Lu Xun (鲁迅) is essentially the face of modern Chinese literature – he published many works between 1918, when A Madman’s Diary (狂人日记）was first published, and his death in 1936. He is known for, first, his attempts to bring more of the spoken Chinese into literature (which up until that point had largely been reserved for Classical Chinese), and second, his strong polemics against traditional Chinese culture and his desires for post-Qing dynasty China to modernize. Anyways, without further ado:
I couldn’t be afraid, and continued down my path. There was a group of children before me that were there discussing me; their eyes were just like Zhao Guiweng’s and their faces were all ashen. I thought, how do I have so much enmity with them that they act this way. Unable to control myself, I shouted, “Tell me!” and they ran away.
I thought: how do I have so much enmity with Zhao Guiweng, so much enmity with the people on the street; it can only be that, twenty years ago, I stepped on the old ledgers of Mr. Gujiu,* really upsetting him. Although Zhao Guiweng didn’t know Mr. Gujiu, he must have heard of the affair, and was getting retribution for him; he must have colluded with the people on the road to turn them against me. But what about the children? At that time they hadn’t yet been born, so why were they staring at me so weirdly today, as if they were afraid of me, as if they wanted to hurt me, surprising and saddening me. I understand. This was taught to them by their parents!
*Gujiu (古久), in Chinese, is “ancient and old”
I have a love-hate relationship with Lu Xun. His writing and his life are both very interesting – he went to medical school in Japan before returning to China to become a writer, and his writing is entirely shaped by his belief that writing, that new and modern ideas, was the cure to treat China’s ills. “A Madman’s Diary” does interesting things that pull from Lu Xun’s very educated background, taking cues from Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” and using “madness” to give the main character “clarity.” That is, only by being mad can he see all of the ills of society, which otherwise are thoroughly socialized into us and therefore normal. He does this well and in what I think is an interesting way to create a story. On the other hand – “stepping on the old ledgers of Mr. Gujiu,” that is, of “Mr. Ancient and Old Times,” is an appallingly simple allusion. In this passage, the Madman is concerned with having offended the ancient ways and traditional thought, and thinks people hate him for having offended them. His wondering about the children is Lu Xun’s pretty obvious wondering: how is such a negative system constantly produced and reproduced? Oh, because we learn it from our parents. Lu Xun is fantastically important and I enjoy his writing, besides, the juxtaposition of Classical and Modern Chinese creates a very fun and challenging read, yet, the very clear and blunt nature of his polemics has always left me wanting.
Anyways, if you’re interested in the collection of his that I’m reading (which includes an (alright) English translation!), you can scope it on Amazon here. For those not up to date on your Chinese history, his writing is a fantastic and fascinating look into early “Republican China,” the space between the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949. And if you do know Chinese or have studied China, your bookshelf honestly isn’t complete without a few of his works, so get on that.