Shen Congwen (1902-1988), originally named Shen Yuehuan, was born and bred in Tuojiang Town, Fenghuang County in Hunan Province. He was a great modern Chinese writer as well as a research scholar of historical cultural relics. More than seventy kinds of various works, with a total of more than five million characters were published in his lifetime. His magnum opus includesBian Cheng
(Frontier City),Chang He
(Long River) andCongwen Zizhuan
(The Autobiography). He was one of most representative writers of Chinese modern novels both at home and abroad.
Shen was known for his extraordinary intelligence and lasting memories even when he was young. He entered the old-style tutorial school at the age of six, and primary school at twelve, where he used to play truant a lot, as a result, he was sent to a local reservist technology class right after graduation from primary school. He left hometown when he was only 15. Following the local troops, he had been drifting along the Yuanshui River for five years, when China was under the dark control of warlords. Living with soldiers, peasants, handicraftsmen, and other people at the lowest stratum of the society, he experienced in person their miserable lives, witnessed the troops killing innocent people. However, the miserable and frightening experience helped him understand a small part of China in his special way, which actually built a solid foundation for his latter creations.
His early works are heterogeneous both in form and content. Inspired by Lu Xun's novels that took hometown life as the subject matter, his early works were mainly about hometown. Later, he was influenced by Feiming's (Feng Bingwen) style of writing novels in a lyric way and developed a form of lyric novel in new literature. He persistently dug out new subjects from his hometown and made a lot of colorful descriptions of the soldiers of the local troops, ethnic groups in west Hunan Province and the fates of the boatmen along Yuanshui River with strong local flavor, which, in fact, revealed a vivid picture of the life in west Hunan for the first time. However, these works usually attached too much importance on the peculiarity of the story and mysterious lifestyle of the aborigines. Later he gradually turned to sing praise of the uncouth power and intrepid temperament of the ethnic groups and residents in the frontier areas. Meanwhile, he paid a tribute to the purity and honesty of the people in that area, which was in sharp contrast with the modern civilization in big cities. This revealed the author's different feelings about different classes of the society.
Generally speaking, Shen's works were in an effort to eulogize a healthier way of life, a more humane and spiritual relationship between human beings, and to resume the original human nature that is contaminated or has vanished with modern civilization. Meanwhile, in a realistic way, he exposed the hypocrisy, vanity and the increasingly corrupt life of the so-called Gentlemen Class in big cities. Some of the other works also criticized the castrated notion of ancient officials. He also profoundly portrayed the trampled and oppressed figures of peasants. All of those works featured a strong flavor of realism. Shen was also good at describing local way of life, and this particularly had profound influence on the style of modern writers like Wang Zengqi, Ye Weilin and Gu Hua, etc.