A Life in Six Chapters presents a visual portrait of Xiao Jun (1907-1988), a left-wing Chinese writer who befriended the literary figure Lu Xun and the political giant Mao Zedong. The film spans more than 60 years from the 1920s to the 1980s, taking a tour of China’s literary scene, and introducing renowned writers like Lu Xun, Xiao Hong, Hu Feng, Ding Ling, Nie Gannu, Ai Qing, Lao She, and more. Xiao Jun’s romances and struggles are set against the backdrop of twentieth century China, including the 14-year Sino-Japanese War, the Communist rectification campaigns, post-1949 political movements, the chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution, and, finally, the early years of the country’s opening-up.
A disciple of Lu Xun, Xiao Jun tried throughout his life to hold on to his mentor’s spirit of intellectual autonomy free from political influence. Although he befriended some of the CCP’s top leaders, from Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to Chen Yun and Peng Zhen, he never joined the party. Even a campaign of criticism against him could not persuade him and he is remembered as one of a few Chinese writers who survived without bending to politics.