Xu Zhimo (1897–1931) was a renowned poet of the Crescent Moon school, and a writer of prose. He advocated new rhyme schemes for poetry, and made important contributions to the development of modern Chinese poetry. His short life was rich and colorful, and his emotional life was passionate and filled with misery. No modern Chinese poet has lived a comparable life style.
Xu Zhimo was born in the wealthiest family in Xiashi township, Haining county, Zhejiang province. Intelligent and adorable since childhood, he enjoyed the favor of everyone in the family. He was noted for his precociousness and was the top student five years in a row before he graduated in 1915 from Hangzhou First High School. He attended the University of Shanghai, the Peiyang University (formerly Imperial Tientsin University), and Peking University. He went to the U.S. to study in 1918. Two years later, he gave up his earlier idea that China could be saved through industrial development and went to study under the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) in Cambridge, England. He came to know a number of famous scholars, writers, and artists; his way of thinking and sensibilities at this time underwent great changes. During this time, he fell in love with the beautiful and talented Lin Huiyin (1904–1955), and no longer wanted to continue living together with his wife Zhang Youyi (1900–1988) with whom he had an arranged marriage years earlier. He also started his new life as a poet in Cambridge where he was surrounded by the unique natural scenery and cultural atmosphere.
In 1922, Xu Zhimo returned home. By this time, he had divorced Zhang Youyi, and his unforgettable love affair with Lin Huiyin had also ended. Back in China, he composed poems and wrote essays; he also edited magazine articles, books, and founded a poetry society. He was quite active in cultural circles. In 1923, he founded a poetry society named after a collection of poems by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), entitled Crescent Moon. He founded Shi kan (Poetry Magazine) and served as the editor-in-chief. Along with Hu Shih (1891–1962) and Wen Yiduo (1899–1946), he founded Xinyue (Crescent Moon) Book Store. He helmed the Crescent Moon Monthly along with Wen Yiduo and Rao Mengkan (1902–1967). Through his efforts, “new poetry” appeared like the crescent moon, “embracing the future of fullness.”
Just like Bertrand Russell, Xu Zhimo believed that love was the only path to fulfillment. In 1924, he met a married woman, Lu Xiaoman (1903–1965), whom, under great pressure, he eventually married. His affair with Lu Xiaoman ignited his poetic interest and he wrote many passionate love poems, which were later collected and published as Ai Mei xiao zha (Love notes for Mei). However, his marriage was not happy. Although his family had cut off his financial support, Lu Xiaoman continued her extravagant life style. Deep in debt, Xu Zhimo began to take part-time jobs. From 1927 to 1931, he taught at six universities, and served as an editor of two publishers. He was also a member of many professional groups. Although he was physically and mentally exhausted, they still lived beyond their means.
On the morning of November 19, 1931, Xu Zhimo boarded an airplane which crashed near Jinan, Shandong province. He and the two pilots were killed. He was a real poet who lived a romantic and legendary life of death, passion, and love.
Xu Zhimo’s poems have a special appeal to readers—in addition to their beautiful poetic style and artistry, his poems also reveal his strong feelings, and his honest and sincere personality. In his poems, he pours out his spiritual beliefs and emotions—intense and tempestuous. He created new metrical patterns of modern Chinese poetry. His poetry employs musical rhythms and rhyme. From 1922 to the time he died, he published three collections of poetry: Zhimo de shi (Zhimo’s poems), Feilengcui de yiye (One night in Florence), and Menghu ji (The fierce tiger collection). After his death, his friends collected his writings and published them as Yunyou (Wandering).
Xu Zhimo is known for his poems, but he is even more famous for his essays. They are known for their special feature of being “insolubly rich” in expressing emotions. Most of the time he uses the first person in his writings, and writes in a smooth and magnificent rhetorical style. The essays are colorful, brilliant, and complex, and display his rich and fantastic imagination. They are full of poetic rhythm and the colorful attractiveness of a painting. Shen Congwen (1902–1988) once praised him, saying: “No one in China has ever achieved the magnificence that Xu Zhimo’s essays and poetry have achieved.”