Visions of Paradise

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Selected Stories of Lu Xun

Lu Xun is the father of modern Chinese literature. His first story A Madman’s Diary, published in 1918, was immediately influential both on Chinese literature and Chinese society as a whole. In his introduction to his first collection of short stories Call To Arms, he commented on his disgust of traditional Chinese culture and society, stating The most important thing...was to change their spirit, and since at that time I felt that literature was the best means to this end, I determined to promote a literary movement.

Selected Stories of Lu Xun contains many of his best and most famous stories, culled from several collections. Perhaps the most famous story, and possibly the best, A Madman’s Diary is a savage attack on the rigidity of Chinese traditions. His characters tend to be outcasts who are treated badly by virtually everybody, often for reasons beyond their control. Ah Q, the main subject of The True Story of Ah Q, is a simple-minded worker shunned and mistreated as a matter of course. Kung I-Chi, another title character, studied for civil service exams, but never passed a single one, so is reduced to petty beggary and thievery to survive.

In Medicine, a poor rural family is forced to purchase an outrageous cure for their ailing son, even though it is obvious that they are wasting their meager savings on a fool’s quest. But nobody seems willing to help them, just as nobody aided either Ah Q or Kung I-Chi, a callousness that Lu Xun particularly rejects as one of the most unfortunate traits of Chinese society.

One of the saddest stories is The New Year’s Sacrifice, about the treatment of lower-class working people, and one servant woman in particular whose mistreatment ultimately leads to insanity and death.

Because of the similarity of theme and mood, the stories in this collection are best read in small doses, but overall they are moving, thought-provoking stories that I highly recommend, especially for people wishing to understand a bit about traditional Chinese culture.


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