Tattler (Chinese periodical)

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Tattler (语丝)
Frequency Weekly
Publisher Tattler Publisher, Beijing
First issue November 17, 1924
Final issue March 1930
Country China
Language Chinese

Tattler (语丝) (Pinyin Yǔsī, "Language Thread") was an important Chinese weekly journal founded in 1924 and very influential in the establishment of the new literature in China. It later changed into a semi-monthly and finally ceased publication March 1930. It fostered a distinctive "Tattler literary style" (语丝文体).

Publishing History[edit]

Tattler was founded primarily by the following literary circle: Liang Yuchun 梁遇春、Zhou Zuoren 周作人、Lu Xun 鲁迅、 Lin Yutang 林语堂、Qian Xuntong 钱玄同、Yu Pingbo 俞平伯、Liu Bangnong 刘半农 and others, with Sun Fuyuan 孙伏园 as the editor. But Lu Xun actually was the prime mover. The Beiyang Government shut down the magazine after its 153rd issue October 15, necessitating a move to Shanghai. The 154th issue was published in Shanghai with Lu Xun as editor.[1]


Tattler primarily published essays. Its associated circle of scholars had somewhat different views about subject matters and writing styles. But they were united to expose and fix social ills of the time, banishing the traditional and welcoming the new, with open discussion of major issues; free discussion without preconceived ideas. The published works generally address serious and substantial matters with a light touch, using simple and clear language, without regard to convention and often with a biting style. This came to be known as the "Tattler literary style" (语丝文体). Good examples of the style are to be found in Lu Xun's 43 poems, essays and novellas published in the journal; and in the short essays of Zhou Zuoren. And all the writings were in the style of the vernacular Chinese "new literature". Following the move to Shanghai in 1927, Tattler articles became increasingly more literary and less political.

March 18 Massacre[edit]

On March 18, 1926 there was a large demonstration in front of the Beiyang government offices. It was specifically a protest against the Japanese warship shelling of Taku Forts on the 12th; and generally vociferous towards the unequal treaties with foreign powers. Government troops and police shot into the unarmed crowd and killed 47 students (including those at the Women's Normal University), wounding over 200. This came to be known as the March 18 Massacre The Tattler contributors promptly released a stream of emotional and biting articles for several months. Many of them taught at the universities and knew the student participants. The style of these writings differed substantially from the restrained articles to be found in "Contemporary Review". Both journals published articles calling into question the legitimacy of the Beiyang government under Duan Qirui.

Modernizing written Chinese[edit]

Early Republic of China journals such as "Contemporary Review" along with "La Jeunesse" (founded 1915), "Creation Quarterly" (1921), "Tattler" (November 1924) and others played a critical role to modernize the Chinese written language. All these young scholars were heady with the successful Xinhai 1911 revolution which overthrew thousands of years of imperial rule. Their goal was a different revolution, that of the written language, changing it from the classical to the spoken vernacular and so bringing it closer to the general population. These talented writers and scholars had close relationships with successive education ministries. They established the education system and the curriculum. (Hu Shih 胡适 for example served as Education Minister for the Republic of China. Cheng Fangwu 成仿吾 of "Creation Quarterly" set up the Red Army education system for their long march and beyond.) These journals published the new literature authors. The reviews (sometimes very heated) gave theoretical foundation for the works. By the end of the 20th century, the Chinese general population achieved a level of literacy. It took more than 50 years in the 20th century. But it is today the normal printed or written Chinese language.

Representative Issues[edit]


This is the masthead and table of contents for the 15th issue, February 6, 1925. It hints at the contents of the journal and their span before the March 18 Massacre.


  • Another Discussion on the Collapse of Lei Feng Pagoda by Lu Xun 鲁迅
  • Collection of Essays and Poems by Baudelaire, Zhang Dinghuan 张定璜
  • On Mulian Opera 目连戏, Kai Ming 开明
  • On the Road at Dusk, by Tai Yuan 泰园
  • Purity of Perception (buddhist concept), Zi Rong 子荣
  • Death of a Child, by You Shi 幽石
  • Pagoda at the Crossroad, by Kai Ming 开明

Lu Xun and White Snake[edit]

The Lei Feng Pagoda article was revisiting an earlier article (next to masthead, picture above) on the subject by Lu Xun. The pagoda was on the south shore of Xihu (West Lake) in Hangzhou, a glorious golden sunset site for over a thousand years. It finally collapsed in 1924. Lu Xun wrote a short essay about the pagoda and its collapse, with unmistakable irony mirroring the misguided policies of the Beiyang government which was cracking down on dissidents to support the status quo. He used an engaging, light and self-deprecating style with everyday conversational language. It was an essay and a retelling of an ancient folklore, and being short as well, the reader is compelled to finish.

Lu Xun begins by writing that his grandmother told him once upon a time a man called Xu Xian 许仙 rescued two snakes, one white and one green. To repay his kindness, the white snake transformed into a beautiful maiden and became his wife. One day an itinerant monk Fa Hai 法海 called and sensed the wife's origin. The monk locked Xu in the tower and lured the wife to him. He then cast a spell on her and moved the pagoda over the white snake, forever burying her below. For this folklore the majority of ordinary people (except perhaps monks) were sympathetic with the white snake and not with the busybody monk.

As time went on, the pagoda was ravaged by successive wars and wokou (Japanese pirates in the 13-15th century). Its golden coating was burnt and bare bricks were exposed. Various relics and sacred Buddhist scrolls were found in hidden crevices. According to superstition, even the bricks had supernatural powers to heal and increase virility. They were stolen one by one until the pagoda collapsed in 1924. Lu Xun likened the bedrock of the Duan Ruiqi government to these bricks. In the folklore, the white snake was ultimately freed by the Jade Emperor of the Heavens. Fa Hai the monk had to conceal himself within the shell of a crab constantly seeking a hiding place. Lu Xun then described in great detail how to eat a crab by first peeling away the outer shell, consume the delicate eggs or gel, remove a white layer, finally to reveal the inedible inner shell which has an image of the monk.

This is a superb example of a Lu Xun "xiao ping" 小品, a mesmerizing short essay combining fact and fiction, fantastically commenting on a current issue with irony and humor.


  1. ^ Hockx, Michel (1999). The literary field of twentieth-century China. University of Hawaiʻi. ISBN 9780824822026. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  • Schwarcz, Vera. The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
  • Feng, Liping (April 1996). "Democracy and Elitism: The May Fourth Ideal of Literature". Modern China (Sage Publications, Inc.) 22 (2): 170–196. ISSN 0097-7004. JSTOR 189342.
  • Conn, Peter. Pearl S. Buck, Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-521-56080-2. (Chapter 2, "New Worlds" about 2/3 of the way, there is a nice 2+ page short snapshot of this time in China. There is also an enormous bibliography. While Pearl Buck was not part of the Chinese literary circle and somewhat out of fashion today, she grew up among the poor villagers as a child. She was also writing about China at this time.)
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China, W.W. Norton and Company. (1999). ISBN 0-393-97351-4.

Further reading[edit]

《语丝》 Chinese Wikipedia, 维基百科 (Chinese text): 语丝

《语丝社》 Baidu Baike, 百度百科 (Chinese text): http://baike.baidu.com/view/35519.htm

"Lei Feng Pagoda" 雷峰塔, Baidu Baike, 百度百科 (Chinese text): http://baike.baidu.com/view/22260.htm