LU Yan

Guo Moruo was a literary figure and cultural leader who is well known as an authority on Chinese ancient history and for his service to the cause of Communist power. Both his acclaimed written works and his public involvement in government and cultural activities led to his reputation as a cultural leader during his time.

Guo Moruo was born in the town of Shawan in Sichuan Province to a merchant-landlord family and named “Kaizhen” by his parents. His family had business in oil of various kinds, money exchanging, and the opium trade, and was affluent enough to have a family school, where Guo began his formal education in the Confucian classics at age five. He was inspired by the study of world history and eager to leave his small town. While still a high school student in Chengdu, Guo married Zhang Qionghua (1890–1980), an illiterate bride betrothed to him by his parents. Not happy with this arranged marriage, Guo left home soon and enrolled briefly at the Military Medical School in Tianjin, but left without earning a degree. In 1914 he went to Japan and attended the Sixth Higher School, which prepared him to attend Kyushu Imperial University, where he would graduate with a bachelor’s degree in medical science in 1923.


While at the Sixth Higher School, Guo met Sat? Tomiko (1895–1994), whom he called “Anna” and who would make a lasting impact on Guo’s personal life as well as his career. Their life together as a common-law couple inspired Guo to write romantic poetry. From the time they appeared in Shishi Xinbao (Current Affairs Newspaper) in Shanghai, Guo’s poems became immensely popular among Chinese youth and earned him a distinctive position in the new literature of the anti-imperialist May Fourth era. In publishing these poems Guo first used the name “Moruo,” after the two rivers flowing by his hometown. Through his literary activities Guo met several like-minded people, including Yu Dafu, Cheng Fangwu, and Tian Han; together they organized the Creation Society in 1922, published Creation Weekly (Chuangzao zhoukan), and regularly contributed to the literary supplement of New Daily of China (Zhonghua xinbao) in Shanghai. While wavering between a literary and a medical career, Guo turned to autobiographical fiction as he recorded the difficulties of earning a living as a writer in Shanghai to support his growing family, now with four children, and the racial discrimination he confronted as a Chinese in Japan.

Guo’s career took a political turn around 1924 under the inspiration of the Marxist writing of Kawakami Hajime. Returning to Shanghai, Guo found himself in the whirlpool of the May Thirtieth Movement, which began when Shanghai police opened fire on anti-imperialist strikers, and gave public speeches at mass rallies. He soon made connections with the Communists and joined the Northern Expedition to head the Department of Propaganda. He had to flee from China to Japan when the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) turned against the Communists.

Research Acclaimed

Between 1928 and 1937 Guo lived in Japan and turned his energy to historical studies, especially the study of oracle bone and bronze inscriptions and the ancient history of China. He participated in the 1928 debate on the structure of Chinese society and applied Marxist theory to his arguments. His book, Researches on Ancient Chinese Society (Zhongguo Gudai Shehui Yanjiu), was published in Shanghai in 1930 and became an instant success. Both of his works on ancient history and oracle bone inscriptions were acclaimed in China and Japan in the 1930s and established him as an authority on ancient Chinese history.

In 1937, soon after the outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japan, Guo eluded the gendarme surveillance in Japan and returned to China, leaving Anna and their five children behind. He wrote articles for resistance war propaganda and presided over the Salvation Daily (Jiuwang Ribao) in Shanghai in 1937. In the remaining years of the war he lived in Chongqing, China’s war capital, and headed the Cultural Activity Committee of the government. After the second United Front of the Guomindang and the Communists deteriorated, Guo sided firmly with the Communists and wrote historical plays to criticize the government’s policy. One of his major accomplishments was Qu Yuan, a historical drama masking his criticism of the ruling Guomindang, staged to acclaim in Chongqing in 1942. On the three hundred-year anniversary of the fall of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) in 1944, Guo published (in the New China Daily) In Commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of the Jiashen Year (1644) (Jiashen sanbianian ji), another masked criticism of the Guomindang through a historical analysis of the internal conflict that caused downfall of the Ming dynasty. His works during the war infuriated the ruling Guomindang but were acclaimed by the Chinese Communist Party. In 1939 Guo married Yu Liqun (1916–1979) in a ceremony presided over by the Communist leader Zhou Enlai. The couple had five children in the next decade and half.

Cultural Representative

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 Guo took several important positions in the government as a leader in cultural circles. He became one of the thirteen vice directors, along with Song Qingling, Lin Boqu, and Li Jishen, of the Standing Committee of the First National People’s Congress and one of the sixteen vice chairs of the Political Consultant Council in 1954. In the same year Guo was one of the leading intellectuals designated by the government to organize the Chinese Academy of Science and later was appointed president of the academy, the highest research institution in China. Abroad Guo was arguably the cultural representative for the new China. Throughout the 1950s he led several Chinese delegations to the World Conference to Defend Peace, held in Moscow and Stockholm. In 1955, in absence of diplomatic relations between China and Japan, Guo led a ten-person Chinese science delegation for a month-long visit to Japan. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) Guo continued his official functions as cultural leader and was placed under protection by order of Zhou Enlai, but lost one son to the abuse of the Red Guards and another to suicide. Guo survived the Cultural Revolution and died at age eighty-seven in 1977.

Guo left a legacy of romantic poetry that represented a youthful yearning for freedom during the May Fourth era, a deep engagement and paradoxical relationship with Japan and Japanese culture, and a record of using his literary talent and scholarly knowledge in the service of Communist power.

Further Reading

Gong Jimin & Fang Rennian. (1982). Guo Moruo nianpu [A chronological biography of Guo Moruo]. Tianjin, China: Tianjin remin chubanshe.

Gong Jimin & Fang Rennian. (1988). Guo Moruo chuan [A biography of Guo Moruo]. Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe.

Guo Moruo. (1957–1963). Moruo Wenji [A collection of works by Moruo]. Beijing: Remin wenxue chubanshe.

Lee, L. O. (1973). The romantic generation of modern Chinese writers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lu Yan. (2004). Re-understanding Japan: Chinese perspectives, 18951945. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Qian Liqun, Wen Rumin, & Wu Fuhui. (1998). Zhongguo xiandai wenxue sanshinian [Thirty years of modern Chinese literature]. Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe.

Roy, D. T. (1971). Kuo Mo-jo: The early years. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Source: Lu, Yan. (2009). GUO Moruo. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 967–968. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

GUO Moruo (Gu? Mòruò ???)|Gu? Mòruò ??? (GUO Moruo)

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