See biography by D. T. Roy (1971).
At the time of Guo's birth, Shawan was a town of some 180 families.
Guo Moruo's father's ancestors were Hakkas from Ninghua County (xian) in Tingzhou fu, near the western border of Fujian. They moved to Sichuan in the second half of the 17th century, after Sichuan had lost much of its population to the rebels/bandits of Zhang Xianzhong (ca. 1605-1647). According to the family legend, the only possessions that Guo's ancestors brought to Sichuan were things they could carry on their backs. Guo Moruo's great-grandfather, Guo Xianlin, was the first in the family to achieve a degree of prosperity. Guo Xianlin's sons established the Guo clan as the leaders of the local river shipping business, and thus important people in that entire region of Sichuan. It was only then that the Guo clan members became able to send their children to school.
Guo Moruo's father, one of whose names may possibly have been Guo Mingxing (1854-1939) had to drop out of school at the age of 13, spent half a year at an apprentice at a salt well, and then entered his father's business. A shrewd and smart man, who also obtained some local renown as a Chinese medicine doctor, he traded successfully dealings in oils, opium, liquor, and grain, and operared a money changing business. His business success allowed him to magnify family's real estate and salt well holdings.
Guo Moruo's mother, in contrast, came from the scholar-official background. She was a daughter of Du Zhouzhang (Tu Cho-chang), a holder of the coveted jinshi (chin-shih) degree. When serving as an acting magistrate in Huangping prefecture (zhou) (in eastern Guizhou), Du died heroically in 1858 when fighting Miao rebels, when his daughter (future Guo Moruo's mother) was less than a year old. She married into Guo family in 1872, when she was just 14.
Guo also had the childhood name Guo Wenbao ('Cultivated Leopard'), given due to the dream his mother had on the night he was conceived.
A few years before Guo Moruo was born, his parents retained a private tutor, Shen Huanzhang, to provide education for their children, in the hope of them later passing civil service examinations. A precocious child, Guo Moruo started studying at this "family school" in the spring of 1897, at the early age of four and half. Initially, the study was based on Chinese classics, but since the government education reforms of 1901, mathematics and other modern subjects started to be introduced.
When in the fall of 1903 a number of public schools were established in Sichuan's capital, Chengdu, Guo children started going there to study. Guo Moruo's oldest brother, Guo Kaiwen (1877-1936), entered one of them, Dongwen Xuetang, a secondary school preparing students for study in Japan; the next oldest brother, Guo Kaizou (K'ai-tso), joined Wubei Xuetang, a military school. Guo Kaiwen soon became instrumental in exposing his brother and sisters still in Shawan to modern books and magazines that allowed them to learn about the wide world outside.
Guo Kaiwen continued to be a role model for his younger brothers when in February 1905 he left for Japan, to study law and administration in Tokyo Imperial University on a provincial government's scholarship.
After passing competitive examinations, in the early 1906 Guo Moruo started attending the new upper-level primary school (gaodeng xiao xue) in Jiading. It was a boarding school, located in a former Buddhist temple, and the boy lived on premises. He continued to a middle school in 1907, acquiring by this time the reputation of an academically gifted student but a troublemaker. His peers respected him and often elected him a delegate to represent their interests in front of the school administration. Often spearheading student-faculty conflicts, he was expelled and reinstated a few times, and finally expelled for good in October 1909.
Young Guo was, in a sense, glad to be expelled, as he now had a reason to go to the provincial capital Chengdu to continue his education there.
In October 1911, Guo was surprised by his mother announcing that a marriage was arranged for him. He went along with his family's wishes, marrying his appointed bride, Zhang Jinghua, sight-unseen in Shawan in March 1912. Immediately, he regretted this marriage, and five days after the marriage, he left his ancestral home and returned to Chengdu, leaving his wife behind. He never formally divorced her, but apparently never lived with her either.
In 1966 he was one of the first to be attacked in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. He confessed that he had not properly understood the thought of Mao Zedong, and agreed that his works should be burned. However, this was not enough to protect his family. Two of his sons died following persecution by Red Guards.
Unlike the others similarly attacked, Guo Moruo's was spared as he was chosen by Mao as "the representative of the rightwing" in the 9th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1969. He regained much of his influence by the seventies.
Guo Moruo was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (1951).