Guo Moruo

Guo Moruo

[gwaw maw-rwaw, -zhwaw]
Guo Moruo or Kuo Mo-jo, 1892-1978, Chinese writer and scholar. He co-founded the Creation Society, which promoted a romantic style of writing. His love stories and experiments in free verse, particularly his poetry collection The Goddesses (1921), won immediate popularity. He wrote several historical plays, notably Ch'ü Yüan (1942), about the dissident poet of the 4th-century B.C.; Guo, an avowed Marxist, wrote it while living in territory controlled by the Nationalist Party. He also wrote numerous studies on Chinese archaeology, history, and literature. He served as a prominent government official from 1949 until his death.

See biography by D. T. Roy (1971).

Guo Moruo (courtesy name Dǐng Táng 鼎堂) (November 16, 1892 - June 12,1978) was a Chinese author, poet, historian, archaeologist, and government official from Sichuan, China.


Family history

Guo Moruo, originally named Guo Kaizhen, was born on November 10 or 16 (he was not sure himself), in the small town of Shawan (沙湾区, 'Sandy Cove') (now, part of the "prefecture-level city" of Leshan) in China's Sichuan province. Shawan is located on the Dadu River some 40 km southwest from what was then called the city of Jiading (Chia-ting), and now is the "central city" of the "prefecture-level city" of Leshan.

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 Moruo - originally known under his birth name, Guo Kaizhen (Kuo K'ai-chen) - was the 8th child of his mother. Three of his siblings had died before he was born, but more children were born later, so by the time he went to school, he had 7 siblings.

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.

Study Abroad

Following his elder borthers, Guo Moruo left China in December 1913, arriving to Japan in the early January 1914. After a year of preparatory study in Tokyo, he entered Sixth Higher School in Okayama. After graduation, he entered in 1918 the Medical School of Kyushyu Imperial University (九州帝国大学) in Fukuoka. There he fell in love with a Japanese woman who became his common-law wife. His studies at this time focused on foreign language and literature, namely that of: Spinoza, Goethe, Walt Whitman, and the Bengali poet Tagore. Along with numerous translations, he published his first poem anthology, titled The Goddesses (女神 - nǚ shén) (1921). He was one of the co-founder of the Ch'uang-tsao she ("Creation Society") in Shanghai, which promoted modern and vernacular literature.

The war years

He joined the Communist Party of China in 1927. He was involved in the Communist Nanchang Uprising and fled to Japan after its failure. He stayed there for 10 years studying Chinese ancient history until he returned in 1937 to join the anti-Japanese resistance. Guo remarried in 1939 to Yu Lichun. After the war, his Japanese wife went to reunite with him but was disappointed to know that he had already formed a new family.

A communist leader

Along with holding important government offices in the People's Republic of China, he was a prolific writer, not just of poetry but also fiction, plays, autobiographies, translations, and historical and philosophical treatises. He was the first President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and remained so from its founding in 1949 until his death in 1978. He was also the first president of University of Science & Technology of China (USTC), a new type of university established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) after the founding of the People's Republic of China and aimed at fostering high-level personnel of science and technology. He produced his study of inscriptions on oracle bones and bronze vessels, Liang Chou chin wen tz'u ta hsi t'u lu k'ao shih (Pinyin: “Liangzhou jinwenci daxi tulu kaoshi”) (1935 “Corpus of Inscriptions on Bronzes from the Two Zhou Dynasties”). In this work, he attempted to demonstrate, according to the Communist doctrine, the “slave society” nature of ancient China. His theory on the "slave society of China" remains highly controversial, although it was praised by Mao and the party.

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).


  • Encyclopædia Britannica 2005 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD, article- "Guo Moruo"
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