Zhang Henshui (Chinese: 张恨水; Wade–Giles: Chang Hen-shui; May 18, 1895 – February 15, 1967) was the pen name of Zhang Xinyuan (张心远), a popular and prolific Chinese novelist. He published more than 100 novels in his 50 years of fiction writing.
Born and raised in Nanchang, Zhang moved to Qianshan, Anhui, his ancestral home, at the age of 16, after his father's death. Keen in classical vernacular (baihua) literature since youth, he began composing in the vein of zhanghui xiaoshuo (章回小说), novels written in vernacular style using classical Chinese poetry as chapter headings. He joined the press in 1918 as an editor and took up novel-writing as a hobby. The first of his novels serialized was A Pining Song for the Southern Country (南国相思谱, Nanguo xiangsi pu, 1919). After departing for Beijing in 1919 to work as a newspaper editor, his first major long work, An Unofficial History of Beijing (春明外史, Chunming Waishi, 1929), was serialized between 1924 and 1929. It was a huge success and established him as the pre-eminent popular novelist of his generation.
His masterpieces A Family of Distinction (金粉世家, Jinfen shijia, 1927–32) and Fate in Tears and Laughter (啼笑因缘, Tixiao Yinyuan, 1930) were much more perspicaciously planned than his earlier books. At the height of his popularity he concurrently worked on six novels on serialization, in between his career as a press-man and editor.
The fourth of his major works, Eighty-One Dreams (八十一梦, Bashiyi meng), was published in 1941. This work, perhaps the most representative of his 40-odd novels set during the War of Resistance against Japan, uses parables and dream sequences to satirize the corrupt bureaucracy. Suffering a stroke in 1949, Zhang temporarily lost the ability to walk, but continued to write.
It is estimated that throughout his life Zhang wrote a total of some 30 million Chinese characters in over 110 novels. His works emphasize realistic dialogue, often interposing people from different social strata and were thus hugely popular amongst the Chinese public from 1920s to 1940s. He died of a brain hemorrhage in 1967 in Beijing.
- Zhang Henshui and Popular Chinese Fiction, 1919-1949 by Thomas Michael McClellan (Edwin Mellen Press, 2005)
- Shanghai Express: A thirties novel, trans. by William A. Lyell (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997).