Lao She (1899-1966) was born of Manchu
descent in Beijing. His father, who was a guard soldier, died in a street battle
during the Boxer uprising. Fatherless since early childhood, Lao She worked his
way through Peking Teacher's College. After graduation he supported himself and
his mother through a series of teaching and administrative post. He served as a
principal of an elementary school at the age of 17, and later he was a district
supervisor. Lao She spent the years from 1924 to 1929 in London, where he taught
Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies. By reading among others
the novels of Charles Dickens, Lao She improved his English, and decided to
start his fist novel.
In 1931 Lao She returned to China and
continued to write and teach in various universities. Partly modeled on
Fielding's Tom Jones, Lao She turned to humor. He reversed his early
individualist theme and stressed the futility of the individual's struggle
against society as a whole. In Rickshaw Boy Lao She traced the degrading
and ruin of a industrious Peking rickshaw puller, who finally dies on a snowy
The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War
(1937-1945) radically altered Lao She's views. Between the years 1937 and 1945
he wrote a number of plays, worked as a propagandist, and headed the All-China
Anti-Japanese Writers Federation.
Between the years 1946 and 1949 Lao She
lived in the United States on a cultural grant at the invitation of the
Department of State. When the People's Republic was established in 1949, Lao She
returned to China.
He was a member of the Cultural and
Educational Committee in the Government Administration Council, a deputy to the
National People's Congress, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese
People's Political Consultative Conference, vice-chairman of the All-Cina
Federation of Literature and Art and vice-chairman of the Union of Chinese
Writers as well as chairman of the Beijing Federation of Literature and Art. He
was named a "People's Artist" and a "Great Master of Language".
Lao She died in 1966, in the times of the
Cultural Revolution. His last novel was The Drum Singers (1952), which
was published only in English. Since the fall of Jiang Qing, guiding hand of the
Cultural Revolution, in 1971, Lao She's works has been republished.
Among Lao She's most frequently performed
plays is Teahouse, which was written in 1957. The events are set in the
Beijing teahouse of Wang Lifa during three different periods: 1898 under the
empire, the 1910s under the warlords and around 1945 after World War Two.
Towards the end, Wang and his friends confess the failure of their lives. The
teahouse is requisitioned as a club and Wang is offered a job as doorman --
however, he has already hanged himself -- The Beijing People's Art Theatre
performed the play in 1980 in West Germany and France.