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Lao She's Life


Lao She (1899-1966)

Lao She, pen name of Shu She Yu and sometimes spelled as Lau Shaw, is pronounced so that Lao rhymes with "hao," and She is pronounced like "shuh," is one of the best loved and most highly respected writers in China. He himself said he was not a novelist though his novel Luotuo Xiangzi ("Rickshaw" or "Camel Xiangzi" in English) proves him wrong. He stoutly refused to be called a dramatist, though his play Chaguan ("Teahouse") refutes this. He said more than once he was merely a shuo ping shu ren -- a "storyteller."

He excelled in telling a story much like the English writers he admired -- Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Some critics have said Lao She was the Mark Twain of China because of his unusual insight into the subtle nuances of people. He saw humor in the everyday experiences of life. He could laugh at himself and get points across with humor, often tinted with his own brand of satire.

He was one of hundreds of intellectuals who died during the ten-year Cultural Revolution that rocked China from 1966-1976. Those years of turmoil were neither cultural nor revolutionary. They were the result of power-hungry egos and paranoid leaders. The decade of terror resulted in a "lost generation." What the Chinese allowed to happen to themselves has no parallel in history. The common people suffered the most and their champion was one of the victims. CARTOON

Lao She was acclaimed "The People's Artist," was among the first to die in the early days of the Cultural Revolution. His untimely death on August 24, 1966 was due to the humiliation, both physical and mental, that the Red Guards heaped upon him outside his office in the Cultural Affairs building and in the courtyard of the Beijing Confucian Temple. He died in the city of his birth and the city he loved so much. No writer has ever put into words the language, thoughts, customs and lifestyle of Beijing and its people as has Lao She.

Hu Jieqing (Madame Lao She)

23 December 1905 - 21 May 2001
Hu Jieqing's Art
Bamboo Scene
by Hu Jieqing

Hu Jieqing was a Manchu just as was Lao She (Shu Qingchun, Lau Shaw). Her father was a minor official. At birth she was given the name Yu Zhen. Her style-name was Jieqing. Growing up, her family had a little easier time of it than did Lao She's. After she finished college she and some other friends organized the zhen she (Truth Society), a literary group that met to discuss the times and write articles for whatever papers would print them. She wrote poems and prose under the pen name Yan Yan. She died May 21, 2001 in Beijing, China.

After Lao She's first year of teaching in Shandong province, he returned to Peking in the late summer of 1931. It was then that he and Hu Jieqing were marrried. Years before they were classmates at Peking [Beijing] Normal University.

Hu Jieqing was twenty-seven when she married Lao She.

Their wedding was a combination of the old and the new. The wishes of the parents were observed in the traditional way. In the new tradition they chose to wed because they truly loved each other. Lao She asked Bao Leshan [also known as Bao Guanglin], the humble Christian preacher and revolutionary, to perform the ceremony. Xiao Boqing was the best man.

Lao She and Hu Jieqing's first home was at number 54, Cheng Li New South Road, Jinan, Shandong province, not far from the university. Hu Jieqing taught school nearby and often took classes at the university. One of her many memories is how often the students and friends visited their home. They loved nothing better than to have friends in for conversation, exchange of ideas, fun and fellowship. When people left their company they were always the better for it. They brought a smile to faces, young and old.

No one understood Lao She as well as did Jieqing. She felt as he did when he wrote: "I will always be a child, I love children. They bring an innocent brightness, they are the new pages of history, impressing on us what we do not know --things we can only hope for. Children are our joy. They are our hope."

After Lao She's sudden death at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, his widow continued her painting as well as efforts to see that Lao She's works were once again published and his name cleared of the Red Guard's false accusations. Now his works are published by many publishers in China and Taiwan as well as in languages around the world. A book of her paintings was published in the 1990's and there have been many exhibitions of her work shown in China and the western world.

She leaves behind a son, Shu Yi, three daughters, Shu Ji, Shu Yu and Shu Li and many grandchildren.

The last time I visited with her was at a performance of "Teahouse" in Beijing, February 3, 1999, honoring the centenary of Lao She's birth. She was a gracious lady and my memories of her are of a kind and gentle person that was open to new ideas and helpful to all who came to her. Hu Jieqing's art work is among the outstanding innovators of twentieth century Chinese art.

In September, 2001, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, held an exhibition in honor of Hu Jieqing's life and work. The Towery-Lao She Collection and the Asian Studies Program of Southern Methodist University are sponsoring the event.

For more on the lives of these outstanding artists get the only book in English about them: "Lao She, China's Master Storyteller," published in 1999 by The Tao Foundation.


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