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Life is a gift, and all individuals have an opportunity to shape it the way they would like, but there are others who are passionate about what they do to the extent of perfecting a particular field or activity. The world appreciates those who have made a mark on humanity by trying to make the earth a better place. In the field of literature and activism, Lao She will be remembered and loved by many for his great works that have remained inspirational by promoting good governance and high morals to all. This essay aims at discussing the life and activities of Lao She.
Lao She, a famous Chinese novelist and dramatist, whose birth name was Shu Qingchun, was born in Beijing on February 3, 1899. Being born to the low-income family of the Manchu descent, he had an unfortunate upbringing. Lao She's father was a guard soldier who died in 1901 in a street battle with the Eight-Nation Allied forces during the Boxer Rebellion that took place in China toward the end of the Qing dynasty. It was an anti-Christian and anti-foreign uprising that was fueled by proto-nationalist views and resistance to imperialist expansion. This chaos in the society at the time of his upbringing influenced Lao She’s critical thinking, thus shaping his ways of addressing such issues. According to Lao She, the stories that were told of monsters who were ruthless to people were nothing compared to the true stories his mother told him about savages and brutal foreigners.
Lao She attended Beijing Normal School currently known as the Beijing Third High School but in 1913, he dropped out after several months due to financial constraints. He was, however, lucky enough to be admitted to Beijing Normal University where he graduated in 1918. It was one of the old prestigious public universities in China that paid specific attention to basic disciplines of sciences and humanities.
After graduating in 1918, Lao She's writing and teaching career started. He served as a faculty member and a principal in several elementary schools in Beijing and Tianjin. Lao She was a Christian, and he was baptized in 1922 at London Church. Owing to the help of the Church and Reverend Robert Kenneth Evans, he moved to London in 1924 to work as a teacher. During 1924-1929, Lao She worked as a lecturer at the University of London. He was a faculty member at the School of Oriental Studies in the Chinese Section. It was during this time that he acquired extensive English literature and utilized it in starting his writing. These experiences later served as the basis for writing Lao She's work Mr. Ma and Son.
Lao She left London for Singapore in 1929 to teach in one of the Chinese high schools. During 1930-1937, he taught at several universities that included Cheeloo University and Shandong University. He also led the Chinese Writers’ Anti-aggression Association. The association was founded with the aim of uniting cultural workers against the Japanese. Nevertheless, Lao She had always stayed neutral in the ideological discussions between different literary groups.
Lao She was a talented writer who was able to write at different levels, and he knew how to communicate his message to all people with ease and passion. He would make a small event or person the primary focus, and by providing a compassionate insight and using natural humor together with satire, he made the story attractive and entertaining to a broad range of his audience. Among his works, Lao She wrote novels, such as Cat Country, and plays, for instance, Teahouse that is a good example of art. His style of writing was called baihua, which is a Beijing dialect that entailed writing in vernacular. It gave the audience the image of the ordinary people who were the majority.
Lao She’s works described the lives of the Chinese people during the first half of the 20th century. For instance, in his fictional work Mr. Ma and Son, he talks about the family trying to settle in a foreign country where they are discriminated upon, which is based on the writer’s experiences. However, the humor in this work shows that even amidst such treatment and attitude, most people consider it normal and do not address this issue. In most of his works, he also spoke about the ills of the government and their effect on the society, and he used allegorical writing together with sarcasm and humor to make the subject more entertaining and educating for the majority of Chinese people. His commentaries on the contemporary China were clearly understood by his readers. However, the founders of China's literary did not always appreciate his modernist critiques and natural style, especially after the revolution.
Lao She’s character was significantly influenced by the May Fourth Movement. He was grateful to the movement at a personal level as it gave him a new spirit and helped orient his mind. Furthermore, the May Fourth Movement gave him a political ideology on which he based most of his works.
Lao She was an activist who practiced positive criticism in his writing, which can be seen in his book Teahouse. This was a social commentary on the changes, problems, and culture in China during the early twentieth century. The criticism is also evident in his other work Cat Country, which was an observation on China that had thinly-veiled historic references. Civilization in China was at the point of stagnation and the action toward change was not considered. From his ideology above, it is obvious that Lao She was a patriot. Through his writing, he offered a platform through which change could easily be brought to his country by the government as he laid the facts on the table. He did not follow the mainstream thoughts and style; instead, he chose a different path so that he could impact his country positively.
Lao She was an active cultural man who valued the Chinese culture in all aspects, which was the main reason he did not take alcohol or any other toxic substances as this was against his culture. He was primarily influenced by Charles Dickens, who was a social critic and one of the best-known writers of the Victorian era. In addition, while working and living in London, he was also influenced by the Western culture, as well as English novels and writers who inspired and acted as role models for him. Out of these interactions, Lao She shaped his works that aimed at addressing the issue of social justice in the society. He was determined to lead his fellow Chinese in attaining what was right and just. Most of his works, especially Teahouse, are a reflection of the Chinese culture, as he demonstrated how good the Chinese life would be if the government treated its citizens fairly. In this work, he explored the corruption as the social turmoil that had been witnessed by the Chinese people. He also had a chance to travel to the rest of the world due to his love for the culture. For instance, in 1946, Lao She came to the United States because the State Department sponsored a two-year cultural grant in this country. Lao She had stayed in the United States for three years and become the Chinese ambassador on the issues of culture since at this time he received an opportunity to market his works.
During the Cultural Revolution of the mid-1960s, Lao She like other elite in China was mistreated. This was a sociopolitical movement whose aim was said to be the preservation of the real and genuine communist ideology. Lao She was attacked by the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution, which was primarily a group of students who attacked him for opposing the revolution. They marched him through the streets and beat him up in public. This act of shame happened outside the temple in Beijing that was known as the temple of Confucius. This left Lao She both mentally and physically humiliated and it led to him committing suicide in Beijing's Taiping Lake where he drowned himself in 1966. However, it was once mentioned that it was possible that Lao She was murdered.
In summary, Lao She will be remembered for his literary works that used satire to show patriotism while instilling good morals in the society. Despite his life being difficult, especially after losing his father while being young, he still had the will to do what most have not achieved. He also was converted to Christianity while being in London. His preferred writing style was baihua, and most of his works were fiction and plays. Among the themes that Lao She addressed, one can outline the critique of the ills of the government and the description of the life of the Chinese people. He was involved in politics and was greatly influenced by the May Fourth Movement. The writer has left a mark on the humanity, as he taught many people during his career as both a writer and a teacher and enlightened the society with the help of his works.
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