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He came from Qichun in the province of Hubei. In 1929, he went to study in Japan. In 1933, he was expelled from Japan and he joined the League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai. He was friends with Lu Xun. It was 1937, after the Second Sino-Japanese War, the journal Qiyue 七月 ("July") out. Further stations of his life were Wuhan and Chongqing.
He criticized the way Mao Zedong's notions of realism in art and literature had become overly politicized, losing touch with the everyday lives of the proletarian peasants whom art and literature would serve in a Marxist organization of Chinese society. Hu thus became himself a target of criticism. In 1954 he published the Politburo of the Communist Party of China "Report on the practice and state of art and literature in recent years" (关于几年来文艺实践情况的报告), also known as "Three-hundred-thousand-word letter" (三十万言书). In 1955 he was arrested as a counter-revolutionary, detained, and released in 1979. In 1980, he was rehabilitated.
He was the only modern Chinese author to have openly stood up for freedom of expression against Mao and for this he was incarcerated for 20 years. After coming out of prison he was mentally affected and required hospital treatment; he later attempted suicide.
- Cf. Liu Kang, Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and Their Western Contemporaries (Durham: Duke University Press), 91-93.
- "The City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the history of China." from Oxford University Press.