You are responsible for the content of class discussion; if you miss a class, come here to read the ideas introduced in class.
The Apotheosis of Lu Xun
- Guo Moruo (郭沫若), a Chinese writer and poet says this, “Lu Xun is cultural dreg of pre-modern China, a disgruntled and frustrated Fascist. ” (鲁迅是资本主义以前的一个余孽，一位不得志的法西斯諦。)
- Dismissing him as a reactionary old man, Feng Nai-chao (冯乃超) a leading Marxist and a founding member of the League of Left Wing Writers, remarked in February 1928, that “Lu Xun often gazes out at the world with befuddled eyes from the top floor of a dark tavern.”
- Qu Qiubai, one of the founding fathers of CCP, spoke of Lu Xun as “… a dreg of feudalism, a rebel of the landed gentleman class, a friend to those romantic revolutionaries, and a realist with the clearest mind.” (Or, as rendered in a different way, “Yes, Lu Xun is Remus, suckled by a wild beast, the rebellious son of feudal society, a traitor to the class of gentlemen.”) Placing Lu Xun in the context of all those who had been alienated by the old order, Qu continued: “The young men of the upper-class families before the 1911 Revolution included reformists, revolutionary heroes, and idealists who wanted the nation to become wealthy and strong. Among them were some whose objective role it was to lead mass revolutionary struggles for popular rights, and who seem to have achieved splendid results. Lu Xun, who comes from the upper classes, too, was also in his early years a revolutionary who struggled for popular rights. The others, however, were rather ashamed to admit their relationship to the princess who was raped. The metaphor of Romulus and Remus is particularly interesting here, because it had been used previously by Alexander Herzen to describe the gentry participants in the Decembrist Uprising of 1825 in Russia, and again by Lenin to describe Herzen himself when he wrote that “heroes reared, like Romulus and Remus, on the milk of a wild beast” were “veritable titans.” (“鲁迅是封建社会的孽子，绅士阶级的逆臣，同时也是一些罗曼蒂克的革命家的诤友，是最清醒的现实主义者。” 瞿秋白)
- Mao Zedong in 1940 tried to apotheosized Lu Xun in his work titled “On A New Democracy”. “Lu Xun was the greatest and the most courageous standard-bearer of this new cultural force. The chief commander of China’s cultural revolution, he was not only a great man of letters but a great thinker and revolutionary. Lu Xun was a man of unyielding integrity, free from all sycophancy or obsequiousness; this quality is invaluable among colonial and semi-colonial peoples. Representing the great majority of the nation, Lu Xun breached and stormed the enemy citadel; on the cultural front he was the bravest and most correct, the firmest, the most loyal and the most ardent national hero, a hero without parallel in our history. The road he took was the very road of China’s new national culture.” 1940年1月，毛泽东在延安新创刊的《中国文化》杂志创刊号上发表了著名的《新民主主义论》，对鲁迅给予高度评价：“鲁迅是中国文化革命的主将，他不但是伟大的文学家，而且是伟大的思想家和伟大的革命家。鲁迅的骨头是最硬的，他没有丝毫的奴颜和媚骨，这是殖民地半殖民地人民最可宝贵的性格。鲁迅是在文化战线上，代表全民族的大多数，向着敌人冲锋陷阵的最正确、最勇敢、最坚决、最忠实、最热忱的空前的民族英雄。鲁迅的方向，就是中华民族新文化的方向。”
- Structurally, the short story, the first to be written in vernacular language, begins with a preface or authorial intrusion in literary/classical Chinese to indicate, among other things, a distance or disclaimer; it is customary and conventional for writers of classical novels to frame his story and establish his authority as a story-teller by offering some accounts as to the origin and authenticity of his story, its morals, or its historical or cultural context; doing so eliminates any personal connection on the part of the author to what he is about to tell, which is written in the vernacular language of a madman, who is the brother of the one that gave him the diary showing evidences of “persecution complex”, a mental disorder and a form of insanity; the medical term also invokes the authority of science behind which Lu Xun’s fictional persona retreats to further disassociate himself from the madness that actually serves as a mode of wisdom or supreme intelligence on traditional morality; therefore the madman crazy enough to think of himself being victimized and devoured by a cannibalistic tribe of which he is a member is actually closer to Lu Xun than the well spoken gentleman addressing the reader at the beginning;
- Lu Xun’s tacit affinity with the madman exists only in what they think about Confucian morality, a conclusion that Lu Xun arrives at through his systematical anti-traditionalism as a progressive thinker and madman reaches because of his condition and insanity which is medically certifiable by his pattern of thoughts in the diary; the relationship between May Fourth intellectual enlightenment and insanity reveals the conditions of modern thought: thoughts and ideas that would put the thinker into the rank of madman, a plight in which Lu Xun often finds himself as an intellectual and writer; although the process through which the madman comes to suspect his relatives as cannibals proves to be pathological or illogical, his “persecution complex” enables him to transcend the confines of normative moral thinking in China and creates critical space to which the reader is invited to think about Confucian traditions differently from before; the reader can laugh at the madman or provide real substance absent from the madman’s pathological fantasies;
- The story was a replica of Russian writer Gogol’s work by the same title, except that the Chinese madman is created to indict Confucianism as a form of cannibalism; his reasoning is flawed but his lunacy also introduces other unconventional perspectives such as social Darwinism: “probably all primitive people ate a little human flesh to begin with. Later, because their outlook changed, some of them stopped, and because they tried to be good they changed into men, changed into real men;” in the context of the story, the diary about his own imminent annihilation, including his sincere plea to “save the children,” is total nonsense; but that does not mean such a sense of despair and doom would not resonate with readers feeling spiritually suffocated or dead, both individually and collectively, as Confucian virtue and morality get perpetuated;
- When despair is generally accepted as a permanent condition of life, going kicking and screaming the way the madman does certainly marks him out as odd if not totally insane; but actually it is the sanity of such a conservative culture that is really the problem; thus the real reason to despair is that, as we are told, “my brother recovered some time ago and has gone elsewhere to take up an official post;” on the symbolic level, the madman’s recovery could only mean rescindment of any critical awareness or/and extinction of new thoughts and revolutionary ideas and China needed.
- It is not clear whether LX is for sanity or madness. The madness is also a mode of wisdom in this case as it enables the madman to be critical of Confucian morality as a form of cannibalism devouring the individuals whole. But such a vision of the human society cannot sustain itself and he, the madman, has to return to sanity as he also returns to an office of some sort. But such sanity as represented by an official (and Confucian) post is questionable if kindness, righteousness, filial piety are just another name for “eat man.” LX also expresses his own mental anguish through the madman, alienated from his fellow countrymen because of his own intellectual enlightenment, and in this sense, the madman is also the author’s shadow just like Kong Yiji; it is into these tragic and pathetic characters or heroes that a Chinese cultural identity disintegrates.
- As far as plot goes, the story is a romance; but the tragic relationship of Zijun and Juansheng in fact has little to do with love and everything to do with Chinese attitudes towards change; inspired by such English Romantics as Shelley, Byron, Ibsen, and Tangore, the young lovers decide to rebel against Chinese cultural traditions they view as oppressive; in other words, the story is a double articulation of both the position of Western Romanticism and Chinese mores; to affirm her faith in self-autonomy and individual liberty, Zijun says with pride, “I am my own mistress; no one has the right to interfere with my life;” but that sense of personal freedom turns out to be false and unsustainable as Juansheng slips from his position of a hero and abandons Zijun after he realizes that “man must have enough to eat before he can truly love someone;” the development of the story proves that social conditions are not ripe for the kind of intellectual progress the two lovers have anticipated; when China imitates the West the way Zijun and Juansheng do, personal tragedies result;
- The romance is inspired by the cultural ideals of freedom and liberty; but set in the Chinese context, it soon deteriorates into a classic case of personal indiscretion and regret; the reader finds it hard to identify with the hero who narrates the past in a way less than disingenuous, making Zijun first a flaming liberal with the refrain, a weakling in marriage who needs to be told, and then an emotional wreck who has to be taken home by her uncle when their cohabitation is failing; the failure has little to do with traditions opposed to individual choice but a lot to do with a form of romantic self-reinvention as licensed by western ideals of free love and individual liberty;
- Juansheng’s regret lends expression to Lu Xun’s view of Western ideas that have little chance of being reconciled with Chinese social realities; Juansheng’s inauthentic existence helps register or negotiate cultural differences as Lu Xun understood them; in his lecture on “What happened after Nora leaves home” given at Peking Normal University, Lu Xun talked about Henri Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House and asked the women students not to emulate Nora for women like Nora could not survive short of becoming a prostitute (堕落) or returning to her husband; Regret exposes the limits of Western individualism which, while noble and spiritually uplifting, requires certain set of social conditions for it to be really good; that China, with its economic conditions so inadequate and deplorable for the individual, China is not ready for such Western ideals; thus Juansheng’s remark,“A man must make a living before there can be any place for love;”
- What is new and controversial in the story is a cohabitation situation between Zijun and Juansheng (sex and/or love without marriage), an idea to be frowned upon in the 1920s; also controversial is the idea of women’s independence (self-autonomy) as ridiculed in Zijun’s remark, “I am my own mistress. None of them has any right to interfere with me!” which is why we have an ideal love run amuck; together Zijun and Juan-sheng represent the crisis of Chinese consciousness; this explains why the self-person narrator Juan-sheng has a problem recalling the past truthfully, which is truly regrettable; his attitude is symptomatic and characteristic of the intellectual class unable to make up their minds as to which or whose discourse to use to describe their modern experience; is it (intellectual progress) love to cherish or a bad mistake to regret?
- the story also shows the extent of an identity crisis; it is not just those holding onto Confucian and Taoist beliefs that experience this identity crisis; progressive thinkers such as Juansheng and Zijun willing to embrace Western ideas too experience this crisis; Juansheng is unable to narrate his life as a liberal with a straight face; he wants to identify with the ideas of individual liberty and gender equality; however, the romance through which the two young people want to exercise their right to choose as free moral agents collapses on them; Juansheng’s identity as an enlightened person making conscious choice for himself dsintegrates at the end when he says, “I must advance silently, taking oblivion and falsehood as my guide;” he is not any wiser or any more enlightened than, say, Ah Q.
- Written to satirize what the author views as archaic modes of consciousness, the story is also a sad commentary on 1911 revolution which, in Lu Xun’s eyes, accomplished very little; what happens in Wei Village epitomizes China in a crisis where traditional values and attitudes that Ah Q represents no longer operate and where, instead of a brand new rational social order emerging, the primitive and brutal sacrificial rituals are performed to ensure peace; in his confused state, Ah Q is a national self-portrait or a mirror in which the Chinese find themselves suffering from a false sense of pride and living in self-deception (“moral victory” or 精神胜利法); he represents the archaic thoughts and values no longer relevant to how people live; he is executed as a sacrificial victim in the village which is a network of victimization where everyone is a victim and victimizer; he is cowardly to bullies but pugnacious in front of the weak like the little nun; to him (and Chinese populace) unable to make a decent living, revolution is but a chance to rub the rich, get even or settle old scores; such feudal and benighted attitudes do not qualify him as a revolutionary but only mark him as a likely scapegoat in a sacrificial crisis through which to restore social order;
- The final execution scene reenacts a slide show of decapitation that LX saw while in Japan (1902-09); the slide shows a Chinese spy for Russia to be killed by the Japanese while other Chinese watched, indifferent to fellow countryman’s suffering and death; according to LX, it was because of the chilling apathy and indifference every Chinese wears in that slide that made him change his mind about studying medicine and want to become a writer, for “what good would a sturdy health do to a people if all they could do is serve as the spectators at the execution of their fellow country men?” by writing literature, LX was hoping to wake up the spirit and conscience of China, which is Ah Q’s epiphany at the end, watching his own murder by his fellow villagers looking like a pack of wolves waiting to devour him;
- The story also shows LX’s ambivalence and pessimism toward revolution: “As far as I am concerned, there is no need to be like Ah Q if China is to have no revolution; but if revolutions are inevitable, so is Ah Q; and the fate of my Ah Q cannot be otherwise, nor can his character be any different. Gone without a trace was the year when the Republic was founded; if more reforms are to take place, I trust there will be again revolutionary parties by people like Ah Q. I wish what others say were true, namely, what I wrote reflected only a time gone by now or was about a particular historical moment, but I am afraid what I have seen is not what is preceding the modern period, but rather what is post-modern, even 20 or 30 years since then. In fact it did not denigrate the revolutionary party since, after all, Ah Q already wears his hair with his pigtail coiled around a bamboo-chopstick;” from “On Reasons for Writing The True Story of Ah Q,” in Complete Works of Lu Xun (Luxun Quanji) vol.3, p.379
- also satirized is what LX views typical of many Chinese ignorant and unable to see beyond their self-interests; when Ah Q hears of the word revolution, he wants to join it because, as his dream reveals, revolutions will enable him to get even with everyone; in his dream of himself as a revolutionary, he fantasizes of getting the women he wants, killing off those he dislikes, and destroying everything that is not his; his attitude typifies LX’s prognosis of the Chinese not capable of making real social progress;
- LX’s pessimism has to do with his general assessment of what he called “national characteristics” (国民劣根性); during his study in Japan, he also read with great interest a book by Arthur Smith, an American missionary who lived in China for over half a century, entitled Chinese Characteristics(《支那人的气质》) with 24 chapters, each devoted to one Chinese characteristic such as “face,” “frugality,” “industry,” etc.; the book became a subtext for his satire; Ah Q’s denial or self-deception or “method of moral victory” is a form of placebo that only makes a person feel good and numb to the need to make necessary changes in order to survive.
- This story is quite uneventful in terms of plot; there’s no action other than the purchase of a bar of scented soap by the central character called Si-ming (四铭) for his wife; coherence seems lacking because of non-events such as his running into a young woman beggar, his disapproval of social changes, his sentiments about female virtues, and his wife’s bickering with him over the bar of soap, all of which do not seem inner-connected; it is almost as if the “story” is nothing more than some rambling of a failed intellectual who takes himself too seriously;
- Perhaps we can decode the story by understanding soap as a metaphor for something normally unspoken of in Chinese society; for example, view it as a symbol or substitute for repressed sexual desire, and his sentiments and moral views as hypocrisies that Lu Xun satirizes; in other words, we can interpret Soap as an attempt to pathologize or psychoanalyze those that have a classical education (“old fool” or “恶毒妇”) whose idealism and austere morals are but exercises of self-flagellations; Si-ming reveals the anatomy and perversion of high morals as a form of hypocrisy;
- The wife’s remark is not too far off when she says that he did not buy the bar of soap for her but for the young beggar whom he idolizes as a paragon of female virtues; she gives away the secret of her husband’s sexual appetite; remember that at the scene of the young woman panhandling for food for her grandmother, some young punks make the lewd remark that it wound be fun to bathe and scrub this girl clean with a bar of soap; telling from the way he talks about the girl (his moral indignation at those who did not give money to her and treated her as a sexual object), the wife infers that he bought the scented soap with this girl in mind; by his own admission, he did not give money to the young woman beggar even though he seemed moved by her action at the time; what he did because of this little incident was buy a bar of soap for his wife, and that is because the lewd remark made by one of the punks;
- The thoughts associated with this bar of soap thus reveal the ways Chinese men (especially hypocritical Confucian moralists like Si-ming) think about women, viewing them either as the cause of social ills when they are not properly dressed or as paragons of female virtue when they beg for food to save the lives of older family members; Si-ming is vociferous while talking with his intellectual friends about the need to exult the girl begging to save her grandmother because her action represents Confucian filial piety; he even inadvertently alienates one of his colleagues by badmouthing those unwilling to be charitable to the girl; but his interest in the girl is not very dissimilar with that of those he refers to as “low-life” who eroticize and sexualize the 19-year old girl begging in the street; the soap is emblematic of his repressed sexual desire that is sublimated in the form of high morals with which he idealizes and moralizes the female pan-handler; his repeated denial only confirms the wife’s intuition and suspicion of her husband’s lust, which is why she washes herself diligently with the scented soap to attract his attention;
- The story shows the anatomy of Confucian (male) morality as a form of immorality that praises and condemns women for all the wrong reasons; had Si-ming done as the hoodlums and punks suggested—to take advantage of a penniless and powerless 19-year old girl—he would probably have no more harsh words to say against girls wearing short hair nor high praises for women beggars; powerless women arouse not just sympathy or moral indignation in him but also a perverted delight, and the choices of educated women to walk in twos and threes freely in the street and wear short hair frighten him more than bandits; these teenage girls, whether the coeds or beggar, are women whom he lusts but with whom he cannot do anything other than passing moral judgments on them, which is next thing or substitute to scrubbing them with a bar of soap; in short the bar of soap reveals the connection between high morality and sexual repression, between conscious attitudes and unconscious desires;
- English (e.g. “old fool” or “恶毒妇”) irritates Si-ming because, although spoken by some young punks, it represents attitudes and values with which he is unfamiliar, which shows the extent of the May Fourth new culture movement (五四新文化运动), as well as the degree of conflict or incompatibility between new ideals and old habits; by writing this story, LX seems to be debunking and deliberately bankrupting traditional morality as hypocritcal, repressive and unreasonable.
- The short story subdivides into four fragments; in the first part we learn that a father, Da-Quan Hua, goes to an execution ground and pays to get some bread soaked with the blood of a revolutionary martyr just executed; in the second part, the reader understands the reason behind the father’s action as he has his son, Young Quan, eat the bread in the hope that his consumption would be cured and his life preserved; the third part reveals, through a casual conversation involving the father, Mrs. Hua, and a witness of the execution, that the revolutionary killed, named Yu Xia, dies heroically without any fear because he believes that he is dying for everyone in China, including his executioners; in the last and fourth part, two mothers, Mrs. Xia and Mrs. Hua, come to mourn their dead sons buried not far from one another;
- One immediate and possible theme for this bleak and morbid story is the futility of human sacrifice in the name of revolution; far from being respected and honored, the heroic self-sacrifice of the revolutionary youth is viewed by many as an act of stupidity; he is betrayed by non other than his uncle who turns him in to authority for money because he does not want to be associated and implicated by his subversive activities against the government; the blood shed for a noble idea is sought after literally by those kept ignorant by superstition who do not know a thing about revolution; the location of the execution ground—xuan ting kou (轩亭口)—is the actual place in Shao-xing (Lu Xun’s native town) where a young woman revolutionary by the name of Qiu Jin (秋瑾, 1875-1907) was decapitated for trying to overthrow the Qing government; the short story expresses the author’s reflection on revolutionary struggles perhaps too costly for what they actually accomplish;
- “The masses – especially those in China – are always spectators at a drama. If the victim on the stage acts heroically, they are watching a tragedy; if he shivers and shakes, they are watching a comedy. Before the mutton shops of Beijing a few people often gather to gape, with evident enjoyment, at the skinning of the sheep. And this is all they get out of it if a man lays down his life. Moreover, after walking a few steps away from the scene they forget even this modicum of enjoyment. There is nothing you can do with such people; the only way to save them is to give them no drama to watch. There is no need for spectacular sacrifices; it is better to have persistent, tenacious struggle.” In his speech “What Happens after Nora Leaves Home;”
- The dark picture painted here is that of a nation in which the masses do not understand the revolutionary ideals and beliefs of those willing to lay down their lives to change society; the story conveys a strong sense of hopelessness or despair on the part of the author that voices his pessimism and skepticism about revolutions and political reforms in which a few brave individuals pay with their dear lives only to produce spectacles that crowds watch with sadistic pleasure; in other words, Lu Xun calls into question the logic or equation of blood for change by showing a sacrifice that proves totally senseless because on the part of the masses there is absolutely no real understanding or appreciation of the ideals and cause for which Xia dies;
- The larger issues being addressed here include how to define and dignify human life, what China’s hopes and disappointments are, the role of the progressive intellectual and educated in social change, the needs for enlightenment of the masses and reevaluation of traditions; these interwoven threads become the aesthetics of Lu Xun’s new fiction thematically committed to the roles of the individual in national politics.
- It is hard to be sympathetic with the title character; it is equally hard to be on the side of the crowd mocking Kong Yiji, who is created to have roughly the same characteristics and traits as most men of letters like the author himself, a shadow of Lu Xun; perhaps we need to back off from an either-or way of reading Lu Xun; what is important is not where LX stood with regard to his anti-hero but how he felt at the time as a very self-afflicted person with feelings of self-loathe, self-disgust or self-pity, hoping to purge these negative feelings of his by creative writing; therefore he is not for or against Kong Yiji; or we can say that he is BOTH for and against the educated class of which Kong Yiji is a representative: proud to a fault, too conceited to acknowledge his own shortcomings, and too obsessed with learning and traditional values to live in the present; to some extent he is like LX who could not shake off his cultural background as a person educated in Chinese classics and unable to reconcile China and social change; LX could never be for one and against the other; through Kong Yiji as as readers come to feel LX’s anguish and deep anxiety about modernity.
- As readers we need to see this feeling of ambivalence, and understand the psychology of China as LX experienced it; the author created this character in his own image as a man of culture and yet refused to invest him with qualities that would make him likeable; the critical distance is achieved through the first-person narrator, a 12-year old boy who never likes Kong Yiji very much and does not take him seriously; this says much about the author’s problematic self-awareness (a split self?) and his view of society in which traditional values were becoming increasingly irrelevant; the story addresses a number of issues regarding the literati class (士大夫阶级) to which the author belonged, national characteristics, and the despair of a spiritual culture being replaced by a material one;
- Among other things, Kong Yiji aspires to be a cultured person wearing a long robe, to distinguish himself from the laborers wearing regular shirts; but he fails to pass the civic exam to obtain public office, and lives on a meager pay for copying writings for others; despite his effort to hold his self-image as the learned and cultivated who in the traditional society were normally well respected and honored, Kong Yiji is scorned and constantly made fun of by others as a total failure, including the illiterate, who delight in his poverty, a human wreck unable to be one of those wearing scholar’s gown and drinking sitting down in reserved booths; worse, he is often badly beaten after caught stealing from those he works for; the humiliating and degrading position he occupies shows the light in which Lu Xun sees many like himself dreaming of one day becoming somebody through a classical education; Kong Yiji’s repeated and pretentious references to classical language, showing off his imperfect knowledge of the classics, fail to command any respect from those who view him as a failure and thief; the proprietor of the wine-shop is not very willing to let him drink on credit;
- Kong Yiji’s lifestyle, if it could be called such, is a sham, a sign of the problematic nature or status of the literati class in China who ought to be the main backbone and conscience of the nation; he wants to pass himself off as a true gentleman and scholar to no avail; children with whom he is willing to share his appetizer surround him only because of what they can get from him not because what he has to say to them; the story calls into question the moral characteristics of Lu Village (China), represented by all those who mock and scorn him, making it difficult or impossible for him to assume the role of the educated; yet even as he is reduced to a street person and social zero, Kong Yiji still lives in self-denial, utterly unable to manage his day-to-day existence; he tells everyone that he broke his legs because he fell when in fact they were broken by a wealthy and powerful family that caught him stealing;
- The depiction of everyone around Kong Yiji expresses the author’s general view of China as a society devoid of any kindness and compassion; people enjoy taunting Kong Yiji and delight in his personal failure and disappointment; the boy notices him because of the laughter he hears when the wine-shop patrons make fun of Kong Yiji; and the only reason that people at the bar still remember him is that he still owes money; Lu Xun is clearly not telling the story of one individual’s plight; rather he is showing apathy, cruelty, hypocrisy, and selfishness that underscore the ways his society operates and devours human beings whole, which is the author’s prognosis of China’s social ills that doom this nation; for many, personal success through a classical education is a dead-end in the age when people began questioning Chinese cultural credentials.
- The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety (《全相二十四孝诗选》) was a book written by Guo, Jujing (郭居敬) of Yuan dynasty (1271年-1368); Guo wanted to put together such a book after his father passed away and searched history for true stories of the finest examples of filial respect practiced by devoted children throughout the centuries; each story was chosen to exemplify the teachings of Confucius; he not only told their story, but wrote a poem for each;
- The main themes are caring for parents and self-sacrifice; to Confucius what distinguish humans from animals are rituals (礼) through which we practice and exercise our moral beliefs; the book is one of Chinese classics that help define and exult the core values of Confucianism as is The Paragons of Female Chastity (《烈女传》) showing how women could become a moral being by exemplary cases; these classics instill in women and children the needs to respect and take care of their elders and husbands;
- The book by Lu Xun is nothing less than an act of iconoclasm, mocking what is held as sacred and ridiculing the lofty ideals in a gerontocracy (a society ruled by elders); as a rebel, LX makes fun of the unreasonable degree of moral austerity people are expected to show when exercising respect for their aging parents; each of the 24 acts involves discomfort, self-sacrifice and even death as justified by the lofty goal of “being filial”; it is from a child perspective that LX critiques these rituals, viewing them as totally inhuman and inhumane, and totally against every natural instincts in a human being; such a large of inhumanity is indeed what LX levels against Confucianism in A Madman’s Diary where the deranged realizes that while reading Chinese classics all he could see are two words “eat people”;
- LX’s anti-traditionalism and iconoclasm are quite systematic; his frontal attack on traditional morals is informed by Western humanism that emerged from the renaissance period that basically celebrated Man for who he is rather than condemned him for what he is not or cannot be (as during the medieval period, the dark ages); in other words, LX is trying to introduce a new humanism which is more sympathetic with human conditions in which ordinary people live, as opposed to a humanism that is unattainable; that is why LX takes up the positions of women (New Year’s Sacrifice) and children as a vantage point from which to indict Confucian humanism as a form of inhumanity in the name of which people are made subject to many human indignities; what Book of Filial Piety exults as examples of high morals and excellent human accomplishments LX views as examples of human perversion in which human nature is twisted and violated;
- That is why LX yells bloody murder against Confucian morality and satirizes what he views as a form of total ignorance; as a truly enlightened person, he encourages his readers to think for themselves and think critically of moral rituals that in fact celebrate cruelty against the young and women; his critical attitude towards the antiquated values as institutionalized in rituals becomes a part of the May Fourth legacy shaping the twentieth-century Chinese thinking and self-reflection; yet often times LX’s all-out attacks on traditions are painstakingly subtle and nuanced, flavored in humor, sarcasm, and under-statement; he is a writer of cultural clashes in which writing (and reading) itself is rendered problematic.
- The story, on first reading, seems rather blend; nothing dramatic happens over the time span of little over two days; what is tumultuous is what’s going on inside the narrator, the author’s persona, overwhelmed by the sudden reappearance of his childhood playmate, Runtu; but Runtu is by no means the focus of the story, not even how different he looks after over 20 years; as a psychological drama, the short story shows, among other things, Chinese identity (Confucian cultural identity) as very limited; when looked from outside, a Confucian scholar such as Brother Xun is but one more “master” to be obeyed rather than a life long friend as Brother Xun originally thought he was to Runtu; Confucian humanism as represented by Brother Xun is called into question when the reader realizes how unreliable his private memory is; the problem the story seems to address is the identity or the image of the Chinese intellectuals who were out of touch with the day-to-day reality of the rank and file ordinary people that they profess they know or at least care a great deal; that tacit and self-flattering assumption is called into question when “I” or “brother Xun” feels that he is tricked by his own faulty memory;
- Hometown, by definition, is where one grew up and with which one is thoroughly familiar; but that is exactly what is untrue in this story; nothing turns out as “I” has expected because he has not prepared himself for what the passage of time has done to his hometown, to his childhood playmate, and to himself; as he re-enters his hometown, he already feels alienated or disconnected from the place about which he has so much fond memories and to which he has strong emotional attachments; what awaits him is an existential moment when it hits him that nothing stays the same over time; what seems to have eluded him as a humanist and idealist is the impact of (material) life on people, especially Runtu; more precisely, class-consciousness (or social awareness) that never was a part of his past with Runtu has entered into the picture when Runtu greets him by calling him “Master;”
- As a young child, “I” was never anything to Runtu, nor Runtu to him, other than a dear friend and playmate; the circumstances under which Runtu came to his family as a temp helper when his (Runtu’s) father presided over an elaborated family ancestral worship ceremony for the Lu family did not register in the minds of both kids who immediately became close friends; in this sense, “hometown” also signifies innocence because as young boys they were totally oblivious to such things as class, wealth, or status, too busy with catching birds and little animals; now that they have all gown up, their friendship inevitably developed or corrupted into a master-servant relationship in which Runtu feels quite at home, much to the dismay of “I” still in the mood to sentimentalize their childhood days;
- We as readers identify with the values of the narrator from whose perspective the story gets told; he is not snobbery as the woman doufu shop-keeper believes he is; he as well as his mother are kind to those whose social conditions are not as good; but as the authority of the narrator is undermined and cast in doubt, so is his humanity; how does Runtu remember their days as boys? apparently he is not sentimental about their past or reunion; the narrator also wonders about how his niece Hong’er and Runtu’s son Shui-sheng would remember one another years from now; would they feel as awkward then as he and Runtu do now?
- As an adult, Lu Xun finds his memory to be seriously flawed; his fond memory of Runtu is clouded by doubt after he runs into his childhood playmate and good friend from who only remembers him his master, which takes away authority as well as authenticity of whatever he has to say about human relationships; the narrator is bitterly frustrated and disappointed by Runtu’s servile attitude to him, which directly contradicts his impression of him as a good friend, a peer, and an equal, able to teach him everything there is to know about nature: the names of insects, and ways in which to catch beautiful birds as well as the animals that would harm the crops; the striking discrepancy between who Runtu was as Lu Xun remembers him and the poor farmer renders problematic one’s ability to recall past events, which is one of the corner stones of our intellectual and emotional life;
- the details of hometown and characteristics of the individuals, Sister Yang (杨二嫂、豆腐西施, Bean Curd Beauty) and Runtu, suggest changes that defy and undercut one’s fixed opinions of the world and the people in it; that which we call “hometown” offers many surprises even though we tend to think that is the one place (“China”) about which we know everything intimately; brother Xun has been away and to many places; as he returns, he romanticizes his past and those living in it, but those from his hometown make it hard because they cannot live or act according to how someone remembers them;
- The things that have changed since their teenage days suggest, registered through seeming insignificant details, the existence of social classes which has been conveniently forgotten or overlooked by the person in reverie, who is becoming an official, married with three concubines; with five children to feed and farm produce he is unable to sell, Runtu intrudes into Brother Xun’s innocent memory of their childhood and forces the reader to register important changes in human consciousness, in intellectual interests, in tastes, and in sensibilities; contrary to Marcel Proust’s view (the author of Remembrance of Things Past) that memory is truer and more meaningful to the individual than the real event that has happened, the message in Lu Xun’s Hometownseems to be that very little meaning and significance can be given to remembrance, despite the fact that there is often a reality hidden in the way past events are remembered. Proust believes there is an essence in our remembrance whereas Lu Xun questions the role memory plays in the life of an individual; both authors show in their narration that past and present merge, that reality appears in half-forgotten experiences, and that parts of the past are felt differently at different times; political events such as the Republican Revolution (1911) or the May Fourth (1919) invite people to re-imagine society in new ways; but old social realities are not easily imagined out of existence.
- The narrator represents the dilemma of an intellectual hoping for social reform but feeling impotent when it comes to helping women such as Sister Xianglin who lives under three oppressive powers: that of the husband, of the father, and of religion (夫权、父权、神权); this story revolving around Sister Xianglin shows the ways women operate in Confucian China under the three-obedience rule (三从四德) : when a daughter obey the father; when a wife obey the husband, when a widow, obey the son; not only does the heroine live a miserable life but she is also not free even in death, tormented spiritually by the weight of female virtues she aspires to that requires, among other things, that “a good woman does not serve two men” (一女不事二夫); the fact that she has been married to two men possesses her soul and bothers her conscience because as a traditional and religious woman she feels sinful and consumed by fear after Ah Ma Wang tells her that, according to popular Buddhist belief in karmic retribution, after death she will be sawed in halves in hell by her two dead husbands fighting over her, which is why she asks the narrator at the beginning if there is a soul after a person dies;
- The steps she takes (or is forced to take) in life help register attitudes towards women that are actually traps into which many women in Chinese society always fall; she is a wife twice, a mother, a widow, a maid, trying to be “womanly” the best she knows how in a patrilineal society in which a woman’s worth is measured by her devotion and service and loyalty to man; in her first marriage, she was a diligent wife to Xianglin; after he died, she tries to stay chaste and be a good daughter to her mother-in-law, the surrogate patriarch who has the right to and does marry her off for cash; in fear of being viewed as unchaste she runs away and becomes a maid in a family in Lu Village until she is spotted, brought back and married to a mountaineer; to honor her dead husband, she tries to kill herself at her wedding; in the next year she dutifully produces a son for her husband who soon dies of typhoid; she tries to raise her son by herself until disaster strikes again when a wolf from the mountain ate her son while she is away; the second time Sister Xianglin comes to work for Lu family as a maid, she has lost her mind, a lunatic constantly talking to herself and others about the incident of her son’s death, shunned by all as a bad omen and social disgrace;
- On the new year’s day when she dies, Fourth Uncle of Lu family talk about her as “a bad sign of character” (谬种, which is how Lu Xun was often viewed by his enemies); the society in which she lives and works appreciates her services while she is able to provide them but treats her (women) as sacrificial objects offered to bring good fortune; it is a society indifferent to the life and death of poor women like Sister Xianglin and it, the patriarchal system, operates like a meat grinder of female flesh; whenever people talk about Sister Xianglin, they employ the language or rhetoric of female virtue and chastity, misrepresenting her life in a way that ignores her real conditions; people congratulate her on getting work and celebrate her marriage as though they are all women are born and meant to do; that she is a captive of that moral and religious system that reduces her to this powerless position in the first place shows the extent of female victimization by the patriarchal order; exploited economically while alive and kept in hell after death because of religion, Sister Xianglin is truly synonymous to female suffering in its totality; she reflects Lu Xun’s view of Chinese morality as a sacrificial ground where many women meet their end.
|The Golden Cangue by Eileen Chang (1920-1995) 《金锁记》张爱玲
|Soul Mountain by Xingjian Gao, 《灵山》高行健著