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Lu Xun (1881-1936) - name also translated Lu Hsün; pseudonym of Zhou Shuren


Short-story writer, essayist, critic, and literary theorist, who is considered one of the greatest figures in the 20th-century Chinese literature. In the West Lu Xun is chiefly known for his stories, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Lu Xun's acclaimed short fiction appeared in three collections between the years 1923 and 1935. He also produced sixteen volumes of essays, reminiscences, prose poetry, historical tales, some sixty classical-style poems, a dozen volumes of scholarly research, and numerous translations. Lu Xun never wrote a novel.

'"You are a scholar and you have been to the outside world and learned of many things. I want to ask you about something." Her lusterless eyes suddenly lighted up as she advanced a few steps towards me, lowered her voice, and said in a very earnest and confidential manner, "It is this: is there another life after this one?"' (from 'The Widow')

Lu Xun (Lu Hsün; Zhou Shuren) was born Zhou Shuren in Shaoxing, in Zhejiang province, into an impoverished but educated gentry family. In 1893, he went to live with his mother's family after his grandfather, who had directed his schooling, was imprisoned. Lu Xun received a traditional education before he attended Jiangnan Naval Academy (1898-99) and School of Railway and Mines (1899-1902) in Nanjing. In 1902 he went to Japan where he studied Japanese language and then medicine at Sendai Provincial Medical School. In 1906 he dropped out of the school to devote himself entirely to writing. While still in Tokyo, he edited the journal New Life, and contributed essays to the Communist journal Henan, sometimes collaboratring with his brother Zhou Zuoren.

After studying privately, Lu Xun returned in 1909 to China. He taught in Hangzhou and Shaoxing, and from 1912 to 1926 he held a post in the ministry of education in Beijing. He was Chinese literature instructor at National Beijing University (1920-26), and also taught at Xiamen (Amoy) University (1926) and University of Canton (1927).

In 1918 Lu Xun published his famous story 'K'uangjen jih-chi' (Diary of a Madman), which took its title deliberately from Nikolay Gogol. It appeared in Hsin ch'ingnien, the popular journal that initiated the intellectual revolution. Lu Xun was a founding member of several leftist organizations, including League of Left-Wing Writers, China Freedom League, and League for the Defense of Civil Rights. He was also a leading figure in the May Fourth Movement, named for a demonstration protesting the continuation of international sponsored imperialism in China and pro-Japanese provisions at the Paris Peace Conference. The protests led to the rise of modernist, socially critical movement, which flourished only briefly, about a decade, and later came to symbolize intellectual and artistic freedom.

Lu Xun is considered as one of the leading forebears of Baihua, or vernacular, literature. 'K'uangjen jih-chi' condemned the traditional Confucian culture, but also helped gain acceptance for the short-story form as an effective literary vehicle. The narrator, who thinks he is held captive by cannibals, sees the oppressive nature of tradition as a "man-eating" society. "Diary of a Madman", written in vernacular and in first-person narrative, has been called China's first Western-style story. Lu Xun avoided traditional omniscient narration and replaced it with a single narrator through whose eyes the story is filtered. With this tour de force, Lu Xun joined the vanguard of the colloquail language movement.

"Ah Q, too, was a man of strict morals to begin with. Although we do not know whether he was guided by some good teacher, he had always shown himself most scrupulous in observing "strict segregation of the sexes," and was righteous enough to denounce such heretics as the little nun and the Bogus Foreign Devil. His view was, "All nuns must carry on in secret with monks. If a woman walks alone on the street, she must want to seduce bad men. When a man and a woman talk together, it must be to arranged to meet." In order to correct such people, he would glare furiously, pass loud, cutting remarks, or if the place were deserted, throw a small stone from behind." (from 'The True Story of Ah Q')

'Ah Q cheng-chuan' (1921, The True Story of Ah Q) is Lu Xun's most celebrated tales. It depicts an ignorant farm laborer, an everyman, who experiences, with an utter lack of self-awareness, a series of humiliations which he interprets as victories, and finally is unfairly executed during the chaos of the Republican revolution of 1911. Ah Q is considerd the personification of the negative traits of the Chinese national character. The term A Quism was coined to signify the Chinese penchant for naming defeat a "spiritual victory." While revealing Ah Q's weakness of will, the author also shows his deep sympathy for his character. In the allegory Lu Xun sees China unprepared to deal with the impact of Western culture and technology.

In several other works Lu Xun contrasted the hypocrisy of upper-class intellectuals with the suffering of the lower-class people. But the straightforward interpretation of his stories have often neglected their ambiguity and metaphysical levels. His three volumes of stories, Na han (1923, Call to Arms), Pang huang (1926, Wandering), and Gu shi xin bian (1935, Old Tales Retold), deeply influenced modern Chinese fiction. However, Lu Xun and his younger brother Zhou Zuoren's translations of Western works, including stories by Leonid Andreyev, Guy de Maupassant, and Henry Sienkiewich, were received with near silence by the reading public. Besides short stories, Lu Xun published essays and a volume of childhood memories, Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk.

Lu Xun participated actively in the literary debates of the 1920s and 1930s. He was a patron of younger writers, among whom the best-known are Xiao Jun, Xiao Hong, Duanmu Hongliang, and Rou Shi. In the early 1920s he began to embrace Marxism, but disappointed the underground Communist movement by refusing to join it formally. In 1926 he received negative attention from the government because of his support for the Beijing students' patriotic movement and was forced to leave the city to Fujian to teach at Xiamen University. In 1927 he went to teach at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou but resigned from his post. In the late 1920s Lu Xun moved to Shanghai, where he found sanctuary in the International Settlement. He was editor of the magazines Benliu in 1928 and Yiwen in 1934. During these years Lu Xun was the titular head of the League of Left-Wing Writers. In 1933 he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. Lu Xun died from tuberculosis on October 19, in 1936.

When the generals kill,
Doctors have to save.
After most are killed,
A few escape the grave.
It hardly makes the losses less,

(1930, 'untitled')

The collected works of Lu Xun in twenty volumes was first published in 1938. Lu Xun's work is still widely read in China. In his lifetime Lu Xun managed to maintain his status as an independent but leftist artist, but since his death political factions have been slightly nervous about his legacy and the polemical tone of his essays. From 1949 his name was used in political campaigns by the Communists and he was canonized by Marxist literary historians. During the Cultural Revolution his reputation remained untouched although his disciplines, friends, and scholars suffered from purges. After the death of Mao, intellectuals and writers started to reread Lu Xun, seeing him as an anti-authoritarian individualist and a voice of moral conscience.

Zhou Zuoren (1885-1967), essayist, psychologist, translator, the younger brother of Lu Xun. Zhou spent a long time in Japan as a student and acquired a knowledge of Western culture and literature. In 1909 he married Habuto Nobuko; they had one son and three daughters. He returned to Zhejiang province in 1911 and worked in the educational service. Like his brother, Zhou became a prominent figure in the May Fourth Movement. This movement came to symbolize artistic and intellectual freedom and influenced the pro-democracy students in 1989 in Tianenmen Square. From 1931 Zhou was the dean of the department of Japanese literature of the Peking University. During the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) he collaborated with the Japanese invaders. After the war he was imprisoned (1945-49) and then pardoned. For the rest of his life Zhou lived in Beijing. Zhou's finest pieces combine relaxed humor with sadness. In 'Shuili de dongxi' (1931, things in the water) Zhou examined beliefs concerning "river ghosts," spirits of the drowned. In 'Gui de shengzhang' (1934, the aspiring ghosts) he pondered the question of whether or not ghosts continue to age in the spirit world. Zhuo also wrote under the names Zhitang and Yaotang, translated the works of Havelock Ellis into Chinese, contributed to various journals, including Xin qingnian, Xiaoshuo yuebao, Yuzhou feng, Lunyu, Renjian shi, and Yusi, and published over two dozen books of essays. Lu Xun's brother Zhou Jianren was a biologist and eugenicist. He made the first translation of Darwin into Chinese.

For further reading: Ah Q Archaeology: Lu Xun, Ah Q, Ah Q Progeny, and the National Character Discourse in Twentieth Century China by Paul B. Foster (2005); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Lu Xun and Evolution by James Reeve Pusey (1998); The Lyrical Lu Xun by J.E. Kowallis (1996); Voices from the Iron House by Leo Ou-fan Lee (1987); Lu Xun and his Legacy by Leo Ou-Fan Lee (1985); Lu Xun: A Chinese Writer for All Times by Ruth F. Weiss (1985); Lu Xun: A Biography by Wang Shiqing (1984); Lu Hsün and his Predecessors by V.I. Semanov (1980); Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era, ed. by M. Goldman (1977); Lu Hsun's Vision of Reality by William A. Lyell (1976) ; The Gate of Darkness by T.A. Hsia (1968); A History of Modern Chinese Fiction by C.T. Hsia (1961); Lu Hsün and the New Cultural Movement of Modern China by S. Huang (1957)

Selected works:

  • 'A Q cheng-chuan', 1921
    - The True Story of Ah Q (translated by George Kin Leung, 1926) / Ah Q and Others: Selected Stories of Lusin (translated by Chi-chen Wang, 1941) / The True Story of Ah Q (translated by Yang Xianyi, Gladys Yang, 1986)
    - Lu Shün: Ah Q:n tarina (suom. Elvi Sinervo, teoksessa Kiinalaisia kertojia: valikoima Kiinan kirjallisuutta, toim. Pertti Nieminen, 1958)
    - films: 1958, dir. by Yang'an Yuan, screenplay by Chi Xu;1981, dir. by Cen Fan, screenplay by Baichen Chen, starring Shunkai Yan
  • 'K'uangjen jih-chi', 1921
    - Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (translated by William Lyell, 1990)
  • Na han, 1923
    - Call to Arms (translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, 1981)
  • 'Zhu fu', 1924
    - The New-Year Sacrifice and Other Stories (translated by Yang Xiangyi and Gladys Yang, 2002)
    - film 1956, dir. by Hu Sang, screenplay by Yan Xia
  • Pang huang, 1926
    - Wandering (translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, 1981)
  • Yeh-ts'ao, 1927 [Wild Grass]
  • Zhao hua xi shi, 1928
    - Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk (translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, 1976)
  • Zhongguo xiao shuo shi lue, 1930
    - A Brief History of Chinese Fiction (translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang, 1959)
  • Gu shi xin bian, 1936
    - Old Tales Retold (translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, 1972)
  • Lu Hsün ch'uan-chi, 1938 (20 vols; supplements edited by T'ang T'ao, 2 vols., 1942-52)
  • Ah Q and Others: Selected Stories, 1941
  • Lu Hsün ch'uan-chi pu-i, 1946 (1952)
  • Lu Hsün shu-chien, 1952 (2 vols.)
  • Selected Works of Lu Hsün, 1956-57 (4 vols., translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang)
  • A Brief History of Chinese Fiction, 1959 (translation of Zhongguo xiao shuo shi lue by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang)
  • Selected Stories of Lu Hsün, 1960
  • Silent China: Selected Writings of Lu Xun, 1973 (edited and translated by Gladys Yang)
  • Lu Xun shu jian xuan yi = A Selection of Lo Shun’s letters, 1973 (translated by Hua Ying dui zhao)
  • Lu Xun xiao shuo ji ci hui = Lu Xün xiao shuo j'i, Vocabulary: Selected Short Stories of Lu Xün, 1979 (translated by D.C. Lau)
  • The Complete Stories of Lu Xun, 1981 (translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang)
  • The Collected Works of Lu Xun, 1981 (20 vols.)
  • Lu Xun: Selected Poems (Chinese/English Edition), 1982 (translated by W.J.F. Jenner)
  • Complete Poems, 1988 (translated by David Y. Ch'en)
  • Letters Between Two: Correspondence Between Lu Xun and Xu Guangping, 2000 (translated by Bonnie S. McDougall)
  • Selected Stories of Lu Xun (Chinese/English Edition), 2000
  • Lu Xun shi xuan / W.J.F. Zhannaer yi = Lu Xun Selected Poems, 2005 (translated by W.J.F. Jenner)
  • Capturing Chinese: Short Stories from Lu Xun’s Nahan, 2009 (edited by Kevin Nadolny; illustrated by Baidi & Gege)
  • Zhongguo xiao shuo shi lüe: wai yi zhong: Han wen xue shi gang yao, 2011

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