Zhou Zuoren

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Zhou Zuoren
Zhou Zuoren.jpg
Born (1885-01-16)16 January 1885
Shaoxing, Zhejiang, Qing Empire
Died 6 May 1967(1967-05-06) (aged 82)
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Relatives Zhou Shuren (elder brother)
Zhou Jianren (younger brother)

Zhou Zuoren (Chinese: 周作人; pinyin: Zhōu Zuòrén; Wade–Giles: Chou Tso-jen) (16 January 1885 – 6 May 1967) was a Chinese writer, primarily known as an essayist and a translator. He was the younger brother of Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren), the second of three brothers.


Early life[edit]

Born in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, he was educated at the Jiangnan Naval Academy as a teenager. Following the steps of his brother Lu Xun, he left for Japan to pursue his studies in 1906. During his stint in Japan, he began studying Ancient Greek, with the aim of translating the Gospels into Classical Chinese, and attended lectures on Chinese philology by scholar-revolutionary Zhang Binglin at Rikkyo University, although he was supposed to study civil engineering there. He returned to China in 1911, with his Japanese wife, and began to teach in different institutions.

During the May Fourth Movement[edit]

Writing essays in vernacular Chinese for the influential magazine La Jeunesse, Zhou was a key figure in the May Fourth Movement. He was an advocate of literary reform. In a 1918 article, he called for a "humanist literature" in which "any custom or rule that goes against human instincts and nature should be rejected or rectified". As examples, he cited children sacrificing themselves for their parents and wives being buried alive to accompany their dead husbands. Zhou's ideal literature was both democratic and individualistic. On the other hand, Zhou made a distinction between "democratic" and "popular" literature. Common people may understand the latter, but not the former. This implies a difference between common people and the elite.[1] Zhou condemned elite traditional performances like the Beijing opera. He called it "disgusting," "nauseating," "pretentious" and referred to the singing as "a weird inhuman sound."[2]

His short essays, with their refreshing style, won him many readers up to the present day. An avid reader, he called his studies "miscellanies", and penned an essay title "My Miscellaneous Studies" (我的雜學). He was particularly interested in folklore, anthropology and natural history. One of his favorite writers was Havelock Ellis. He was also a prolific translator, producing translations of classical Greek and classical Japanese literatures. Most of his translations are pioneering, which include a collection of Greek mimes, Sappho's lyrics, Euripides' tragedies, Kojiki, Shikitei Sanba's Ukiyoburo, Sei Shōnagon's Makura no Sōshi and a collection of Kyogen. He considered his translation of Lucian's Dialogues, which he finished late in his life, as his greatest literary achievement. He was also the first one to translate (from English) the story Ali Baba into Chinese (known as Xianü Nu 俠女奴). He became chancellor of Beijing University in 1939.

Later life[edit]

In 1945, after the Second Sino-Japanese War, Zhou was arrested for treason by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, stemming from his alleged collaboration with the Wang Jingwei government during the Japanese occupation of north China. Zhou was sentenced to 14 years in Nanjing Prison, but was released in 1949 by the Communist government after a pardon. Later that year he returned to Beijing. He continued to write and translate, but published his works under pseudonyms. He died during the Cultural Revolution.


  1. ^ Feng, Liping (April 1996). "Democracy and Elitism: The May Fourth Ideal of Literature". Modern China. Sage Publications, Inc. 22 (2): 170–196. ISSN 0097-7004. JSTOR 189342. 
  2. ^ Nicholas D. Krsitof: Beijing Opera Is 200 and Facing a Crisis. In: The New York Times, Nov. 1, 1990


A great number of books about Zhou Zuoren are published in Chinese every year. For basic information about his life and works, see:

  • Zhang Juxiang 张铁荣 and Zhang Tierong 张菊香 (ed.s) (1986). Zhou Zuoren yanjiu ziliao (周作人硏究资料 "Materials for the study of Zhou Zuoren"). 2 volumes. Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe.

For Western language studies, see:

  • Daruvala, Susan (2000). Zhou Zuoren and An Alternative Chinese Response to Modernity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center.
  • Georges Bê Duc (2010). Zhou Zuoren et l'essai chinois moderne. Paris: L'Harmattan.

Comprehensive editions of his works and translations include:

  • Zhi'an 止庵 (ed.) (2002). Zhou Zuoren zibian wenji (周作人自编文集 "Zho Zuroen's essays as arranged by himself"). 34 volumes. Shijiazhuang: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe.
  • Zhong Shuhe 钟叔河 (ed.) (1998). Zhou Zuoren wen leibian (周作人文类编 "Zhou Zuoren's essays as arranged by subject matter"). 10 volumes. Changsha: Hunan wenyi chubanshe.
  • Zhou Zhouren (1999–). Kuyuzhai yicong (苦雨斋译丛 "Translations done at the Studio of Uninterrupted Rain"). 12 volumes have appeared. Beijing: Zhongguo duiwai fanyi chuban gongsi.

Some of his essays are available in English:

  • Pollard, David (trans.) (2006). Zhou Zuoren, Selected Essays. Chinese-English bilingual edition. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]