A Madman's Diary
A copy of A Madman's Diary in the Beijing Lu Xun Museum
"A Madman's Diary" (simplified Chinese: 狂人日记; traditional Chinese: 狂人日記; pinyin: Kuángrén Rìjì; Wade–Giles: K'uang-jen Jih-chi) was published in 1918 by Lu Xun, one of the greatest writers in 20th-century Chinese literature. This short story is one of the first and most influential modern works written in vernacular Chinese and would become a cornerstone of the New Culture Movement. It is the first story in Call to Arms, a collection of short stories by Lu Xun. The story was often referred to as "China's first modern short story". This book was selected as one of the 100 best books in history by the Bokklubben World Library.
The diary form was inspired by Nikolai Gogol's short story "Diary of a Madman, " as was the idea of the madman who sees reality more clearly than those around him. The "madman" sees "cannibalism" both in his family and the village around him, and he then finds cannibalism in the Confucian classics which had long been credited with a humanistic concern for the mutual obligations of society, and thus for the superiority of Confucian civilization. The story was read as an ironic attack on traditional Chinese culture and a call for a New Culture.
The story presents itself as diary entries (in vernacular Chinese) of a madman who, according to the foreword, written in classical Chinese, has now been cured of his paranoia. The diary describes a growing fear, then, after extensively studying the Four books and five classics of old Confucian culture, the diary writer, the supposed "madman", began to see the words "Eat People!" “吃人” (chiren) written between the lines of the texts (in classical Chinese texts, commentary was placed between the lines of the text, rather than in notes at the bottom of a page). Seeing the people in his village as potential man-eaters, he is gripped by the fear that everyone, including his brother, his venerable doctor and his neighbors, who are crowding about to watch him, are harboring cannibalistic thoughts on him. Despite the brother's apparent genuine concern, the narrator still regards him as big a threat as any stranger. Towards the end the narrator turns his concern to the younger generation, especially his late sister (who died when she was five) as he is afraid they will be cannibalized. By then he is convinced that his late sister had been eaten up by his brother, and that he himself may have unwittingly tasted her flesh.
The story ends with the famous line: "Save the children..."
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- Yi-tsi Mei Fuerwerker, "Lu Xun, Yu Dafu, and Wang Meng," in: Ellen Widmer and David Der-wei Wang (editors). From May Fourth to June Fourth: Fiction and Film in Twentieth-Century China. Harvard University Press, 1993. ISBN 0674325028.171 , p. 171.
- Stephen Owen "A Madman's Diary" (Harvard Overview of World Literatures,)
- Full Chinese text of 狂人日記 at Project Gutenberg
- English translation at Marxists.org
- Lesson Plan for Lu Xun's Preface and "Diary of a Madman"