Lu Xun, a Lofty and Un­yield­ing Soul

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Hui­hui Edited by Mark Zuide­veld Pho­tos by Frank P. Palmer (Uruguay)

Lu Xun had a big in­flu­ence af­ter the May Fourth Move­ment in 1919. One of his for­mer res­i­dences, in in­ner Fucheng­men, Bei­jing, still main­tains its fur­nish­ings for vis­i­tors to ad­mire.

An or­di­nary and small court­yard re­mains in 21 San­tiao Ally in in­ner Fucheng­men, in West Bei­jing, with two lush white cloves, grey brick walls and red win­dow lat­tices. Lu Xun (also known as Zhou Shuren, 1881– 1936, a lead­ing fig­ure of mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture) once lived in this court­yard be­tween 1924 and 1926, and re­built it. What dis­tin­guishes the court­yard from oth­ers is the small room of only eight square me­tres at­tached to the three north rooms. One small room looks like a tail, and is called tiger tail. Lu Xun called it his grey shed, which served as Lu's study and bed­room, with a kerosene lamp on an old three- drawer desk.

The soft light from the north­ern win­dow is suit­able for read­ing and writ­ing, through which the back­yard can be seen. A wooden pen­holder, an alarm clock and ash­tray are on the desk; a cane chair is in front of the desk; and a por­trait of Fu­jino Genkuro (1874–1945, a Ja­panese doc­tor and med­i­cal teacher of Lu Xun) is hung on the wall. The fur­nish­ings re­main in their orig­i­nal state, il­lus­trat­ing Lu's liv­ing space.

On the right cor­ner of the desk is an ink­stone en­graved with its pro­duc­tion date—the 11th year of the Da­tong reign (AD 545). Lu, fond of metal and stone, once made rub­bings from in­scrip­tions on ink­stone, and had the rub­bings printed in his book Si­tang zhuan­wen zaji (“col­lec­tion of es­says writ­ten in the Si­tang Study”). The num­ber of an­cient metal and stone rub­bings col­lected by Lu is slightly fewer than that of his books.

The small court­yard is now an im­por­tant sec­tion of the Lu Xun Mu­seum, the first bi­o­graph­i­cal mu­seum since the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China in 1949.

Do­mes­tic Mis­for­tune

Lu Xun was born and raised in Shaox­ing, Zhe­jiang Province—a typ­i­cal wa­ter­side city with black-awning boats on the river.

Lu was born into a pres­ti­gious fam­ily in September 1881. His orig­i­nal name was Zhou Zhushou, and was later re­named Zhou Shuren. His grand­fa­ther Zhou Fuqing served as an of­fi­cial in Bei­jing, who stressed ed­u­ca­tion. He even had his grand­chil­dren learn po­etry—from a pri­mary to ad­vanced level. What started as a fam­ily tra­di­tion had a pro­found ef­fect on Lu Xun.

When Lu was 13, his grand­fa­ther was thrown into prison be­cause of his in­volve­ment in fraud­u­lent im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion cases. His fa­ther Zhou Boyi stayed idly at home due to lung dis­ease. His fam­ily for­tunes de­clined and life be­came in­creas­ingly hard since then. As the el­dest son of the fam­ily, Lu had to bear the bur­den of sup­port­ing the whole fam­ily.

But hard­ships didn't pre­vent Lu's love of learn­ing. When Lu was young, he at­tained the nick­name “Huyang weiba (lit­er­ally sheep tail),” mean­ing clever and lively in the Shaox­ing di­alect. Lu per­formed well when study­ing in the San­wei (or Three-flavour) Study, and his teacher Shou Jingwu thought highly of him, say­ing Lu was smart and no­ble. Lu, who had a strong in­ter­est in read­ing in child­hood, read books, including lit­er­a­ture, un­of­fi­cial his­to­ries, paint­ing man­u­als, and even books on tea and hor­ti­cul­ture. Af­ter plant­ing flow­ers and trees by him­self, Lu pointed out that the plant­ing meth­ods men­tioned in Hua­jing (“flower mirror,” a mas­ter­piece of hor­ti­cul­ture by Chen Mingzi) were in­cor­rect.

Hear­ing that Lu was get­ting along well in his stud­ies, his un­cle in­vited a scholar in the vil­lage to test Lu. At meal time, his un­cle said, “Let's play a match­ing game to have some fun. Okay, I'll be­gin with ‘stewed pork'.” Lu im­me­di­ately replied, “Sliced chicken.” The scholar said, “Man­darin ducks play un­der the lo­tus leaf.” Lu an­swered, “Spring swal­lows sing on the weep­ing wil­low.” Lu's quick replies helped him win unan­i­mous praise of the guests.

Later, Lu stud­ied at the Jiang­nan School of Mines and Rail­ways in Nan­jing, Jiangsu Province, and main­tained a good aca­demic per­for­mance. His class­mates thought

that only Lu was qual­i­fied to win the medal is­sued by the school, as he had an ex­tra­or­di­nary mem­ory.

Al­though the do­mes­tic mis­for­tune made Lu ex­pe­ri­ence the hard­ships of life when he was young, his life in ru­ral ar­eas also pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for him to un­der­stand the lives of farm­ers. The days he spent with his friends there of­fered ex­pe­ri­ence for him to cre­ate “My Old Home” and “From Hun­dred-plant Gar­den to Three-flavour Study,” doc­u­ment­ing his in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

Change of Pur­suit

In 1898, Lu left for Nan­jing to study at the Jiang­nan Sea­man School with 18 sil­ver dol­lars his mother gave him, and he then stud­ied at the Jiang­nan School of Mines and Rail­ways. Both of the schools were set up by the Western­i­sa­tion Group of the Qing gov­ern­ment to achieve na­tional re­ju­ve­na­tion, with cour­ses in math­e­mat­ics, physics and chem­istry. Dur­ing that pe­riod, Lu read for­eign books on lit­er­a­ture and so­cial sci­ence, including a Chi­nese ver­sion of Evo­lu­tion and Eth­nics trans­lated by Yan Fu (1854– 1921). The ed­u­ca­tion he re­ceived and books he read made him re­alise that in­de­pen­dence, au­ton­omy and sel­f­re­liance are at the core for de­vel­op­ing both per­son and coun­try. No one is sup­posed to ac­cept fate and be bul­lied by oth­ers.

In 1902, Lu stud­ied in Ja­pan, fi­nanced by the state, by virtue of his ex­cel­lent aca­demic per­for­mance in the Jiang­nan School of Mines and Rail­ways. Lu's fa­ther, open-minded and pa­tri­otic, once said he wanted his son to study medicine in Ja­pan to find so­lu­tions to heal wounds of the Chi­nese. Con­sid­er­ing his fa­ther's suf­fer­ing and the ail­ments of Chi­nese peo­ple at that time, Lu de­cided to study at Sendai Med­i­cal Col­lege.

How­ever, his dream was soon shat­tered. Lu was of­ten dis­crim­i­nated against by the Ja­panese. Al­though he got 95 marks in an anatomy course, some of his class­mates sus­pected that it was be­cause the teacher re­vealed exam ques­tions to Lu in ad­vance.

The teacher once showed slides in class, which showed many healthy but numb Chi­nese peo­ple watch­ing the be­head­ing of their com­pa­tri­ots. The slides were a heavy blow for Lu. The in­dif­fer­ence of his com­pa­tri­ots made Lu re­alise that ap­a­thy was just as ter­ri­ble as phys­i­cal weak­ness.

Lu de­cided to drop his ma­jor in medicine and be­gan to write es­says as a way to awaken the Chi­nese peo­ple. He came to Tokyo and be­gan to trans­late for­eign lit­er­a­ture, print mag­a­zines, and pub­lish ar­ti­cles. At that time, Lu of­ten talked with his friends about what the ideal state of hu­man na­ture was, what the Chi­nese na­tional char­ac­ter lacked and what caused these cir­cum­stances. By com­bin­ing his per­sonal life with the fate of the en­tire Chi­nese na­tion, this laid a foun­da­tion for his fu­ture iden­tity as a thinker and writer.

Lu's views on the world and life grad­u­ally took shape dur­ing his time spent in Ja­pan. How­ever, his ad­vanced ideas weren't eas­ily un­der­stood by most Chi­nese peo­ple at the time, even other Chi­nese stu­dents in Ja­pan. Dozens of for­eign nov­els trans­lated by him were sold, yet his mag­a­zine failed to pub­lish due to lack of fund­ing. A dif­fi­cult liveli­hood forced Lu to re­turn to China in 1909. He then taught at the Zhe­jiang Two-level Nor­mal School and the Mid­dle School of Shaox­ing Pre­fec­tural City. Though the Rev­o­lu­tion of 1911 raised his spir­its, the fol­low­ing restora­tion of the monarch and other his­tor­i­cal scan­dals, China's back­ward­ness, so­cial chaos and na­tional dis­as­ter low­ered his en­thu­si­asm.

An In­sight­ful Writer

To change a na­tion's fate, the first thing to change is the mind­set of its peo­ple. The New Cul­ture Move­ment in 1919 brought a new force to China.

Work­ing for the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Lu moved to Bei­jing, and ex­pressed his thoughts that had long been sup­pressed through lit­er­a­ture.

“Lu Xun” be­came his pen name in May 1918, when he pub­lished the first ver­nac­u­lar Chi­nese novel “Di­ary of a Mad­man” in New Youth mag­a­zine. In the novel, Lu crit­i­cised the so­cial state and sys­tem, lay­ing a foun­da­tion for the New Lit­er­a­ture Move­ment, and pro­mot­ing mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture. Lu led the New Cul­ture Move­ment to fight against im­pe­ri­al­ism and feu­dal­ism.

Lu de­picted the mis­ery and men­tal con­di­tion of the work­ing classes to ex­pose bit­ter­ness and spread aware­ness. Char­ac­ters of Lu's nov­els “Kong Yiji,” “The True Story of Ah Q” and “The New Year's Sac­ri­fice,” who came from a work­ing class back­ground, suf­fered from in­sults, dis­crim­i­na­tion and in­dif­fer­ence. Lu had mixed feel­ings for them— he mourned their mis­for­tune while he was en­raged at their cow­ardice. Di­verse struc­tures and styles, and plain but in­sight­ful de­scrip­tions all con­trib­uted to re­flect­ing a vivid re­al­ity. Read­ers can gain in­sight into this so­ci­ety at that time through his work.

Zhao­hua xishi ( Dawn Blos­soms Plucked at Dusk) and Ye­cao ( Wild Grass) are two es­say col­lec­tions by Lu. Fu­jino Genkuro, Fan Ai­nong and those who taught Lu shared in his pur­suit as his work re­laxed read­ers set in a dark so­cial con­text. Lu said that his phi­los­o­phy can be found in Wild Grass. His es­says have ex­pressed his phi­los­o­phy, and brought artis­tic cre­ativ­ity to mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture.

Lu once wrote, “Fierce-browed, I coolly defy cen­sure of the enemy; head-bowed, like a will­ing ox I serve the peo­ple.” Lu spared no ef­fort to fight against out­dated think­ing, feu­dal eth­i­cal codes and un­civilised na­tional char­ac­ter. From 1924 to 1926, it was in this small Bei­jing court­yard that Lu wrote many lit­er­ary works as a crusade against evil phe­nom­ena, point­ing out is­sues and per­suad­ing peo­ple to cor­rect them. He sup­ported the ad­vanced stu­dent move­ment for jus­tice, joined the League of Left-wing Writ­ers and the China League for Civil Rights, and wrote many in­spir­ing ar­ti­cles, including “In Mem­ory of the For­got­ten.” Lu's style helped him es­tab­lish his own unique po­si­tion in mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­ary cir­cles and at­tain the rep­u­ta­tion of a “Soul of the Chi­nese Na­tion.”

For Zhou Haiy­ing (1929–2011), Lun Xun's son, his fa­ther kept writ­ing, and of­ten stayed up and woke up late. Zhou re­called that there was a small tea ta­ble be­side his fa­ther's bed, and on the ta­ble was a cig­a­rette holder, an ash­tray and cig­a­rettes. Wak­ing up in the morn­ing, Zhou Haiy­ing would walk qui­etly into his fa­ther's bed­room. If his nanny caught him do­ing that, she would tell him to leave the room in case his fa­ther would wake up.

Dur­ing his time spent in Shang­hai, Lu of­ten spent the whole af­ter­noon re­ceiv­ing guests and hav­ing long con­ver­sa­tions with them. If no guests vis­ited him, Lu would read news­pa­pers and books, or write es­says while sit­ting in a cane chair. On that oc­ca­sion, his fam­ily mem­bers and ser­vants would walk and chat qui­etly, try­ing not to dis­turb him.

Lu didn't be­lieve in so- called genius, and he at­trib­uted his suc­cess to his ef­forts. When the guests left late at night, Lu be­gan to sit at his desk and write. Lu tended to pile books and mail on his desk, leav­ing only a small space for writ­ing. When roost­ers crowed and the street bus­tled again in the morn­ing, Lu still wrote. He didn't go to sleep un­til all his fam­ily mem­bers woke up. Lu be­lieved that a com­fort­able life is not con­ducive to work, so he in­sisted on liv­ing a sim­ple life.

An Up­right Man

Brave, de­ci­sive, dili­gent and se­ri­ous as Lu was, he didn't bother with triv­ial mat­ters. Xiao Hong (1911–1942, a fe­male Chi­nese writer) said that she once bought deep-fried twisted dough sticks on Ladu Road (Route Ten­ant de la Tour) in Shang­hai. To her sur­prise, the pa­per used to wrap dough sticks and the manuscript of Dead Souls was trans­lated by Lu. She later wrote to Lu to tell him about it. Lu, how­ever, wasn't as­ton­ished. Proofs of his books were of­ten used to clean the ta­ble. When hav­ing guests over to have a meal, Lu also scat­tered his proofs to guests, so that they could clean their hands with them af­ter the meal.

Lu's typ­i­cal win­ter cos­tumes con­sisted of a dark blue cot­ton gown, a grey felt cap and black can­vas shoes with rub­ber soles. He sel­dom wore gloves or a scarf, but held a black printed silk fab­ric cloth-wrap­per un­der his arm to carry re­ply let­ters when leav­ing home. When he re­turned home af­ter send­ing out the re­ply let­ters, the cloth-wrap­per was used to hold new let­ters he re­ceived and the books he bought.

Lu was in poor health in his later years. His doc­tor told him to rest, but Lu kept work­ing and think­ing, as if he in­her­ited many tasks. To name a few, as an ad­vo­cate of the New Wood­cut Print Move­ment, he be­gan to print his fa­vorite wood­cut prints by Käthe Koll­witz (1867–1945, a Ger­man artist), proof­read Hais­hang shulin (a col­lec­tion of es­says trans­lated by Qu Qi­ubai, 1899–1935), and trans­lated Dead Souls by Niko­lai Go­gol (1809–1852, a Rus­sian drama­tist).

Lu main­tained his own charisma as a writer. For those who at­tacked him, he sim­ply ig­nored them. In 1936, Lu passed away, leav­ing be­hind lit­er­ary works of nearly three mil­lion char­ac­ters and a spir­i­tual wealth for later gen­er­a­tions.

His for­mer res­i­dence in Bei­jing has since be­come a place for peo­ple to com­mem­o­rate him.

In­side Lu Xun’s room

The court­yard of Lu Xun’s for­mer res­i­dence east of the West Sec­ond Ring Road

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