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Kong Yiji was first published in New Youth magazine in April 1919, and is also the name of the main character in the story. The story recounts the destitute outcome of a scholar, from the eyes of a young adolescent waiter at Xianheng Tavern, Lu Town (substitute for the author's hometown, real-life Shaoxing).
His name was said in the story to have derived from a common text for youngsters to practice calligraphy, which has no actual meaning, being purely a collection of characters for practice. The three characters were the 4th to 6th characters in the text, and it was used because people did not know his name other than that his surname was "Kong". Written before the May Fourth Movement, this piece is the second Vernacular Chinese story written by Lu Xun after writing A Madman's Diary.
This story describes Kong Yiji as a scholar who has not passed the Imperial Examination to become a xiucai. As a result, Kong Yiji eventually loses his respectability, and descends into an object of ridicule at the local inn. His ending is not clear, other than the last time he was seen, he had suffered a beating and broken legs for stealing, and had finally traded in his usual attire. The story made clear some of the social problems of the time, including the fact that the innkeeper orders the waiter to water down the wine to be served to the working-class patrons, while not doing so for his wealthier customers.
Kong Yiji is a lifelong "student", who never manages to pass the Imperial Examinations to become an official. He earns a living from copying manuscripts for rich patrons, but he often steals their writing equipment and gets beaten up for it. In fact, he is very poor and forced to steal from his employers for a living, insisting it is borrowing since he and the employers are of the higher class. Every time he is seen, he bears new cuts and bruises for his stealing.
Kong Yiji is an anomaly in this small town. He wears a long gown, which is a sign of the moneyed upper-class, yet his gown is old and tattered since he has no money to buy a new one. He is tall and strong and could make a good living from manual work, yet he is too proud to stoop that low. At the inn, the workers who wear short tunics stand outside on the street to drink their Chinese wine, while the respected long-gowned officials get to sit inside. Kong Yiji wears a long gown, yet he is not allowed to sit inside.
Most students during this historical period wanted to pass the examinations to become a government official. If they managed to pass the examinations, they could become rich by exploiting other people.[clarification needed] Kong Yiji is one of these students, but he never passes the examinations. Whenever he has the money, he drinks in the inn in which the narrator works as a young waiter.
It is considered by some people that Lu Xun wrote this story to express the sadness of the students at that time. Others have suggested that Lu Xun wrote the story to explain the problems with the 'feudal society', where people could waste their entire life trying to pass meaningless examinations and where people were selfish and completely indifferent to the plight of others.
- Lu, Xun, Editor: Kevin Nadolny, Illustrations by Baidi and Gege. Short Stories from Lǔ Xùn's Nàhǎn. Capturing Chinese, July 1, 2009. ISBN 0984276203, 9780984276202.
Notes and references
- Lu, p. 60.
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