. He finished reading Illustrious Definite orders (《昭明文選》), Shi Shuo Xin Yu (《世說新語》) and a large number of classical novels. These novels influenced his writing style and his idea of writing.

Mao Dun entered the three-year foundation school offered by Peking University in 1913, in which he studied Chinese and Western literature. Due to financial difficulties, he had to quit in the summer of 1916, before his graduation.

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