Hu Shi's Advice on Writing

Hu was well known as the primary advocate for the literary revolution of the era, a movement which aimed to replace scholarly classical Chinese in writing with the vernacular spoken language, and to cultivate and stimulate new forms of literature. In an article originally published in New Youth in January 1917 titled "A Preliminary Discussion of Literature Reform", Hu originally emphasized eight guidelines that all Chinese writers should take to heart in writing:

1.Write with substance. By this, Hu meant that literature should contain real feeling and human thought. This was intended to be a contrast to the recent poetry with rhymes and phrases that Hu saw as being empty.

2.Do not imitate the ancients. Literature should not be written in the styles of long ago, but rather in the modern style of the present era.

3.Respect grammar. Hu did not elaborate at length on this point, merely stating that some recent forms of poetry had neglected proper grammar.

4.Reject melancholy. Recent young authors often chose grave pen names, and wrote on such topics as death. Hu rejected this way of thinking as being unproductive in solving modern problems.

5.Eliminate old clichés. The Chinese language has always had numerous four-character sayings and phrases used to describe events. Hu implored writers to use their own words in descriptions, and deplored those who did not.

6.Do not use allusions. By this, Hu was referring to the practice of comparing present events with historical events even when there is no meaningful analogy.

7.Do not use couplets or parallelism. Though these forms had been pursued by earlier writers, Hu believed that modern writers first needed to learn the basics of substance and quality, before returning to these matters of subtlety and delicacy.

8.Do not avoid popular expressions or popular forms of characters. This rule, perhaps the most well-known, ties in directly with Hu's belief that modern literature should be written in the vernacular, rather than in Classical Chinese. He believed that this practice had historical precedents, and led to greater understanding of important texts.

In April of 1918, Hu published a second article in New Youth, this one titled "Constructive Literary Revolution - A Literature of National Speech". In it, he simplified the original eight points into just four:

1.Speak only when you have something to say. This is analogous to the first point above.

2.Speak what you want to say and say it in the way you want to say it. This combines points two through six above.

3.Speak what is your own and not that of someone else. This is a rewording of point seven.

4.Speak in the language of the time in which you live. This refers again to the replacement of Classical Chinese with the vernacular language.


As part of the Chinese literary revolution. It breaks with tradition, argues for plain-spoken language of the time, and urges writing new ideas.

Folksonomies: culture writing revolution advice

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 Writings of Hu Shi
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:, (2014), Writings of Hu Shi,, Retrieved on 2014-01-02
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  • Folksonomies: culture sinology