Hong Shen in the Popular Press, 1924–1949

By Xuelei Huang

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 27, no.2  (Fall 2015), pp. 9-50

Hong Shen is best known as one of the founding fathers of spoken drama (huaju), and his plays and his roles as a dramatist have been widely acknowledged. In this essay, Xuelei Huang traces Hong’s personal life and reveals his ambiguous identities, multiple roles, and border-crossing activities. Drawing for source material mainly from the Republican-era popular print press, especially tabloid newspapers (xiaobao), fan magazines, and pictorials, she examines the image of Hong as reflected through the lens of popular journalism, focusing mainly on three aspects: his whereabouts, his circles of friends, and his family and personal life. This examination reveals that Hong Shen navigated various fields that crossed boundaries between old and new, left and right, and elite and popular, and his particular experiences and characteristics were common traits of Chinese intellectuals of the Republican period. The popular press sheds light on the gray area of Hong’s life and many facets of this image have been erased in later master historical narratives or narratives of the history of drama. An intimate look at Hong’s personal life also invites us to rethink the validity of conventional politically motivated groupings and the complex nature of the Republican-era cultural field.