Xiao Hong (1911–1942)

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Xiao Hong (1911–1942)

Chinese author . Name variations: Hsiao Hung; Chang Nai Ying; Zhang Naiying; Chiao Yin. Born near Harbin, China, in 1911; died on January 22, 1942, in Hong Kong; attended a girls' school in Harbin, beginning 1926; fled from an arranged marriage, in 1928; became common-law wife of Duanmu Hongliang, in 1938.

Selected novels:

The Field of Life and Death (1935); Ma Bole (1941); Tales of the Hulan River; also wrote short stories and collaborated on the journal Qu-yne.

The Chinese novelist Xiao Hong was born Zhang Naiying in a wealthy landholding family in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. When she was nine, her mother died, and Xiao Hong was raised by her cold and strict father, nurtured only by a loving grandfather who read classical poetry to her. She attended a girls' school in nearby Harbin for about five years, starting at age 15. Exposed to Chinese, American, and Russian literature, she became politically liberal, espousing democratic views, but was expelled for her activities. Her father quickly arranged a marriage for her to ensure that she would not dishonor their family.

To avoid the forced marriage, Xiao Hong fled first to Harbin, where she lived with a married teacher, then followed him to Beijing. The details of her months in Beijing are unknown—she may have spent time with her intended husband after separating from her lover—but two years later she was back in Harbin, pregnant and homeless. She began a relationship with a newspaper writer, Xiao Jun, who helped launch her literary career in Harbin. They published a collection of short stories, Bashe (The Long Journey) in 1933. The following year they went to Shandong, where Xiao Hong wrote Shengsi Chang (The Field of Life and Death), published in Shanghai in 1935. Although she would publish under several names, she is best known as Xiao Hong. The work, which describes life in northeast China during the Japanese occupation, reflects both Xiao Hong's rural upbringing and her Chinese patriotism in the face of Japanese aggression. Critically acclaimed, the novel made Xiao Hong a celebrity in Shanghai. She followed up in 1936 with a second novel, Shangshi Jie (Market Street). However, as the Chinese struggle against invading Japanese forces continued, Xiao Hong and Xiao Jun had to leave Shanghai and settle in Chonquig. There Xiao Hong collaborated with writer Hu Feng and published a leftist journal, Qu-yne.

Her relationship with Xiao Jun ended in 1936, and she moved to Hong Kong with writer Duanmu Hongliang, who became her commonlaw husband. Despite ill health, Xiao Hong continued writing. Minzu Hun (Soul of a Nation) was written in 1940 to commemorate the life of her friend and mentor Lu Xun. Hulan He Chuan (Tales of Hulan River), published in 1941, was largely an autobiographical work which described her unhappy childhood. She sent a copy of Tales to Upton Sinclair, initiating a warm literary friendship. Many of Xiao Hong's best-known short stories, including the poetic "Hands" and "The Bridge," as well as her longer works, reveal a feminist consciousness and criticize the oppression of women in Chinese law and culture. However, as these themes are integrated into others, few of her works can be labeled as specifically feminist fiction. Other themes developed in her work examine the harsh life of peasants in rural China and the need for Chinese to unite and protect Chinese civilization against Japan.

During the Japanese attack on Hong Kong in December 1940, Xiao Hong became ill, spending her final days in Queen Mary's Hospital. She died of a throat infection in January 1942. Xiao Hong is now considered one of the most important modern Chinese writers. Her poetry and prose works have been often reprinted and have been translated into several languages, including English.


Colby, Vineta, ed. World Authors, 1975–1980. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1985.

Magill, Frank N., ed. Cyclopedia of World Authors. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1997.

Robinson, Lillian S., ed. Modern Women Authors. NY: Continuum, 1996.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California