Guo Moruo Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Historian and novelist, poet and propagandist, Guo was perhaps the most prolific Chinese intellectual of the twentieth century. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he served in a variety of government posts, including that of President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He survived the purges of the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957) and the Cultural Revolution era (1966-1976) and continued publishing through the 1970’s.

Early Life

Guo Moruo (Kou Mo-jo), like many of the leaders of revolutionary China, was born during the tumultuous last decade of the nineteenth century. Born Kuo K’ai-chen in November, 1892, to a well-to-do merchant family in the interior province of Sichuan, he received the foundation of a classical education at a time of sweeping educational reform. The near collapse of the Qing Empire in the wake of the 1894-1895 war with Japan, the abortive One Hundred Days of Reform in the summer of 1898, and the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 spurred an unprecedented overhaul of the curriculum required for admission to the bureaucracy. Thus, Guo studied Chinese and Western subjects at a school in Jiading from 1906 to 1909.

During the revolution of October, 1911, Guo received his secondary education in the provincial capital of Chengdu. Upon completion of his studies there, he decided to pursue additional modern courses in Japan. He completed an accelerated preparatory course of study for Chinese students and in 1915 was enrolled in pre-medical studies at Okayama. For the next half-decade, he labored to finish his medical studies while increasingly devoting himself to literary interests. The tensions involved in resolving this dilemma of direction taxed his family life as well as his inner muse and would play a crucial role in his later work.

Guo had submitted to an arranged marriage in 1912 but remained estranged from his wife almost from the beginning. During his medical studies in Japan, he met Satō Tomiko, a Japanese Christian, and soon moved in with her. Their liaison would eventually produce five children, though Guo refused to marry her for fear of offending his parents.

Guo’s literary interests during this period, which coincided with the development of the new vernacular literature advocated by Chen Duxiu, Hu Shih, Li Dazhao, and the “Literary Renaissance” at the University of Peking, already displayed a surprising eclecticism and showed evidence of an early search for cross-cultural synthesis. Sources as varied as the idealist philosopher Wang Yangming, the Western Romantics and the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Walt Whitman, and Rabindranath Tagore dominated his studies.

In the autumn of 1919, amid the furor of the May Fourth Movement, Guo’s poems were published for the first time in the Hsih-hsih hsin-pao (the China times), and he soon determined, over Tomiko’s desperate protests, to leave his medical studies and pursue writing as a career. With his colleagues Yu Dafu, Tian Han, and Zhang Ziping, he formed the Creation Society and in the early 1920’s founded the Ch’uang-tsao chi-k’an (creation quarterly), as well as a weekly and a daily. Guo and his fellow creationists, for the most part, followed a Romantic aesthetic—a belief in pantheism, the primacy of intuitive knowledge and emotion, the heroism of individual action, and the need for rebellion. With the breakup of the group in 1924, however, he increasingly turned his attention to the momentous political events that would initially unite China, then plunge the nation into civil war.

Life’s Work

Like many Chinese intellectuals during the May Fourth period, Guo had initially been receptive to a wide variety of novel Western ideas. As early as the publication in 1921 of his poetry collection Nü-shen (partial translation, Selected Poems from “The Goddesses,” 1958), he had announced his interest in communism. The Bolshevik experiment in Russia, Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s renunciation of czarist claims in China, and the Comintern-inspired United Front of Chinese Communists and Kuomintang (Nationalists) drew the admiration of many patriotic Chinese, and by 1924, Guo had written of his conversion to Marxism-Leninism, though he did not join the party until 1927. His influences during this period included the Japanese Marxist Hajime Kawakami, Friedrich Nietzsche, Goethe, and Ivan Turgenev, and he produced translations of works from all of these writers. True to the catholicity of his interests, he also managed to publish, during a time when he was increasingly dedicating himself to remaking the social order, a series of vernacular translations of classical poetry and a romantic novel.

The next three years, which encompassed Chiang K’ai-shek’s Northern Expedition to unite China under the Nationalists and his bloody purge to eliminate the Communists in 1937, saw Guo involved in the...

(The entire section is 2035 words.)