Nearly all Lu Xun’s short stories were written between 1918 and 1925. The time they deal with is from the eve of the Republican Revolution of 1911 until the May Fourth movement of 1919. The characters they present are mostly women whom Lu Xun considers victims of traditional Chinese society—he calls them “unfortunates”—whether a failed litteratus, a maudit révolté (cursed rebel), an unlucky ricksha puller, or a young village woman plagued by widowhood. Although Lu Xun seems more comfortable as a writer when he deals with the downtrodden, he also sometimes concerns himself with certain members of the ruling class, the scholar-gentry either in or out of office, who are opportunists, compromisers, or oppressors of the common people. Although the stories usually focus on a single protagonist and expose either his or her misery or hypocrisy and cruelty, sometimes they also condemn the entire Chinese populace. This view is developed in “The Diary of a Madman,” in which the protagonist goes beyond tradition and sees the people as cannibals—the weak devouring the strong. Lu Xun was a moralist who viewed contemporaneous China as a sick and degenerate society badly in need of treatment. Ironically, the young man’s concern for the health of China gains for him the diagnosis of “mad.”
Lu Xun is usually termed a “realist” as a writer of short fiction. Communist critics call him a “critical realist,” a “militant realist,” and even a Socialist Realist. Although Lu Xun sought to make his stories conform to reality as he had experienced it and wanted his readers to credit them as based on the truth, he was not realistic in the sense of the fiction of the great European exponents of nineteenth century realism and naturalism, such as Ivan Turgenev, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola, in whom he never showed any interest. His realism was very personal and highly subjective. He was not interested in the material but in the spiritual. In his short stories, he probes into the human spirit as that has been affected by environment and tradition. If one considers the men he took for his intellectual mentors, T. H. Huxley, Max Stirner, Søren Kierkegaard, Henrik Ibsen, Friedrich Nietzsche, Georg Brandes, Lord Byron, Gogol, and Andreyev, one sees a curious thing: The majority are associated with the anti-Romantic spirit of individualism, and only two of them, Huxley and Brandes, with the anti-Romantic spirit of positivism. Lu Xun had an ironic view of reality that was highly subjective and tempered by strong Romantic elements. It was this view that attracted him to writers such as Gogol and Andreyev, both of whom attempted the fusion of Romanticism and realism and then the fusion of realism and symbolism, and Lu Xun adopted similar practices. Therefore, as a writer, Lu Xun might be more usefully termed a subjective realist or an expressionist rather than a social realist. He was surely not a Socialist Realist. One wonders how he would have taken Mao’s Yen’an Forum Talks of 1942. A satirist must exaggerate, draw sharp contrasts between good and evil. Although he exposed the faults of Chinese society, Lu Xun never offered any remedy except that it should honor the individual and free the spirit.
Lu Xun’s short stories, for the most part, grew out of his personal experience. He enhanced this subjectivity by the power of his imagination and taut artistic skill. His stories are characterized by their brevity but above all by their compactness of structure and their pithy, sharp style, in which each word is needed and apposite. His prose is strongly imagistic, especially in its visual appeal. Lu Xun seldom employs the figures of metaphor or simile; when he does use such a figure, however, it is usually highly effective. He makes use of historical and literary allusion, and one or more such allusions are to be found in the vast majority of his stories. He sometimes resorts to symbolism. Dialogue is usually kept to a minimum. Irony is a pervasive element in nearly all Lu Xun’s stories, with satire a frequent weapon used in defense of individual freedom. He shows unusual skill in fusing an action with its scene. Although description is suppressed, atmosphere emerges strongly.
Lu Xun was a highly sensitive man with a strong sense of justice. He was not content to endure evil with passive indifference. A sedentary literary man (a wenren), he admired action more than anything else but had no heart for it himself. An acute observer of human nature, but one with a limited range, he had a special knack for sketching what he saw with deft, swift strokes of his pen and with a minimum of words. He was a very gifted writer of short fiction but a mediocre thinker. His thinking fell short of complete clarity. A “wanderer” in the wasteland of hopes and broken dreams, he was at first inspired by Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche but misunderstood both. His later excursions into Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilich Lenin curtailed his imagination, aroused in him resentment and prejudice, and ran counter to his natural instinct for freedom, independence, and appreciation of individual worth. It was unfortunate that as a creative writer he thought that changing the face of China was more important than painting its portrait. As an individual, he could do little about the former but could have done much about the latter. He never realized this truth until the last year of his life.
Perhaps Lu Xun’s major weakness as a writer of fiction is his fondness for nostalgia, his lapses into sentimentality, and his inability always to deal fairly with persons other than the downtrodden. If in his short fiction Lu Xun had depicted humanity as he found it in all its richness, splendor, and nobility together with its poverty, stupidity, and moral degeneracy—in a spirit that extended charity to all and with a sense of the kinship of all human beings that included tolerance and a readiness on his part to pardon, leaving moral lessons for others to proclaim and class distinctions for others to condemn—he might have been a great writer rather than simply a gifted one whose full potential as a creative artist was never realized.
“The Diary of a Madman”
Of Lu Xun’s stories collected in Call to Arms, “The Diary of a Madman,” although it made its author prominent, is not one of his best. The first story to be written in the Western manner, it is more clever in conception than effective as a well-constructed tale. As C. T. Hsia, a judicious critic, has pointed out, the story’s weakness lies in the author’s failure to provide a realistic setting for the madman’s fantasies.
The story “Kong yiji,” about a failed scholar who has become a wine bibber at a village tavern, where he is the butt of jokes, is a much stronger story than “The Diary of a Madman.” Kong yiji has studied the classics, but he has failed to pass even the lowest official examination. With no means of earning a living, he would have been reduced to beggary except for his skill in calligraphy, which enabled him to support himself by copying. He loved wine too much, however, and he was lazy. When he needed money, he took to stealing books from the libraries of the gentry. For such actions he was frequently strung up and beaten. After being absent from the tavern for a long time, he reappears, dirty and disheveled, his legs broken. Partaking of warm wine, he is the butt of the jokes and taunts of the tavern yokels. He departs from the tavern, but he is never seen again. It is presumed that he has died. As a commentary on the Chinese social order, the story presents a man who is a part of the detritus left by the examination system. At the same time, he must take responsibility for his own weaknesses of character. In addition, the story shows how cruel and unfeeling people can be to those who are less fortunate than they.
“Yao” (“Medicine”) is another powerful story. It shows especially careful construction and makes effective use of symbolism. The story concerns two boys who are unknown to each other but whose lives follow equally disastrous courses to become linked after their deaths. Hua Xiaozhuan is the tubercular son of a tea-shop owner and his wife. The boy is dying. Anxious to save his life, the parents are persuaded to pay a packet of money for a mantou (steamed bread-roll) soaked with the blood of an executed man, which is alleged by tradition to be a sure cure for tuberculosis. The beheaded man is young Xia You, the son of the widow Xia. A revolutionary seeking the overthrow of the Manchu or Qing Dynasty, he was betrayed to the authorities by his conservative Third Uncle, who collected a reward for his treason. Thus, the blood of a martyr and hero, a representative of the new order, is used in the service of a superstitious and useless medical cure. If the parents are ignorant and superstitious, they also truly love their son and try by all the means they know to save him, but he dies, regardless. Nobody has sought to save Xia You from execution; indeed, all the customers at...
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Lu Xun wrote a novel detailing his life experiences in China from a first persona perspective of a madman’s thoughts about the Chinese society. Lu was particularly unhappy by the way quack doctors treated his fathers and the kind of expensive drugs they recommended in vain. Therefore, Lu was lived a melancholic life in which he was unhappy of his grandfather retiring lead9ing to their financial drain and his father’s death as a result of poor medication.
Lu was extremely furious about the Chinese medicine that was the source of his agony as a young teenage between the age of 15 and 16. Particularly, Lu said, “I gradually come to the conclusion that those physicians were charlatans, either unwitting or deliberately” (Jerome, Abiola, Irele, and Heather 995). Therefore, the father’s death as a result of wrong medicine or overmedication influenced the identity of Lu concerning the Chinese dependence on failed Chinese herbal medicine. Consequently, Lu decided to train as a qualified doctor with the objective of bringing to Chine western precise methods of medicine. Though Lu knew he would be considered a social outcast if he studied the western knowledge and technology, the young man decided against all odds to study Germany as the basic medicine language an action that further prejudiced Lu as someone who sold his soul to the foreign evil (Findeisen 196).
The perspective that western knowledge was sponsored by the devil is examined in The Madman’s Diary with respect cannibalism habits of the narrator’s society. Lu doubts everyone in his society the same way the narrator doubts the woman who is yelling at his son “…I could take a good bite right out of your hide” (Lu 993). The Chinese society is stereotypical referred to the hyena society that eats the dead meat since the protagonist madman believes that the people within the society exchange their sons to eat and use their skins to sleep on as hides. Therefore, though the Chinese people have a low opinion about the western knowledge and way of life, Lu just like the protagonist in the novel believes equally the Chinese society is rotten of morals and ethics.
Old Fifth Chen roughly towed and dragged the protagonist before locking him away in a study room lie chicken bolted behind walls that separate normal people from the abnormal personality. The madman is angered by Old Fifth Chen’s action of penning him up and treating him like simply chicken or duck without the slightest freedom of mind and thought. Therefore, cannibalism represents the social inclination to specific stereotypical traditions that rob man of reason to find solutions. Literally, Lu complains that the Chinese old traditions interfere with personal life to the extent that the people’s minds are locked away by a form of cannibalism that affects the mind and creative thinking capacity of each and every Chinese (Lu 997).
Lu presents the dramatic events of identity crisis that affect his life throughout since he disregards himself as a Chinese for branding the Chinese culture as the source of mind and creativity cannibalism. The protagonist doubts his elder brother because he is also attached to the Chinese traditions; example of a social unethical behavior is the frying up of a liver and a heart belonging to a of bad man who stole from the villager before the whole village arose and killed him before cooking him for food. Therefore, the protagonist is blaming the society and the government for creating adversaries within the society. The protagonist vomits fish meat taking it for human flesh because of the bigoted feelings and negative opinion about his own society and particularly his brother and Old Fifth.
The interpretation of the words Benevolent, Righteousness and Morality bother the protagonist as he wonders to know their meanings in the social setting. The madman questions the credibility of doctor He whom he believes is equally a cannibal who is not checking his pulse but whether the protagonist was fat and ready to be butchered. Just like Lu, the protagonist was quite suspicious of his surrounding because of losing his father to doctors who he called swindlers. Furthermore, Lu’s family background is affecting his identity just like the madman who kept in his mind the allegation that his brother advised him that it was moral approved to exchange children to eat and use their skins as a sleeping hide.
The protagonist epitomizes the Chinese social structure to the Hyena that eat rotting and dead meat instead of cannibals who eat fresh meat. The interpretation of morality is conjured up when the protagonist compared his brother to someone who has lost all his conscious and does immoral things without having the capacity to revert to righteousness. Therefore, the narrator decided to embark on a social reform agenda starting by reforming his brother. Family relationships come to the forefront in the novel when the narrator is inquiring into the cause of cannibalism and he concludes that the idea is passed from generation to generation from parent to child. The Chinese society is at large reflected as a sad world whereby everyone is afraid of being eaten by someone; therefore, the narrator insists that the solution is only through change of heart and way of thinking with introduction of travelling, working and eating. As a result, Lu is encouraging the Chinese young people to migrate to western and other places in the world to work and find better means to life than being wasted in Chinese villages. Lu himself left his land to study in Germany to reflect that the novel is about the author’s life.
Lu questions the religious credibility in controlling the spiritual and righteous life of Chinese people. In particular, the author allegorically refers to a story in which Yi Ya boiled his on as a sacrificed to Jie Zhou (Laws 42). Lu asserts that the culture of controlling the society from free expression of ideas was incarnated in the Chinese mythology in which he use the novel to reveal that cannibalism started from when Pan Gu separated the sky from the earth down to YI Ya’s sacrifice, to XU Xilin and down to the man who was killed in Wolf Cub Village whereby local ate the liver and heart of the individual in order to attain an esoteric heightened level of awareness and courage (Laws 42). Though the events used to interpret cannibalism remain specific to just the person killed at Wolf Cub Village though none could confirm the story except one young man, the madman exaggerates cannibalism out of proportion. However, the protagonist points out the government executions in the local village are a source of cannibalism inspiration in the story and the society. Execution of human life is a criminal offense unless someone is guilty beyond reproach, yet, in China, the government of Lu’s time used excessive power to control society through intimidations actions like calling whole village to experience the execution of a law breaker. The narrator s afraid of becoming the next target of cannibalism because of being labeled a madman, therefore the Chinese society is revealed of criminalizing innocent people by labeling them malevolent words that represent devil and evil just like everyone ganged up on a bad man and ate him. The first section of the book terminates when the narrator insists that the cannibalism state in China was soon over of people adopted modernity.
Lu examined the social structure of the Chins, Russian and Japanese societies and decided that he was incapable of changing the society through the medicine. One of his comrades was arrested for conspiring with the Russians and the Japanese military order executed the comrade in full spectacle of Chinese people. The Protagonist was unhappy that medicine veiled the society and decides to practice literature arts as a way of transforming the society from a bureaucratic socials getting to more comprehensive and free society for all persons. Though the author tried publishing magazines, the project failed and he had to travel to China where he was further disappointed with the political set up that neither allowed criticism nor positive commentary on politics; therefore, Lu’s messages to reform the Chinese public remained stranded in the media without replies nor opposition (Wang 152). The author declares that his loneliness in the media persisted changing into a poisonous snake that haunt his life as a ghost, inner darkness and ghosts that represent nothingness; hopelessness as a theme is expressed by the madman in his urge to the society to change but he is instead locked in a dark room in which he saw huge planks placating his way into his future. The dream is a personification of Lu as he struggled through the darkness of loneliness in which the narrator is asking the society to stop cannibalism and live like decent human beings; similarly, Lu is attempting to deconstruct social order by introducing modern alternative views to the closed Chinese culture. Lu engages inactive role of dissociating old stereotypical Chinese ideologies by interpreting a new identity that every Chinese should adopt universality over nationality (Laws 39).
According to Lucan theory, the mirror stage identity explains that personal identify is affected by interior dynamics that hold together construction of personal identity (Laws 39). Separation and intensive doubt affect the clarity of personal identity. Therefore, Lu’s dissociation from the Chinese culture is equal to the novel’s narrator’s equal dissociation program that is caused by intense feelings of loneliness. Lu is barren and dislocated from Chinese medicine roots and knowledge because he prefers Germany medicine knowledge though he gives up the struggle to turn into an author (Wang 40). However, the fight to develop self autonomous identity outside the collective Chinese identity becomes a mountainous task in which Lu and the narrator state that self-understanding eventually leads to the realization that individual personality is affected by social dynamics such as evolution of moral concepts that are justified by righteousness or doing what is considered as good in order to avoid isolation that is a direct consequence of individuality. Lucan theory explains that the relationship between the society and the individual affects the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real identity of each individual (Laws 42). The narrator imagines being a weakling who can easily be eaten up by cannibals since he perceives the society as a symbol of cannibalism that affects the real self of the author. Lu relies heavily on the deviated social concepts to define his hatred for Chinese culture. Doubt clouds the personality of the madman from knowing the real events that separate true psychological experience from perceived experience (Wang 41). The moon is used extensively in the novel to reminiscent the capacity to recall identity in the larger universe as compared to total darkness that represents disability. Doubt clouds the narrator’s ability to identify that his society is well behaved and not comprised of true cannibalism and doubt that someone is aiming to kill him. Lu Xun believes that mankind is yet to grow up since most men are somewhat placed between beasts and true mankind (Lindley 2).
The Diary of the Madman has been acclaimed as a source of Chinese history though the book lacks a coherent sociopolitical timeline, a chronology and names about important political and social characters in China. Confucian moral doctrine that placed people into a hierarchical canon is attached by Lu Xun in the novel who advocates for equality as the new philosophy of life. Critics have insisted that Lu’s work in the novel are inspired by the translation of Gogol’s homonymic works (Findeisen 191). The works is intended to identify feudalism as cannibalism in China and instead call for freedom of individualism.
In conclusion, Lu is examining loss of Chinese identity as a result of modernization and globalization that is deemed to overcome communication and sociopolitical barriers in establishing equality as opposed to hierarchical bureaucratic religious leadership that creates a cannibalistic society according to the narrator in the novel. Issues concerning real, symbolic and identity are discussed with special reference to imaginary and symbolic identity taking over real identity of both the narrator and the author when faced with difficult of being integrated into the society.
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