Lu Xun

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Lu Xun
Born (1881-09-25)September 25, 1881
Shaoxing, Zhejiang, China
Died October 19, 1936(1936-10-19) (aged 55)
Shanghai, China
Pen name Lu Xun
Occupation writer, critic, essayist
Period 1881–1936
Lu Xun
Simplified Chinese 鲁迅
Traditional Chinese 魯迅
Zhou Shuren
Simplified Chinese 周树人
Traditional Chinese 周樹人

Lu Xun or Lu Hsün (Wade-Giles), was the pen name of Zhou Shuren (September 25, 1881 – October 19, 1936), a leading figure of modern Chinese literature. Writing in Vernacular Chinese as well as Classical Chinese, Lu Xun was a novelist, editor, translator, literary critic, essayist, and poet. In the 1930s he became the titular head of the League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai.

Lu Xun's works exerted a substantial influence after the May Fourth Movement that began around 1916. He was highly acclaimed by the Communist regime after 1949, and Mao Zedong himself was a lifelong admirer of Lu Xun's works. Though sympathetic to communist ideas, Lu Xun never actually joined the Chinese Communist Party. Like many leaders of the May Fourth Movement, he was primarily a leftist and liberal.


Early life[edit]

Childhood residence of Lu Xun in Shaoxing

Born in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, Lu Xun was named Zhou Zhangshou (周樟壽, P: Zhōu Zhāngshòu, W: Chou Chang-shou) with his courtesy name Yushan (豫山, P: Yùshān, W: Yü-shan). The courtesy name was later changed to Yucai (豫才, P: Yùcái, W: Yü-ts'ai). In 1898, before he went to Jiangnan Naval Academy, he took the given name of "Shuren" (樹人, P: Shùrén, W: Shu-jen), figuratively, "to be an educated man".[1]

The Shaoxing Zhou family was very well-educated, and his paternal grandfather Zhou Fuqing (周福清, P: Zhōu Fúqīng, W: Chou Fu-ch'ing) held posts in the Hanlin Academy; Zhou's mother, née Lu, taught herself to read. However, after a case of bribery was exposed – in which Zhou Fuqing tried to procure an office for his son, Lu Xun's father, Zhou Boyi – the family fortunes declined. Zhou Fuqing was arrested and almost beheaded. Meanwhile, a young Zhou Shuren was brought up by an elderly servant Ah Chang, whom he called Chang Ma; one of Lu Xun's favorite childhood books was the Classic of Mountains and Seas.[2]

His father's chronic illness and eventual death during Lu Xun's adolescence, apparently from tuberculosis, persuaded Zhou to study medicine. Distrusting traditional Chinese medicine, he went abroad to pursue a Western medical degree at Sendai Medical Academy (now medical school of Tohoku University) in Sendai, Japan, in 1904.[2]

Lu Xun in his youth


Lu Xun was educated at Jiangnan Naval Academy (T: 江南水師學堂, S: 江南水师学堂, P: Jiāngnán Shuǐshī Xuétáng, W: Chiang-nan Shui-shih Hsüeh-t'ang) (1898–99), and later transferred to the School of Mines and Railways (T: 礦路學堂, S: 矿路学堂, P: Kuànglù Xuétáng, W: K'uang-lu Hsüeh-t'ang) at Jiangnan Military Academy (T: 江南陸師學堂, S: 江南陆师学堂, P: Jiāngnán Lùshī Xuétáng, W: Chiang-nan Lu-shih Hsüeh-t'ang). It was there Lu Xun had his first contacts with Western learning, especially the sciences; he studied some German and English, reading, amongst some translated books, Huxley's Evolution and Ethics, J. S. Mill's On Liberty, as well as novels like Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

On a Qing government scholarship, Lu Xun left for Japan in 1902. He first attended the Kobun Gakuin (Kobun Institute ZH, JA, Hongwen xueyuan, 弘文學院), a preparatory language school for Chinese students attending Japanese universities. His earliest essays, written in Classical Chinese, date from here. Lu also practised some jujutsu.

Lu Xun returned home briefly in 1903. At age 22, he complied to an arranged marriage with a local gentry girl, Zhu An (朱安, P: Zhū Ān, W: Chu An). Zhu, illiterate and with bound feet, was handpicked by Lu Xun's mother. Lu Xun possibly never consummated this marriage, although he took care of her material needs all his life.


Lu Xun left for Sendai Medical Academy in 1904 and gained a minor reputation there as the first foreign student of the college. At the school he struck up a close student-mentor relationship with lecturer Fujino Genkurō (藤野厳九郎); Lu Xun would recall his mentor respectfully and affectionately in an essay "Mr Fujino" in the memoirs in Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk. (Incidentally, Fujino would repay the respect with an obituary essay on Lu Xun's death, in 1937.) However, in March 1906, Lu Xun abruptly terminated his pursuit of the degree and left the college.

Lu Xun, in his well-known Preface to Nahan (T: 吶喊, S: 呐喊, P: Nàhǎn, W: Na-han, Call to Arms), the first collection of his short stories, tells the story of why he gave up completing his medical education at Sendai. One day after class, one of his Japanese instructors screened a lantern slide documenting the imminent execution of an alleged Chinese spy by the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). Lu Xun was shocked by the complete apathy of the Chinese onlookers; he decided it was more important to cure his compatriots' spiritual ills rather than their physical diseases.

"At the time, I hadn't seen any of my fellow Chinese in a long time, but one day some of them showed up in a slide. One, with his hands tied behind him, was in the middle of the picture; the others were gathered around him. Physically, they were as strong and healthy as anyone could ask, but their expressions revealed all too clearly that spiritually they were calloused and numb. According to the caption, the Chinese whose hands were bound had been spying on the Japanese military for the Russians. He was about to be decapitated as a 'public example.' The other Chinese gathered around him had come to enjoy the spectacle." (Lyell , pp 23).

Moving to Tokyo in spring 1906, he came under the influence of scholar and philologist Zhang Taiyan and with his brother Zuoren, also on scholarship, published a translation of some East European and Russian Slavic short stories, including the works of a Polish Nobel laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz. He spent the next three years in Tokyo writing a series of essays in classical Chinese on the history of science, Chinese and comparative literature, European literature and intellectual history, Chinese society, reform and religion, as well as translating the literature of various countries into Chinese.


1918 printed edition of A Madman's Diary, collection of the Beijing Lu Xun Museum.

Returning to China in 1909, Lu Xun began teaching in the Zhejiang Secondary Normal School (浙江两级师范学堂), the predecessor of Hangzhou High School (浙江省杭州高级中学), Shaoxing Chinese-Western School Middle school of Shaojun (绍郡中西学堂, the predecessor of Shaoxing No.1 High School) in his hometown. With the establishment of the republic, he took a post in the Ministry of Education in Nanjing and moved with the Republican Government to Beijing, where he began to write. Lu Xun remained at the Ministry of Education until 1926 becoming first a section head and then Assistant Secretary. In 1920, encouraged by some fellow associates, he took up part-time teaching positions at the Peking University and Peking Women's Teachers College.

In May 1918, Lu Xun used this pen name for the first time and published the first major baihua short story, Kuangren Riji (狂人日記, "A Madman's Diary"). He chose the surname Lu as it was his mother's maiden family name. Partly inspired by the Gogol short story, it was a scathing criticism of outdated Chinese traditions and feudalism which was metaphorically 'gnawing' at the Chinese like cannibalism. It immediately established him as one of the most influential writers of his day.

Another of his well-known longer stories, The True Story of Ah Q (A Q Zhengzhuan, 阿Q正傳), was published in installments from 1921 to 1922. The latter would become his most famous work. Both works were included in his first short story collection Na Han (吶喊) or Call to Arms, published in 1923.

Between 1924 to 1926, Lu wrote his essays of ironic reminiscences in Zhaohua Xishi (朝花夕拾, Dawn Blossoms Picked at Dusk), published 1928, as well as the prose poem collection Ye Cao (野草, Wild Grass, published 1927). Lu Xun also wrote many of the stories to be published in his second short story collection Pang Huang (彷徨) in 1926. Becoming increasingly estranged with his brother Zuoren, the stories are typically more melancholic than in his earlier collection. From 1926, after the March 18 Massacre, for supporting the students' protests which led to the incident, he went on an imposed exile to Xiamen, Amoy University, then to Zhongshan University at Guangzhou with his student and lover Xu Guangping.

From 1927 to his death, Lu Xun shifted to the more liberal city of Shanghai, where, at the instigation of the Chinese Communist Party, he co-founded the League of Left-Wing Writers. When it became apparent, however, that he would have little influence in the organization, he became disillusioned with its demands for literature to serve politics.[3] Most of his essays date from this last period. Xu Guangping gave birth to a son, Haiying, on September 27, 1929. She was in labor with the baby for 27 hours. The child's name meant simply "Shanghai infant". His parents chose the name thinking that he could change it himself later, but he never did so.[4] In 1930 Lu Xun's Zhongguo Xiaoshuo Shilue (中國小說史略, A Concise History of Chinese Fiction) was published. It is a comprehensive overview of history of Chinese fiction up till that time, drawn from Lu Xun's own lectures delivered at Peking University and would become one of the landmark books of Chinese literary criticism in the twentieth-century.

His other important works include volumes of translations — notably from Russian (he particularly admired Nikolai Gogol and made a translation of Dead Souls, and his own first story's title is inspired by a work of Gogol) — discursive writings like Re Feng (熱風, Hot Wind), and many other works such as prose essays, which number around 20 volumes or more. As a left-wing writer, Lu played an important role in the history of Chinese literature. His books were and remain highly influential and popular even today. Lu Xun's works also appear in high school textbooks in Japan. He is known to Japanese by the name Rojin (ロジン in Katakana or 魯迅 in Kanji).

Lu Xun was the editor of several left-wing magazines such as New Youth (新青年, Xin Qingnian) and Sprouts (萌芽, Meng Ya). Because of his leanings, and of the role his works played in the subsequent history of the People's Republic of China, Lu Xun's works were banned in Taiwan until the late 1980s. He was among the early supporters of the Esperanto movement in China.

Last days and death[edit]

Lu Xun's residence in Shanghai until his death
Lu Xun's tomb in Shanghai

By 1936, Lu Xun's lungs had been greatly weakened by tuberculosis. He was a chronic smoker. In March of that year, he was stricken with bronchitic asthma and a fever. The treatment for this involved draining 300 grams of fluid in the lungs through puncture. From June to August, he was again sick, and his weight dropped to only 83 pounds. He recovered some, and wrote two essays in the fall reflecting on mortality. These included "Death", and "This Too Is Life". At 3:30 am on the morning of October 18, the author woke with great difficulty breathing. Dr. Sudo, his physician, was summoned, and Lu Xun took injections to relieve the pain. His wife was with him throughout that night, but Lu Xun was found without a pulse at 5:11 am the next morning, October 19.[5] His remains were interred in a mausoleum within Lu Xun Park in Shanghai. Mao Zedong made the calligraphic inscription above his tomb. He was survived by his son, Zhou Haiying. He was also posthumously made a member of the Communist Party for his contributions to the May Fourth Movement.

Style and thought[edit]

Lu Xun was a versatile writer. He wrote using both traditional Chinese conventions and 19th century European literary forms. His style has been described in equally broad terms, conveying both "sympathetic engagement" and "ironic detachment" at different moments.[6] His essays are often very incisive in his societal commentary, and in his stories his mastery of the vernacular language and tone make some of his literary works (like A Q Zhengzhuan, 阿Q正傳, The True Story of Ah Q) very hard to convey through translation. In them, he frequently treads a fine line between criticizing the follies of his characters and sympathizing with those very follies. Lu Xun is a master of irony (as can been seen in The True Story of Ah Q) and yet can write impressively direct with simple engagement (My Old Home, A Little Incident).

Lu Xun is typically regarded by Mao Zedong as the most influential Chinese writer who was associated with the May Fourth Movement. He produced harsh criticism of social problems in China, particularly in his analysis of the "Chinese national character". He was sometimes called a "champion of common humanity."[by whom?][citation needed]

Lu Xun felt that the 1911 Xinhai Revolution had been a failure. In 1925 he opined, "I feel the so-called Republic of China has ceased to exist. I feel that, before the revolution, I was a slave, but shortly after the revolution, I have been cheated by slaves and have become their slave." He even recommended that his readers heed the critique of Chinese culture in Chinese Characteristics, by the missionary writer Arthur Smith. His disillusionment with politics led him to conclude in 1927 that "revolutionary literature" alone could not bring about radical change. Rather, "revolutionary men" needed to lead a revolution using force.[7] In the end, he had a profound disappointment with the new Nationalist government, which he viewed as ineffective and even harmful to China.


Bust of Lu Xun in Kiskőrös, Hungary

Lu Xun has been described by Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe as "The greatest writer Asia produced in the twentieth century."[8] Lu Xun's importance to modern Chinese literature lies in the fact that he contributed significantly to nearly every modern literary medium during his lifetime. He wrote in a clear lucid style which was to influence many generations, in stories, prose poems and essays. Lu Xun's two short story collections, Nahan (A Call to Arms or Outcry) and Panghuang (Wandering), are often taken to mark the beginning of modern Chinese literature, and are established classics. Lu Xun's translations were important in a time when Western literature was seldom read, and his literary criticisms remain acute and persuasively argued.

The relationship between Lu Xun and the Communist Party of China after the author's death was a complex one. On one hand, Party leaders depicted him as "drawing the blueprint of the communist future". Mao Zedong defined him as the "chief commander of China's Cultural Revolution," although Lu did not join the party. During the 1920s and 1930s, Lu Xun and his contemporaries often met informally for freewheeling intellectual discussions. As the Party sought more control over intellectual life in China, this type of intellectual independence was suppressed, often violently. Finally, Lu Xun's satirical and ironic writing style itself was discouraged, ridiculed, then as often as possible destroyed. Mao wrote that "...the style of the essay should not simply be like Lu Xun's. [In a Communist society] we can shout at the top of our voices and have no need for veiled and round-about expressions, which are hard for the people to understand". Thus, during the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party both hailed Lu Xun as one of the fathers of communism in China, yet ironically suppressed the very intellectual culture and style of writing that he represented. Some of his essays and writings are now part of the primary school and middle school compulsory curriculum in China.[9] However, in 2007 some of his bleaker works were removed from school textbooks. Julia Lovell, who has translated Lu Xun's writing suggests, "Perhaps also it was an attempt to discourage the youth of today from Lu Xun's inconveniently fault-finding habits."[10]

The work of Lu Xun has also received attention outside of China. In 1986, Fredric Jameson cited "A Madman's Diary" as the "supreme example" of the "national allegory" form that all Third World literature takes.[11] Gloria Davies compares Lu Xun to Nietzsche, saying that both were "trapped in the construction of a modernity which is fundamentally problematic".[12] According to Leonardo Vittorio Arena, Lu Xun cultivates an ambiguous standpoint towards Nietzsche, a mixture of attraction and repulsion, the latter because of Nietzsche's excesses in style and content.[13]

A major literature prize in China, the Lu Xun Literary Prize is named after him. Asteroid (233547) 2007 JR27 was named after him. A crater on Mercury is named after him.



  • "What Happens After Nora Leaves Home?" A Talk given at the Beijing Women's Normal College, December 26, 1923. Ding Ling and Lu Hsun, The Power of Weakness. The Feminist Press (2007) 84-93.
  • 中國小說史 (Zhongguo xiaoshuo shilue; lectures given 1923-24) translated as A Brief History of Chinese Fiction Foreign languages Press, 1959). Translated by G. Yang and H.-y. Yang. various reprints.


  • (怀旧, "Return to the Past" was his first short story, it appeared in 1909.
  • from 《呐喊》 Call to Arms (1922)
  • from《彷徨》"Wandering"
    • 祝福 "New Year Sacrifice" (1924)
    • 在酒楼上 In the Drinking House (1924)
    • 幸福的家庭 A Happy Family (1924)
    • 肥皂 Soap (1924)
    • 长明灯 The Eternal Flame (1924)
    • 示众 Public Exhibition (1925)
    • 高老夫子 Old Mr. Gao (1925)
    • 孤独者 The Misanthrope (1925)
    • 伤逝 Sadness
    • 弟兄 Brothers
    • 离婚 Divorce (1925)
  • from《故事新编》 "Old Tales Retold" (1935)
    • 补天 Mending Heaven (1935)
    • 奔月 The Flight to the Moon (1926)
    • 理水 Curbing the Flood (1935)
    • 采薇 Gathering Vetch (1935)
    • 铸剑 Forging the Swords (1926)
    • 出关 Going out (1935) = Leaving the Pass
    • 非攻 Opposing Aggression (1934)
    • 起死 Resurrect the Dead (1935)


  • 我之节烈观 My Views on Chastity (1918)
  • 我们现在怎么做父亲 What is Required to be a Father Today (1919)
  • Knowledge is a Crime (1919)
  • 说胡须 My Moustache (1924)
  • 看镜有感 Thoughts Before the Mirror (1925)
  • 论“费厄泼赖”应该缓行 On Deferring Fair Play (1925)


  • 《呐喊》 Call to Arms (Na han) (1923)
  • 《彷徨》 Wandering (Pang huang) (1925)
  • 《中国小说史略》 Brief History of Chinese Fiction (Zhongguo xiaoshuo shilüe) (1925) a substantial study of pre-modern Chinese literature
  • 《故事新编》 Old Tales Retold (Gu shi xin bian) (1935)
  • 《野草》 Wild Grass (Ye cao) (1927)
  • 《朝花夕拾》 Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk (Zhao hua xi shi)(1932) a collection of essays about his youth

Translations into English[edit]

Lu Xun's works became known to English readers beginning in 1936 with an anthology edited by Edgar Snow and Nym Wales Living China, Modern Chinese Short Stories, in which Part One included seven of Lu Xun's stories and a short biography based on Snow's talks with Lu Xun.[14] However there was not a complete translation of the fiction until the four volume set of his writings, which included Selected Stories of Lu Hsun translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang. Another full seleection was William A. Lyell. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990). In 2009, Penguin Classics published a complete translation by Julia Lovell of his fiction, The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun which the scholar Jeffrey Wasserstrom[15] said "could be considered the most significant Penguin Classic ever published."[16]

The Lyrical Lu Xun: a Study of his Classical-style Verse—a book by Jon Eugene von Kowallis (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996) -- includes a complete introduction to Lu Xun's poetry in the classical style, with Chinese characters, literal and verse translations, and a biographical introduction which summarizes his life in relation to his poetry.

Capturing Chinese Short Stories from Lu Xun's Naha Edited by Kevin Nadolny (Capturing Chinese Publications, 2009) -- includes short summaries to Lu Xun's stories, the Chinese text in simplified characters, pinyin, and definitions for difficult vocabulary.

See also[edit]


  • Leonardo Vittorio Arena, Nietzsche in China in the XXth Century, ebook, 2012.
  • Gloria Davies. Lu Xun's Revolution: Writing in a Time of Violence. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. ISBN 9780674072640 (alk. paper).
  • Kirk Denton, "Lu Xun Biography." MCLC Resource Center Ohio State University
  • Leo Ou-Fan Lee. Lu Xun and His Legacy. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. ISBN 0520051580.
  • Leo Ou-Fan Lee. Voices from the Iron House : A Study of Lu Xun. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Studies in Chinese Literature and Society, 1987. ISBN 0253362636.
  • William A. Lyell. Lu Hsün's Vision of Reality. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. ISBN 0520029402.
  • David E. Pollard. The True Story of Lu Xun. (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2002. ISBN 9629960605.
  • Chinese Writers on Writing featuring Lu Xun. Ed. Arthur Sze. (Trinity University Press, 2010).


  1. ^ Zhou Zuoren. 鲁迅的青年时代 (Lu Xun's youth). 河北教育出版社 (Hebei Education Press). ISBN 7-5434-4391-0. 
  2. ^ a b Kirk A. Denton, "Lu Xun Biography," MCLC Resource Center, (2002)
  3. ^ Leo Oufan Lee, "Literary Trends: The Road to Revolution 1927-1949," Ch 9 in Fairbank, John King; Feuerwerker, Albert; Twitchett, Denis Crispin (1986). The Cambridge history of China. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-24338-6.  link to excerpt
  4. ^ McDougall, Bonnie S.; Lu Xun, Xu Guangping (2002). Love-letters and Privacy in Modern China: The Intimate Lives of Lu Xun and Xu Guangping. Oxford University Press. p. 64. 
  5. ^ Jenner, W. J. F. (September 1982). "Lu Xun's Last Days and after". The China Quarterly (Cambridge University Press on behalf of the School of Oriental and African Studies) 91: 424–445. doi:10.1017/S0305741000000643. JSTOR 653365. 
  6. ^ Hesford, Walter (April 1992). "Overt Appropriation". College English (National Council of Teachers of English) 54 (4): 406–417. doi:10.2307/377832. JSTOR 377832. 
  7. ^ Lee, Leo Ou-Fan (July 1976). "Literature on the Eve of Revolution: Reflections on Lu Xun's Leftist Years, 1927-1936". Modern China (Sage Publications, Inc.) 2 (3): 277–326. doi:10.1177/009770047600200302. JSTOR 189028. ; Lydia Liu,”Translating National Character: Lu Xun and Arthur Smith,” Ch 2, Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity: China 1900-1937 (Stanford 1995).
  8. ^ Jon Kowallis (University of Melbourne) (1996). "Interpreting Lu Xun". Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR): 153–164. 
  9. ^ Goldman, Merle (September 1982). "The Political Use of Lu Xun". The China Quarterly (Cambridge University Press on behalf of the School of Oriental and African Studies) 91: 446–447. doi:10.1017/S0305741000000655. JSTOR 653366. 
  10. ^ Lovell, Julia (2010-06-12). "China's conscience". Guardian. 
  11. ^ Jameson, Fredric (Autumn 1986). "Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism". Social Text (Duke University Press) 15 (15): 65–88. JSTOR 466493. 
  12. ^ Davies, Gloria (July 1992). "Chinese Literary Studies and Post-Structuralist Positions: What Next?". The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs (Contemporary China Center, Australian National University) 28 (28): 67–86. doi:10.2307/2950055. JSTOR 2950055. 
  13. ^ Arena, Leonardo Vittorio (2012). Nietzsche in China in the XXth Century. ebook. 
  14. ^ (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1937. Reprinted: Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1973. ISBN 088355092X.
  15. ^ Jeffrey Wasserstrom, UC Irvine, Department of History
  16. ^ "China's Orwell", Jeffrey Wasserstrom, TIME, Dec. 07, 2009

External links[edit]