Beijing Lu Xun Museum
Translated by Wang Wei Edited by David Ball Photo courtesy of Beijing Lu Xun Museum
Lu Xun lived in a courtyard at No. 19 Gongmenkou Ertiao from 1924–1926, which is now home to the Beijing Lu Xun Museum.
Aquiet courtyard can be found at the end of a hutong (alley) in Xicheng District, Beijing. A striking white marble seated statue of the Chinese writer Lu Xun (1881–1936) can be seen inside. His peaceful expression depicts his sagacity. Lu Xun lived in the courtyard at No. 19 Gongmenkou Ertiao from 1924 to 1926. It is now the Beijing Lu Xun Museum.
Former Residence of Lu Xun
Lu Xun was the pen name of Zhou Shuren, which he first adopted when he published Kuangren riji (“A Madman's Diary”) in 1918. Lu Xun was a renowned Chinese writer, thinker and revolutionist, as well as a key participant in the New Culture Movement (1915–1923) and a leading figure of modern Chinese literature. Chairman Mao Zedong (1893– 1976) once said that “the direction of Lu Xun was the new cultural direction of the Chinese people.” There are 11 museums dedicated to Lu Xun in China, one of which is situated at No. 19 Gongmenkou Ertiao. This site is the best-preserved former residence of Lu Xun in Beijing.
In October 1923, Lu Xun borrowed 400 silver dollars from his friends Qi Shoushan (1881–1965) and Xu Shoushan (1883–1948) so he could buy the courtyard at No. 21 Xisantiao Hutong (present- day No. 19 Gongmenkou Ertiao). The courtyard was in poor condition, however, so he first needed to renovate its six rooms before he could move in. To save money, he drew up the plans for the remodeling himself, thus forming its present- day layout. Lu Xun eventually paid back the money he had borrowed from his friends when he went to teach in Xiamen, Fujian Province in 1926. The courtyard today contains two parts—the former residence of Lu Xun and an exhibition hall about his life—and has been listed as a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level as well as a national first- grade museum.
Lu Xun's former residence covers an area of 400 square metres (sq.m), contains three south-facing rooms and three northfacing rooms, and two rooms on the east and west sides within the courtyard. Both the layout and interior furnishings remain just as they were when Lu Xun lived there, and the two lilac bushes he planted are
still thriving in the courtyard.
At that time, the home was located near the walls of Fuchengmen Gate in one of Beijing's less well-off areas, whose residents included rickshaw and mulecart drivers. The alley would get extremely muddy during the rainy season and the nights were dark, save for a single small oil lamp at its end.
After leaving Beijing in 1926, Lu Xun returned to the capital from Shanghai twice to visit relatives, during which time he lived in the courtyard. In 1947, his exwife Zhu An passed away, meaning there was no one to look after the courtyard. At that time, Beijing was controlled by the Kuomintang Government and so members of the city's underground Communist Party of China (CPC) took measures to protect the courtyard, enabling the majority of Lu Xun's heritage to survive.
Lu Xun's former residence opened to the public on October 19, 1949, exactly 13 years to the day that the famed author passed away. In March the following year, Lu Xun's widow Xu Guangping (1898– 1970) donated her husband's collection of books and cultural relics in the courtyard to the government. In 1954, the Ministry of Culture decided to establish the Beijing Lu Xun Museum and add an exhibition hall next to his former residence. The museum opened to the public on the 20th anniversary of Lu Xun's death on October 19, 1956.
Lu Xun’s Life in Beijing
In 1912, Minister of Education Cai Yuanpei (1868–1940) invited Lu Xun to come work in the ministry in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Later, Lu Xun moved with the ministry to Beijing, where he lived at the Shaoxing Guild Hall in Nanbanjie Hutong, Xuanwumenwai from 1912 to 1919. During this period, he began his writing career and created short stories such as “A Madman's Diary,”“kong Yiji,”“Yao” (“Medicine”), “Mingtian” (“Tomorrow”) and “Yijian xiaoshi” (“An Incident”).
In 1919, Lu Xun sold his house in his hometown of Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province and moved to Beijing where he purchased a spacious courtyard in Badaowan Hutong, Xinjiekou. He created more than 100 works whilst living in the courtyard, including “Ah Q zhengzhuan” (“The True Story of Ah Q”), “Fengbo (“A Storm in a Teacup”), “Guxiang” (“My Old Home”) and “Shexi” (“Village Opera”), and translated fairy-tales written by Vasili Eroshenko (1890–1952) into Chinese.
In 1923, Lu Xun and his younger brother Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967) had a falling-out and so Lu Xun had to move out of Badaowan Hutong and rent three rooms in a courtyard on Zhuanta Hutong. During this period, he wrote such novels and articles as “Zhufu”
(“The New Year Sacrifice”), “Zaijiulou shang” (“In the Wine Shop”), “Xingfu de jiating” (“Happy Family”), “Nala zouhou zengyang” (“What Happens after Nora Leaves Home”) and “Weiyou tiancai zhiqian” (“Waiting for a Genius”).
After moving into No. 21 Xisantiao Hutong, Lu and other writers edited weekly magazines such as Yusi and Mangyuan. He not only led young people in setting-up literature organisations such as the Weiming Society and Mangyuan Society, but also edited and wrote prefaces for young writers and translators. He also wrote many articles, novels and essays that were later listed in his collected works such as Yecao (“Wild Grass”), Panghuang (“Wandering”), Huagaiji (“Bad Luck Collection”), Fen (“The Grave”) and Zhaohua xishi (“Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk”).
Entering the ‘Tiger’s Tail’
One of the north-facing rooms in the Lu Xun Museum used to serve as the author's living room and library. The room is simply furnished, with two wicker chairs by the window and two large bookcases against the south wall, containing Lu Xun's collected journals. There are more than 30 additional small book boxes in the room, which can be piled together to create large bookcases. Lu Xun would take these boxes on his travels around China. Some still have numbers on them written by Lu.
One of the highlights in the room is a charcoal portrait of Lu Xun by Tao Yuanqing (1893–1929), which hangs on the east wall and was much cherished by its owner. On May 3, 1926, after receiving the picture, Lu hung it on the wall and wrote a letter to Tao Yuanqing, saying, “I think you did a great job, I'm very grateful.” Tao Yuanqing was an accomplished artist and designed the covers for many of Lu Xun's books including Wandering, The Grave and Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk.
One of the south-facing rooms was home to Lu Xun's former wife, Zhu An. Lu once said she was a “gift from his mother.” There was no love between the two, nor did they share anything in common, since their arranged marriage was the product of feudal times. The two of them respected each other and were a nominal couple, although, the person who lived in the courtyard the longest was in fact Zhu An.
A small room was constructed behind the three south-facing rooms which was called the “tiger's tail” due to its shape. The 8-sq.m room served as Lu Xun's study and bedroom, and still retains its original layout. On entering the room, one can see two large windows in the north wall and a desk with three drawers placed against the east wall. The layout was designed by Lu to enable plenty of light for when he worked in the mornings and afternoons and to allow him to see out into his garden. There is a teacup, ashtray, pen holder, clock and kerosene lamp on the desk, all of which were used by Lu Xun, as was the wicker chair in front of it.
Visiting this small room allows one to see a microcosm of Lu Xun's life in Beijing. By the windows, there is a bed supported by two wooden boards, with relatively thin bedding. The room also did not have any heating when Lu lived there, as the author himself once remarked: “If your life is too comfortable, it will affect your work.”
In one of his poems, Lu wrote: “Fierce-browed, I coolly defy a thousand pointing fingers; head bowed, like a willing ox I serve the children.” The exhibition at the museum about Lu Xun's life is titled “Fierce-browed and Head Bowed—moments in Lu Xun's Life,” which showcases milestones in his life based on the historical background of the times and helps visitors learn more about the thinking of this great writer.