Roads to Salvation: Shen Congwen, Xiao Qian and
the Problem of Non-Communist Celebrity Writers, 1948-1957

By Jenny Huangfu

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 22, no. 2 (Fall 2010), pp. 39-87

Drawing on the contrasting experiences of Shen Congwen and Xiao Qian, two renowned liberal writers from the Republican era, this essay explores the world of non-Communist, celebrity writers in the early years of the PRC. Utilizing a wide range of first-hand sources, including Shen Congwen’s letters and diaries, the author traces the two liberal writers’ quest to accommodate themselves to the Communist order through all the major political campaigns from 1949 to 1957. She pays particular attention to their internal struggles over the meaning of their actions and the intersection between political campaigns and personal quests for survival and success.

Huangfu argues that among non-Communist writers, Shen and Xiao occupy two opposite ends of a spectrum in their career choices. Whereas Shen Congwen retreated from the literary world and quietly took up a job as an art historian, Xiao Qian wrote propagandistic literature for the Party, and secured a position as the deputy editor of the famous Wenyi bao on the eve of the Hundred Flowers Campaign. In their differing behaviors in various political campaigns, and their antipathy towards each other, the author sees a deep-seated divergence in their views about writers’ roles vis-à-vis the Party and society.