Brian Salter's Blogs:
Residence of a Contradiction…


One of the most famous 20th century novelists in China wrote under the pen name “Contradiction”. His most famous works are Ziye, a novel depicting life in cosmopolitan Shanghai, and Spring Silkworms. He also wrote many short stories

Guessed his name yet? Let me give you a clue. His real name was Shen Dehong…

Actually, his pen name was Mao Dun (矛盾), which he used to express the tensions inherent in the conflicting revolutionary ideology of China in the 1920s. As well as being a celebrated novelist, he was also the Minister of Culture of the PRC from 1949 to 1965, as well as working a while as Mao Zedong's secretary. He was dismissed from his position as minister in 1964 owing to the ideological upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, but he survived that and was afterwards ‘rehabilitated’.

Born in 1896, Mao Dun began his career as a writer in 1916. In 1920, he translated The Constitution of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union into Chinese, which was obviously a good move on his part as it later became the backbone of China’s own Communist Party Constitution. A year later, in Shanghai, Mao became the first writer to join the Communist Party of China.

In 1920, he helped found the Literary Study Society, an association promoting literary realism. Inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917, Mao Dun took part in the May Fourth Movement in China. He also joined the Shanghai Communist Team, and helped to establish the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.

So it’s not surprising that Mao’s last residence has been converted into a little museum. It’s a typical Beijing-style Siheyuan within a short walk of the famed drum and bell towers.

In the centre of the front courtyard is a square trellis, supporting a vine. It’s from this that Mao fixed up a swing for his granddaughter. I only hope the little lady had a slim build, as I’d hate to risk supporting my weight from that trellis!

There’s an almost total lack of English captions throughout, so if you intend to go, and don’t speak Chinese, it would be time well spent exploring the contents of Wikipedia before you go! Either that, or take your mobile phone with Google Translate set up on it, for some instant image translation.

Mao Dun was born on July 4, 1896, into an elite family in Zhejiang province but was educated in Beijing. He lived at the back courtyard here from 1974 until his death. His father Shen Yongxi taught and designed a curriculum for his son, but he died when Mao Dun was ten. His mother Chen Aizhu then taught him.

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

There are loads of photos and objects displayed in the eastern wing of the house, though even in Chinese there is often little in the way of explanatory text telling you what you are looking at. Here for instance we are simply told “Mao award medal”.

Likewise, this signature-clad “50th birthday memorial album” tells us nothing more, though a little digging on the internet tells us that over 500 guests came to celebrate his 50th birthday, including some Russian and American friends.

Here’s what is simply identified as “a letter written to Mao”. Surely someone could have done better than this!

Lonely Planet advises visitors to “look for the well-used 1940s fridge, standing in a glass case in the back courtyard”. Unfortunately, the back courtyard is no longer open to visitors, unless, like your favourite blogger, you pretend you can’t understand a word of all these signs everywhere and simply walk through. Huh! No fridge, well-used or otherwise!

On March 27, 1981, Mao Dun died in Beijing. On his deathbed, he donated royalties of 250,000 RMB to the Chinese Writers' Association as a fund to establish the Mao Dun Literature Award in order to encourage Chinese novelists.

A picture of Deng Xiaoping leading the General Assembly in paying tribute to Mao Dun on 11th April is also shown.

Take subway Line 6 or 8 to NanluoguXiang and leave from exit E. Walk due north up Nanluogu Hutong for 800m and turn right into Houyuan’ensi Hutong. The house is on the left 50m in.

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