WHERE HIS STORY STARTED

Lu Xun’s legacy lives on in his home­town, Xing Yi dis­cov­ers.

China Daily (USA) - - TRAVEL | LIFE - Con­tact the writer at xingyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

It was an over­grown lot. But it was also so much more. Today, it’s an im­mor­tal icon. That’s be­cause it was in­te­gral to the early life of the late writer Lu Xun, who’s cel­e­brated as China’s fore­most lit­er­ary lu­mi­nary of the early 20th cen­tury.

“There was a large gar­den in the rear of my house, and peo­ple call it the (Baicao) Hun­dred-Grass Gar­den … In­deed, only some wild grass grewin it, but at that time it wasmy par­adise.”

So goes the open­ing prose of his es­say From Baicao Gar­den to San­wei Study.

Chi­nese stu­dents today are re­quired to re­cite this ar­ti­cle about the writer’s child­hood in Zhe­jiang prov­ince’s Shaox­ing.

I re­cently vis­ited the lit­er­ary pi­o­neer’s child­hood res­i­dence to see for my­self the places I’d read about.

I made the 10-minute drive from the Crowne Plaza Shaox­ing in the newde­vel­op­ment zone to the his­tor­i­cal and his­toric part of town that hosts Lu Xun’s Old Abode.

Peo­ple en­dured ex­treme heat and hu­mid­ity to stand in line to pose in front of a huge mu­ral of the man of let­ters painted at the en­trance. It de­picts him in all his scruffy-haired, mus­ta­chioed, square-jawed glory, a cig­a­rette clenched be­tween his fin­gers.

Upon en­ter­ing, I strolled along a cob­ble­stone street flanked by a nar­row canal. Black-tent boats bobbed lan­guidly be­tween two stone bridges.

Snip­pets of con­ver­sa­tion that caughtmy ear as I wan­dered among old houses and par­lors ref­er­enced char­ac­ters from Lu Xun’s works, such as Ah Q and Run Tu. In­deed, voices of peo­ple of all ages and ac­cents speak in­ways that give voice to the real­ity that Lu Xun re­mains an in­grained fix­ture in the Chi­nese con­scious­ness.

Lu Xun is the pen name of Zhou Shuren, who was born into a large and wealthy fam­ily in Shaox­ing. The first court­yard I en­coun­tered was the Zhou fam­ily’s home. But the death of Lu Xun’s fa­ther brought the fam­ily into de­cline, forg­ing hard­ships in the au­thor’s early years.

His par­ents val­ued ed­u­ca­tion. So Lu Xun spent most of his youth at the San­wei Study across the street, where a pres­ti­gious teacher in­structed him in Chi­nese clas­sics.

The name San­wei, which lit­er­ally trans­lates as “three fla­vors”, refers to com­par­isons of dif­fer­ent types of read­ing to dif­fer­ent types of food­stuffs.

Con­fu­cian clas­sics are like rice. History books are like dishes. Andlit­er­a­ture is like sauce and sea­son­ing.

The com­bi­na­tion of th­ese com­prises the recipe for tra­di­tional Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion.

It was in this strict learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment where Lu Xun came to mas­ter a solid un­der­stand­ing of the Chi­nese clas­sics. His desk re­mains in the same place he used it in the class­room.

Par­ents often bring their chil­dren to in­spire them and re­mind them of the im­por­tance of metic­u­lous study and hard work.

It was after hours of hit­ting the books each day that Lu Xun would un­wind in Baicao Gar­den in his back­yard.

I later vis­ited a mu­seum ded­i­cated to the lit­er­ary mas­ter down the street.

Lu Xun even­tu­ally left Shaox­ing to re­ceive aWestern-style ed­u­ca­tion in Jiangsu prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, Nan­jing. He de­parted from there to studyWestern medicine in Ja­pan in 1902.

His am­bi­tion to be­come a physi­cian changed after he saw a doc­u­men­tary one day after classes at his med­i­cal school.

The film about the then-on­go­ing Russo-Ja­panese War (1904-1905) showed a scene in which a Ja­panese soldier be­headed a Chi­nese man. The crowd in­cluded many Chi­nese who had “come to en­joy the spec­ta­cle”, Lu Xun wrote in the pref­ace of Call to Arms, short-story col­lec­tion.

“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,” he wrote.

He de­cided then and there to quit the med­i­cal school and be­come a “lit­er­ary physi­cian” to treat the spir­i­tual ill­ness of Chi­nese peo­ple at that time. Lu Xun repa­tri­ated in 1909. He worked in the new govern­ment’s ed­u­ca­tion min­istry after the Qing Dy­nasty’s (1644-1911) fall. He his first later taught at sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing Pek­ing Univer­sity and Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity, and kept writ­ing un­til his death in 1936.

Many of his works are based on his early life in Shaox­ing.

It seemed as if char­ac­ters from his works oc­cu­pied the street when I left the mu­seum.

So I headed to Xian­heng Res­tau­rant— an eatery that fea­tures promi­nently in his works — for lunch. That is, to en­joy an ac­tual meal as well as food for thought.

PHO­TOS BY XING YI / CHINA DAILY

Lu Xun’s Old Abode, the child­hood res­i­dence of Chi­nese lit­er­ary pi­o­neer Lu Xun in Shaox­ing, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, is a hot spot for Chi­nese tourists, es­pe­cially par­ents who bring their chil­dren to in­spire them.

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