Life and times of a Chinese martyr

Du Zhongyuan, a renowned journalist and entrepreneur, was a leading figure during China's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
Life and times of a Chinese martyr
Sun Zhongqin / Ti Gong

A collection of artworks are on show at Fudan University to mark the 120th birth anniversary of journalist and entrepreneur Du Zhongyuan.

A collection of oil paintings, porcelain and magazines on show at Fudan University until June 30 celebrates the life of Du Zhongyuan, a renowned journalist and entrepreneur during China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

This year is the 120th anniversary of Du’s birth, and this month marks the 74th anniversary of his death.

Born in Jilin Province in northeast China, Du studied porcelain in Japan for six years before returning to China in 1923.

Three years later, he raised money to establish China’s first modern porcelain factory, Zhaoxin, in Liaoning’s capital city of Shenyang, introducing machinery to the industry. Zhang Xueliang, son of then northeast ruler Zhang Zuolin, provided financial support.

The factory, with an annual production of over 10 million pieces by 1931, broke the domination of Japanese porcelain in the Chinese market and also raised money to support China’s fight against Japanese aggression.

One oil painting in the exhibition depicts Du showing Zhang his porcelain products. In a glass case underneath are some of the factory’s products.

“All the porcelain originally collected by my father was destroyed during the ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-76), along with most photos, books and other things left by my father,” said Du Yi, Du Zhongyuan’s eldest daughter. “Some items were kindly given to us by family friends after knowing we had nothing left to commemorate my father.”

Life and times of a Chinese martyr
Sun Zhongqin / Ti Gong

Some porcelain products made at the factory established by Du Zhongyuan in 1926

Du Zhongyuan was wanted by the Japanese after the September 18 Incident in 1931, an event that led to Japan’s full-scale invasion of northern China, so he moved to Beijing and later to Shanghai, where he met Premier Zhou Enlai for the first time in December 1931 at a cafe on Yuyuan Road.

It is believed that this meeting turned Du from a patriotic entrepreneur to a fighter. The scene was painted and is showcased at the exhibition.

Du later worked as a journalist, writing numerous articles for Shanghai-based journal Life Weekly. He also delivered more than 60 speeches on the need to fight against Japanese invasion.

After the journal was forced to close in 1935, Du established a new weekly magazine called Xinsheng, or Reborn.

An article saying the Japanese emperor was more interested in biology than in the monarch and that the military wielded the real power outraged the Japanese. He was arrested in July 1935 and sentenced to 14 months in jail.

One painting shows angry citizens following the wagon taking Du to prison.

Life and times of a Chinese martyr
Sun Zhongqin / Ti Gong

An oil painting on display at the Fudan University exhibition depicts Du's first meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai.

Du was later sent to a sanatorium, where he secretly met Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng, both Kuomintang generals, and persuaded them to cooperate with the Communist Party of China to fight the Japanese invaders.

After his release in September 1936, Du made his way to Xi’an and met up with Zhang and Yang again. When Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek was held by Zhang and Yang on December 12 to force him to reach a truce with the Communist Party and form a united front against Japan, Du was again arrested by the KMT.

After Chiang agreed, Du was released and later recommended by Soong Ching Ling and others to lead the coalition government. But he refused as he did not trust Chiang, according to his daughter.

In 1939, Du accepted a position at Xinjiang University. But he was murdered by the warlord Sheng Shicai in Xinjiang around 1943 as he continued to lecture on the Communist Party’s idea on a united front against Japan. His body was never found.

Du was honored as a martyr after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Du’s wife Hou Yuzhi and their children, Du Yi, Du Ren and Du Ying, were also arrested by Sheng.

Du Ren, Du’s only son, died in 1990 while the two daughters moved to Hong Kong.

Du Yi says she remembers little about her father as she was only 2 years old when he died.

“But I remember clearly that my father held an umbrella on a rainy day and told me, ‘Our country is like the umbrella and can shelter us from rains, but we also need to protect it’,” she recalls.

Exhibition details

Date: Through June 30
Venue: Fudan University
Address: 300 Guonian Rd

Life and times of a Chinese martyr
Sun Zhongqin / Ti Gong

A painting depicts Du meeting with other Communist Party members.

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