Born in 1899 to a poor Manchu family in Beijing, Lao She became one of the most important figures of 20th century Chinese literature. Both a playwright and novelist, Lao She’s works explore the dark side of the times he lived through, including the Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945). Among the major themes in Lao She’s writings are those of human frailty and cruelty with strong overtones of social and cultural commentary of the times in which they were written.
Lao She’s early childhood was critical in the way that his writings developed, especially thematically. In 1901, at the age of two, Lao She lost his father, who was a guard soldier, to a street fight during the Boxer Rebellion. Growing up, his mother struggled to provide for the family and often regaled Lao She with frightening stories of war and “barbaric foreign devils”, which the writer later recalled as being more terrifying than children’s monster stories.
Despite the family’s financial difficulties, Lao She attended Beijing Normal University and went on to teach in local high schools before moving to London in 1924. It was here, while serving as a lecturer at the School of Oriental [and African] Studies, that Lao She began to read in English. He absorbed a great deal of classical English literature and is said to have been especially influenced by the works of Charles Dickens, whose themes of social inequality and human suffering no doubt resonated with Lao She. Read the rest of this entry »