Xiao Hong ('Little Red') was the pen name of Zhang Naiying, a Chinese writer that is considered part of the May 4th movement, although she was too young to participate in May 4th herself. However, her writings contained the political and social spirit of the May 4th movement, which were a desire to modernize and liberalize Chinese society.
She was born in the far Northeastern province of Heilong, to a family of small land owners. Her father and mother were both physically and emotionally abusive to her, and she was (as she later wrote in her autobiographical novel, Tales of Hulan River) disgusted with the backwardness and cruelty of the society she lived amongst. Her only positive relationship was with her kindly grandfather, who started her facination with literature. When she left her home at the age of 19, she would never return.
At the relatively young age of 19, she set out for Harbin, where she first met her lover, Xiao Chun, another famous leftist author who also physically and emotionally abused Xiao Hong. In Harbin, she begin her participation in politically and socially leftist movements, as well as the anti-Japanese resistance. In 1934, fearful of the Japanese, she fled south. At this point, still in her early 20s, she wrote "The Field of Life and Death", a book that helped galvanize anti-Japanese feeling. She ended up in Shanghai, where she met Lu Xun, the most famous writer of the era, who helped her financially and emotionally. He died soon, leaving Xiao Hong to wander the wartorn land of China, including a paradoxical trip to study in Japan. However, by 1942, she was in Hong Kong, and as a result of her emotional problems and the stress of war, she died at the age of 31.
Xiao Hong's entire finished work consists of a novel, an autobiographical novel, a biography of Lu Xun, and the first volume of a trilogy, along with a handful of short stories. Yet she is remembered as one of the dozen or so most important writers of her era. A short look at any of her stories will show why: in a time of rapid changing of theory and clique, her writings gave a direct, painfully raw look at what life was really like for the common people. While her writings are not the crude propaganda that the Communists would later claim them to be, they have better value then any propaganda, because they are the truth.
Both for the historical value as stories of China's most violent years, as well as their timeless value as stories of human cruelty (and very occasional kindess), these stories should be read.