Shen Congwen, pictured with his wife, the writer Zhang Zhaohe; they were one of China’s most famous literary couples.

Shen Congwen wrote poetry, novels, essays, short stories, and novellas. After the Chinese Communist Party took control of the government in 1949, Shen was branded a conservative, and his books were banned.

Born in Fenghuang Chen (Phoenix Town), a scenic village populated by the Miao minority in Hunan Province, Shen Congwen briefly attended primary school and then went to a military training camp to carry on the family tradition of soldiering. Shen began writing after witnessing the horrors of military campaigns. At age twenty he went to Beijing, became co-editor of the journal Modern Critic, and gradually gained recognition for his literary talents. Shen wrote in many genres, including poetry, novels, and essays, but was best known for short stories and novellas, including “Three Men and a Girl,” “The Lovers,” and “Gazing at Rainbows.”

Like his contemporaries, Shen was influenced by Western writers such as Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, and James Joyce. Later he moved to Shanghai, where he continued to write. Shen’s main sources of inspiration were the Chinese countryside, military life, and the Miao minority ethnic group of Hunan. In 1949 Shen’s productive streak ended after the Communists took power. The Chinese Communist Party labeled Shen a conservative and banned his books. For several decades Shen ceased to write fiction and instead studied porcelain making and the history of Chinese costume, a subject about which he published a renowned study. In the 1980s, as an old man, Shen began to write again, and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, until his death.

Further Reading

Nieh Hua-ling. (1972). Shen Ts’ung-wen. New York: Twayne.

Shen Congwen. (1982). The Chinese Earth: Stories by Shen Tseng-wen (Ching Ti & R. Payne, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.

Shen Congwen. (1995). Imperfect paradise (J. Kinkley, Ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Source: Vanderven, Elizabeth. (2009). SHEN Congwen. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1957–1957. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

SHEN Congwen (Shěn Cóngwén 沈从文)|Shěn Cóngwén 沈从文 (SHEN Congwen)

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