Lu Xun: the Sexier Story – a review article
Jon Eugene von Kowallis
University of New South Wales, Sydney
“When the child grows up, if he shows no talent, find him an ordinary job to earn a living. On no account should he pretend to be a writer or an artist if he is not up to it.
Don’t believe promises.
Don’t have anything to do with people who wound others but oppose retaliation and preach tolerance.”
-- from Lu Xun’s essay “Death” (Si), September 5, 1936
Lu Xun (1881-1936), after eighty years still modern China’s best-known author and social critic, has been the subject of well over a hundred books, but truly “independent” biographies have been few. In a way, that is understandable, given Lu Xun’s tortuous political affiliations and the fact that the Communist revolution in China and the Cold War were so influential in our field and continue to be so, long after their end in other places and other fields. David Pollard’s book will happily displace Ruth Weiss’ Lu Xun: a Writer for Our Times (Beijing: New World Press, 1984) on university library shelves and hopefully soon fall within the reach of undergraduate term paper writers. The book, while giving a less partisan account of his life than usually seen, is written in an idiosyncratic style and often displays impatience with its subject – a pity since Pollard has shown himself to be a far better writer on Lu Xun’s second brother Zhou Zuoren (1885-1967). But my main difficulty in recommending The True Story of Lu Xun without reservation is its nearly total lack of citations and a Chinese character word list or index. The reader would do well to know, for instance, who Chen Xinren is (p. 196), or where numerous quotations and attributions come from (eg. “One is irresistibly reminded of Lu Xun’s statement to Xu Guangping that he had shed his blood for others, only to be laughed at” -- pp. 89-90). This format might have been expected in a biography written forty years ago with the general reader in the then often monolingual English-speaking world in mind (although the Twayne series actually made a far better effort at citing sources) than in a book published in 21st century Hong Kong by the Chinese University Press.
For that reason, I am looking forward to a Chinese translation of the book. Hopefully Pollard as Professor of Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong will muster his minions to produce a translation so that we can actually have ready access to the original quotes. But that begs another question: for the past twenty and more years Western scholars have been harping on their Chinese counterparts on the need to provide modern (read Western-)style citations. And they have, for the most part, taken up the suggestion. But will post-modern publishing in the West now see fit to dispense with it, as the MLA dispensed with footnotes and endnotes just when we got the technology to provide them easily with word-processing software? Even so, isn’t it a bit premature to dispense with them here? The only answer that comes to mind is that Pollard’s biography is not actually intended for the general reader or the undergraduate student, but rather is at base a polemical work for the specialist, who is expected to be able to interpolate the locus of most of references and the source material. If it is reviewed in that light, then, of course, other considerations ought to emerge.
The main “new” biographical issue Pollard broaches is actually a matter for Lu Xun trivia specialists concerning the “real” reasons for Lu Xun’s split with his brother Zhou Zuoren in July 1923 (Haiying gets the date wrong as 1922, see Lu Xun yu wo qishi nian, p. 72). As Pollard puts it: “Speculation supposes at the minimum an improper act by Lu Xun, and at the maximum a long-standing improper relationship” (p. 79) between Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren’s Japanese wife Nobuko (b.1888) was exposed one fine morning to Zhou Zuoren by Nobuko. If that were the case, one wonders why Nobuko would tell her husband something so compromising about herself at all, especially in China at that time, without being able to predict the consequences. Second, there is no evidence for it, documentary or otherwise. All we know is that Zhou Zuoren and Lu Xun had what later turned out to be an eventful argument of one sort or another that day. Zhou Zuoren cut the entry for that day out (14 July) of his diary many years later, when he sold it to the Lu Xun Museum, and Lu Xun’s own entry is vague. Zhou Zuoren’s letter of 18 July, which Pollard quotes (pp. 77-78) contains references to some kind of a slight to him, which are also unclear. The entry in Lu Xun’s diary of the 19th says only: “[Today the weather was] cloudy. Qimeng [Zuoren] delivered a letter to me in person; after [reading it], I invited him [over], wanting to ask him about it, [but he] did not come. In the afternoon it rained.”
Speculation in a similar vein, involving Lu Xun’s “peeping” at Nobuko while she was in the bath (this is beginning to sound a bit like a Zhang Yimou film), has been around for some years, but has been challenged by Chuandao’s (Zhang Tingqian’s) account of the layout of the Zhou family compound at Badaowan in Beijing, where he had been a frequent visitor (see Zhou Haiying, p. 73 – Chuandao says there was a ditch in front of the window full of plants and flowers), the observations of a number of biographers that there had been arguments between Nobuko and Lu Xun for some time already over the family’s finances (she was using Lu Xun’s salary to pay the costs of running the household and spending Zhou Zuoren’s on her own extravagances) and Haiying’s contention that Nobuko wanted the house exclusively for herself and her own family – Zhou Zuoren started drawing up new deeds for the compound at Badaowan, which had been joint property, as early as 1937, just a few months after Lu Xun’s death (Zhou Haiying, p.74).
Zhou Haiying, Lu Xun’s only child, born to his “common law” wife Xu Guangping in Shanghai 1929, has put together an intriguing patchwork of a book, sprinkled with a generous selection of photographs, which is not so much a biography of Lu Xun as it is an account of what Haiying remembers, what he heard about Lu Xun from his mother and his uncle Zhou Jianren (b. 1888), and what became of other people connected with the family after Lu Xun’s death. It also tells the story of Xu Guangping’s arrest and torture by the Japanese secret police in 1941, the war years, their flight to the Communist-controlled areas in Dongbei from Shanghai (via Hong Kong) in 1948 and their rather awkward life under the People’s Republic of China as the widow and son of its most venerated late writer. This includes personal details of how they weathered the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution and the ramifications of the defection of Haiying’s son Lingfei to Taiwan in 1982, while the island was still under martial law enforced by Lu Xun’s old nemesis the Kuomintang. Haiying and his wife were forced to cope with the consequences of the defection, since they themselves remained on the mainland, enduring suspicion, political censure and work-related discrimination.
Aside from giving his case regarding his long copyright disputes with the Japanese, and to a lesser extent, the PRC publishing authorities over the royalties for Lu Xun’s and Xu Guangping’s works, his attempts to have at least one of the properties in Beijing he has legal claim to restored to him, Haiying drops, or attempts to drop, two biographical and one political-bombshells.
The first is that the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist government actually gave orders to assassinate Lu Xun and had his house staked out “at some point in the 1930s,” according to the oral testimony of Shen Zui, whom Haiying calls “Master Assassin of the KMT Garrison Command” and whom Haiying conveniently met in 1992 in Beijing when they were both fellow members of the Political Consultative Council (Zhengxie) of the PRC (pp 4-6). Haiying tells us Lu Xun was saved only by his “enormous personal prestige,” (Zhou Haiying, p. 5), which Harriet Mills speculated years ago in her dissertation (Lu Hsun: 1927-1936 – the Years on the Left; Columbia University, 1963), but we now have independent confirmation of.
My guess is that this must have been some time in the summer of 1934, as Haiying includes a photo of Lu Xun’s last residence, which Pollard describes (p. 179) as “a small terrace house on the fringe of the Japanese concession,” i.e. No. 9, The Continental Terrace (Dalu xincun), Haiying saying that directly “opposite this building was where the stake-out occurred” (Haiying, p.5). Lu Xun also fled into hiding from this house on 23 August to 18 November 1934 (Pollard, p. 179), causing me to speculate that it may not have been entirely due to KMT munificence that he continued to live at this time.
The irony of how a former KMT assassin got to be a member of the Political Consultative Council of the People’s Republic seems to escape Haiying, who ends this section of his book by saying “I respect him [for telling me this].” This highlights another issue with Haiying’s memoirs: he has been part of the PRC political and rhetorical tradition for too long, to the extent that he is surprisingly deferring to Lu Xun’s old enemies such as Guo Moruo, Cheng Fangwu, Li Chuli, etc. for the comfort of some Lu Xun researchers abroad, although this even-handedness is commended by senior man of letters Wang Yuanhua in the preface.
The second has to do with the cause or causes of Lu Xun’s death (Zhou Haiying, pp. 58-64). Those of us who have read Lu Xun’s works (and neither Wang Yuanhua nor Haiying give any indication of having read the relevant article), know that in May of 1936 when a number of people around him became concerned about Lu Xun’s deteriorating health, Agnes Smedley made arrangements for him to be examined by Dr. Thomas Balfour Dunn, an American tuberculosis specialist then resident in Shanghai, with Mao Dun acting as translator.
Of this, Lu Xun wrote in a famous essay titled “Death” (Si):
Not till my serious illness this year did I start thinking distinctly about death. At first I treated my illness as in the past, relying on my Japanese doctor, S----. Though not a specialist in tuberculosis, he is an elderly man with a rich experience who studied medicine before me, is my senior, and knows me very well – hence he talks frankly. Of course, however well a doctor knows his patient, he still speaks with a certain reserve; but at least he warned me two or three times, though I never paid any attention and did not tell anyone. Perhaps because things had dragged on so long and my last attack was so serious, some friends arranged behind my back to invite an American doctor, D----, to see me. He is the only Western specialist on tuberculosis in Shanghai. After his examination, although he complimented me on my typically Chinese powers of resistance, he also announced that my end was near, adding that had I been a European I would have been in my grave for five years. This verdict moved my soft-hearted friends to tears. I did not ask him to prescribe for me, feeling that since he had studied in the West he could hardly have learned how to prescribe for a patient five years dead. But Dr. D-----’s diagnosis was in fact extremely accurate. I later had an X-ray photograph made of my chest which largely bore out his findings. (Lu Xun Selected Works 1980 4:313-4; Lu Xun quanji 1981 6:611).
Haiying’s version is very different. He begins:
Uncle Jianren (i.e. Zhou Jianren, Lu Xun’s third brother) told it to me this way: before his death, father’s tuberculosis had become quite serious, so [his] American friend Smedley engaged an American pulmonary specialist Dunn to come and examine him. Madame Sun Yat-sen (Soong Ching-ling) also helped in this. After Dr. Dunn completed his examination, he said to us: There is an accumulation of fluid on the patient’s lungs (lit. “in the pleura”). It must be drained off immediately. Then his temperature will drop, he will regain an appetite and be able to eat, increasing the body’s own powers of resistance. If he is treated now, with rest, he could live at least ten more years; if you do not do this, he will die within half a year. This is a very simple course of treatment, any doctor can do it. After you’ve discussed it among yourselves, find a Chinese doctor and send him to me, I’ll tell him the program of treatment. All the physician has to do is follow what I tell him and everything will be fine, there’s no need for me to treat him myself. When asked whether or not he should get an X-ray, Dr. Dunn replied with great confidence: “An X-ray will lead to the same conclusions as my examination.” Dr. Dunn’s prognosis was that it was tubercular pleurisy, which Dr. Sudoo then flatly denied. It was only after more than a month that he admitted it, and only then did he draw off the fluid. I believe my uncle’s words, because I now know that even an ordinary medical student who is beyond the first years of study would say the same thing after hearing about it, so this should not have been mis-diagnosed, especially since Dr. Sudoo had been attending father’s illness for many years already (Zhou Haiying, pp. 59-60).
Haiying then continues that “Dr. Dunn’s diagnosis proved extremely correct, for father passed away in October, exactly half a year’s time from the examination.” Haiying tells us his mother mentioned a report written by Sudoo after Lu Xun’s death, in which he moved the date the fluid was drawn off ahead, in an attempt to falsify the record, but he does not cite any document or give either date. Haiying’s theory is that Sudoo had been an army doctor at one time in Japan and later served as Deputy Director of the Kokuryuukai (Chinese: Wulong hui or “Black Dragon Society”), also referred to at the time in English as the “Amur River Society” -- a militarist organization advocating aggressive policies toward China (pp. 62-3). When Sudoo once suggested that Lu Xun seek treatment in Japan and Lu Xun reportedly shot back: “I’m not going to Japan!” Haiying ventures that “the Japanese” may have made some sort of decision regarding his treatment that sealed his fate. Sudoo’s membership and alleged position as deputy-director (fu huizhang) of the (local branch?) off the Kokuryuukai has not been documented. Haiying’s sole authority for the story is that his uncle Zhou Jianren “heard it from a man called Zhao Pingsheng at the Commercial Press” in Shanghai, who told it “sometime prior to the January 28th Conflict” (1932), when Haiying would have been two years old (p. 62).
According to Lu Xun’s diary, Sudoo’s treatment consisted of almost daily injections of the drugs Tacamol and later Cerase (see the entries in Lu Xun’s diary for July-October 1936). Haiying says they gave the patient temporary relief from the discomfort of the symptoms, but did nothing to slow the progression of the disease, in fact they had the opposite effect (p. 63). As Lu Xun’s physical condition worsened, he became obsessed with moving out of their residence at No. 9, Dalu Xincun, then known as “The Continental Terrace” in English (which was near the Japanese naval headquarters in Shanghai) into the French Concession (probably because he correctly guessed a war was approaching). The day before Lu Xun died, his condition became acute, in Haiying’s account, as he was breathing rapidly, drenched in sweat and suffering greatly, Sudoo told Xu Guangping: “If he makes it through today, he’ll be alright,” which of course begs the question of why he was not hospitalized (he himself had been against it, but at that point his judgment probably should have been overridden). He died in the early hours of the next morning.
Were the Japanese so snubbed by his alleged refusal to go to Japan for treatment that they sought revenge by killing him? I hardly think so. For a time Lu Xun had himself considered going abroad, specifically to Japan, to convalesce and get some rest from the political in-fighting among the Left (see his letters of July 6, 1936 to Cao Jinghua; July 11, 1936 to Wang Yeqiu; and August 2, 1936 to Shen Yanbing, i.e. Mao Dun). Some internet critics of late have even falsely accused him of harboring pro-Japanese sentiments, although this was initially inspired by a distortion of his position in the “Battle of the Slogans,” the debate on the so-called Literature for National Defense, which was actually an ideological debate against the Zhou Yang politico-literary faction and the proposed United Front between the KMT and CCP. Lu Xun regarded the idea of a United Front in literature with the apologists for the Kuomintang as a sell-out. As regards Dr. Dunn’s visit, we have only to look as far as Lu Xun’s diary entry for 31 May 1936: “In the afternoon Ms. Smedley brought Dr. Dunn to examine [me], [and he] said [my condition was] very critical (shen wei).”
Obviously Lu Xun had taken on board the gravity of Dunn’s pronouncement, and that parallels the account of the event in his essay on “Death” and in subsequent letters he wrote to friends. There is no mention in any of these documents of a suggested program of treatment by Dunn. Certainly Sudoo comes off as having the better bedside manner in the essay. And so it is not without his characteristic sense of irony that Lu Xun wrote: “I did not ask him [Dunn] to prescribe for me, feeling that since he had studied in the West he could hardly have learned how to prescribe for a patient five years dead.” (op. cit., p. 314) --If someone is that sick, there is no point in rubbing it in.
In that sense Sudoo understood the need for hope (also the theme of many of Lu Xun’s literary works, which Sudoo is more likely to have read than Dunn. After all, Sudoo was introduced to Lu Xun by the Japanese bookseller Uchiyama Kanzo, a close personal friend of Lu Xun and an opponent of Japanese militarism). Sudoo, the head of his own private clinic, was Uchiyama’s and Haiying’s physician as well. Lu Xun had chosen Sudoo as Haiying’s primary care physician and eventually his own. Since Lu Xun repeatedly showed himself to be a concerned parent, as is confirmed by Haiying’s own testimony and because Lu Xun himself had studied Western medicine in Japan, it seems unlikely that he would have continued to use Sudoo’s services if he were not convinced of his professionalism. This is also borne out in Lu Xun’s essay, as cited above, and by the records in his diary. Since a number of scholars such as the medical historian Izumi Hyoonosuke (1985) and Kitaoka Masako (Yasoo, no. 71, Feb. 2003) have published the results of their own research into the competence and concern of Dr. Sudoo as well as the methods and drugs he used in treating Lu Xun (and these have been translated into Chinese), it baffles me as to why Haiying continues to repeat allegations based on hearsay. Again, part of the problem may stem from Cold War diplomacy. Haiying faults Sudoo for not appearing to greet Xu Guangping during her trips to Japan in the early 1960s (p. 62). Perhaps “the Japanese,” or Sudoo at least, would have thought it a loss of face had he turned up, since it was known that Zhou Jianren and Xu Guangping had implied some sort of foul play took place (see pp. 58-9; Jianren published an article on this in Renmin Ribao in October 1949). Indeed, it seems they would have liked to have had Sudoo detained by the new Communist authorities had he still been in Shanghai in 1949 and had the authorities gone along with it. Nevertheless, one begins to wonder if Haiying ever read Lu Xun’s works. Certainly there is no reference to Lu Xun’s essay “Death” (Si), the diary entry or the letters anywhere in Haiying’s treatment of this period. What is even more shocking is the absence of reference to them in Wang Yuanhua’s preface to the book, which merely repeats what Haiying has alleged, then concludes: “That no one has performed any serious investigation or done research to get to the bottom of an unresolved case of such magnitude truly makes one wring one’s hands in despair” (p. 6). This made me wonder about the seriousness of Wang Yuanhua’s commitment to Lu Xun studies.
It also makes me wonder about Haiying’s choice of friends. One of the things Wang Yuanhua commends Haiying for is: “...the ability to view problems historically, to cast off the friendships and hatreds of the previous generation, like the way he deals with the problems of the Creation Society [Guo Moruo-type Leftists who criticized Lu Xun] and the Four Big Bruisers [Wang Ming supporters who tried to intimidate him]. Even though people like Li Chuli still maintained their prejudices and biases against Lu Xun after Liberation, Haiying is even-tempered and good-humored toward them” (p. 2). This highlights one feature of Haiying’s book that may irk Lu Xun fans – Haiying’s associations with people seem to be determined by who they were in the new Communist hierarchy and how they treated him and his mother in the post-1949 period. I suppose this is only common sense, given the way society changed after 1949, but one somehow hopes that the son of Lu Xun would have maintained (or at least made an effort to acquire or been taught by his mother) more of a historical perspective and that Guo Moruo and his ilk would not continually appear as some sort of kindly avuncular figures. Xu Guangping, who stood up to the Japanese under torture (pp. 140-149), comes across as a wimp under Communism (p. 243) when she failed to say something on behalf of Lu Xun’s (and her) old friend Xiao Jun over the Wenhua Bao issue, which had occasioned a public criticism of Xiao Jun already in 1948. It’s no wonder that she felt “embarrassed” when he jocularly observed circa 1950: “Xu xiansheng zuo guan le./ Ms Xu’s joined the officialdom” (p. 285).
Another issue has always been the question of who paid for Lu Xun’s “lavish” Western-style coffin. In 1936 this became a subject of much speculation by the right-wing press, implying that it was the Communists (by implication, he was on the “Ruble dole”). Pollard says it was Soong Ch’ing-ling (Madame Sun Yat-sen) who donated it (p. 199), again with not the slightest indication of any source. Haiying, refreshingly, adopts another angle, one of resentment that his mother was, in the end, most likely stuck with a bill for it (1,168.48 yuan labeled as a “miscellaneous” expense) – see his p. 69-70 for a list of the funeral expenses and his comments on them. Haiying is interested in accounting. He has to be, considering all the residuals he says have been owed to him by the publishing industry of the PRC and Japan for his father’s works and those of Xu Guangping. One begins to wonder how these calculations will be effected by the new “Mickey Mouse” law passed by the American Congress, as Haiying has calculated the 30 year residuals as running to 1967 and the 50 year residuals till 1987. It seems Mickey was not as old as Ah Q, although at points they shared a similar temperament; however he pre-dates the publication of a number of Lu Xun’s later works.
Haiying is bitter because (according to what he tells us) he never got a house out of the government. If this were really the case, his bitterness would be understandable, considering the fact that Lu Xun owned at least a share in what became Zhou Zuoren’s compound at Badaowan, and Xisantiao (now the Lu Xun Museum in Beijing), which Lu Xun purchased himself. Xu Guangping donated the latter to the state as well as her one-third share in Badaowan. But Xu also purchased a siheyuan compound at Dashizuo, near the headquarters of the central government in Zhongnanhai in 1950. Because it was inconvenient for transportation by car, the government later allocated another impressive compound to her at No. 7 Jingshan qian dajie, which she rented at a nominal fee. Dashizuo was later occupied by four families of military officers, who were reluctant to move; neither was the state willing to restitute the property to Haiying. Surprisingly, after his mother’s death in 1968, he was forced to move, along with his wife and four children, one of whom caught hepatitis (along with Haiying himself) from the raw sewage that had flooded their new more Spartan state-assigned quarters. Zhou Enlai himself ultimately had to intervene to free up some of the royalties from Lu Xun’s works so that Haiying and his son could pay for treatment. In fact, this seems to have been a fairly frequent occurrence in Guangping’s and Haiying’s lives after 1949 – shoddy treatment at the hands of the state bureaucracy occasioning Zhou Enlai’s or Deng Yingchao’s personal intervention. Even after Xu Guangping succeeded in joining the Communist Party in 1961 she continued to be treated as an outsider. Zhou Enlai had once told her it would be more convenient for their (United Front?) work if she remained outside the Party (p. 287), so perhaps her insistence on joining was resented, particularly by Lu Xun’s critics, old and new. I remember the speech delivered by Hu Yaobang at the Great Hall of the People in September 1981 at the ceremony to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of Lu Xun’s birth, in which he called for the suppression of contemporary dissident writers, quite a mark of disrespect toward Lu Xun’s memory by the Communist Party at the time, as Simon Leys pointed out in “The Mosquito’s Retort” (Far Eastern Economic Review, Dec. 11, 1981, p. 40)..
One question remaining on the minds of scholars outside China has always been Xu Guangping’s uneasy association with the zaofan pai or “rebel faction” during the Cultural Revolution (1966-9). This aspect of her life and career remains untreated in Haiying’s book, which instead focuses on the circumstances immediately prior to her death. Haiying tells us (p. 294) that regarding Lu Xun’s quarrels with people in the 1930s, he (Haiying) prefers to let bygones by bygones, but that he will not forgive people who maligned his mother after the Cultural Revolution. For instance, Li Chuli attacked both Lu Xun and Xu Guangping in a group meeting of the section on modern literature during the third enlarged plenary session of the third congress of the Writers Union which met “after the smashing of the Gang of Four,” saying: “What was Lu Xun worth? When Guo Moruo was advocating revolutionary literature, he was still spouting nihilism!” and “Xu Guangping didn’t die of anger because Lu Xun’s letters were taken away, but rather because she had had close relations with Wang [Li], Guan [Feng] and Qi [Benyu] and when they were dragged out to be struggled against, she died of fright [for herself].” Haiying then backtracks and tells the story of how Xu Guangping was invited by Jiang Qing to write up an account of how Lu Xun had been wronged (yuanqu) in the 1930s and by whom. Again, Haiying mentions their questioning the cause of his death [at the hands of Dr. Sudoo, according to Zhou Jianren]. He then quotes his mother as saying: “Your father was angry in the ‘30s, but that all was written about in his essays... I don’t understand what Jiang Qing means by yuanqu (‘persecuted’/’compromised’/’humiliated’)” (p. 297).
Of course, Jiang Qing was inviting Xu Guangping to attack people in the pre-1966 Communist cultural establishment like Zhou Yang (Zhou Qiying) and his associates, who had angered Lu Xun during the Battle of the Slogans and later labeled him (rather than themselves) guilty of “factionalism” (zongpai zhuyi) in the 1956 annotations to his “Reply to Xu Maoyong” in volume six of the Lu Xun quanji (Complete works of Lu Xun), which they controlled, but Xu Guangping avoided giving any new evidence against them, save for quoting one of Lu Xun’s remarks to the effect that Zhou Yang “spent most of that time deep in hiding, never showing himself, instead having a girl run around delivering his letters and pronouncements” (p. 303). Again, it is Haiying’s cultivated naïveté about this period that irks the reader. Interestingly, though, he reproduces Xu Guangping’s charge in her testimony to Jiang Qing that the post-1949 allocation of the publication of Lu Xun’s works to Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe had the net result of limiting their circulation. She comments: “I often got letters from readers in outlying areas of the country saying that Lu Xun’s works were difficult to purchase. Only small shipments reach the big cities and just a few volumes make it to the towns. Clearly supply does not meet demand. Of course, we have paper rationing, but there should be some way to remedy this situation. Perhaps some people have a different agenda: by limiting the circulation of Lu Xun’s works they frustrate the readers and then turn around and claim the works are passé. It’s really difficult to imagine what they are up to...” (p. 303). She also protested the cancellation of production of the film “The Life of Lu Xun” (Lu Xun zhuan), originally slated to screen in 1966, for “reasons that were unclear.”
All in all, the picture Haiying paints of his mother after 1949 was one of patience and fortitude amid increasing isolation and frustration, and a self-restraint which she would not give up even when tempted by the zaofan pai during the Cultural Revolution. Yet one wonders how much this portrait of Xu as the long-suffering widow, regarded for many years as an outsider to the Party, is dictated by the exigencies of the present. The great irony is that the degree of agency which has now been credited over and again to the young Xu Guangping by Bonnie McDougall (Love Letters and Privacy in Modern China, Oxford UP, 2002) and other scholars was undermined by the state that she had allegedly so supported, either that or by her preoccupation with her son, who may have also inadvertently caused her death by having her take an over-dose of the heart medicine she was on (Haiying admits to his role in this on p. 313).
In June of 1966 four crates containing 1054 hand-written manuscripts and letters of Lu Xun, some of which were unpublished, were transferred from the Lu Xun Museum in Beijing to the Ministry of Culture. In January of 1968 they were taken away by Qi Benyu, a member of the central planning group for the Cultural Revolution (Zhongyang wenge xiaozu). Xu Guangping, worried about their safe-keeping, wrote a letter to Party Central on the night of March 2, 1968. She suffered a heart attack the next morning (p. 311). Treatment was delayed at Beijing Hospital (Beijing Yiyuan) because her records could not be located (they had been transferred to the Beijing University clinic by zaofan pai activists who had labeled Beijing Yiyuan an institution run be capitalist roaders). By the time a doctor who knew her showed up and tried to resuscitate her, Xu Guangping (b. 1898) had passed on. Jiang Qing’s response to Xu’s letter regarding the manuscripts was that Qi Benyu should be held to account (p. 314). The crates turned out to be with Jiang Qing at Diaoyutai, then the central headquarters of the Cultural Revolution. Some of the manuscripts may have been lost, a number of the letters remain unpublished. Haiying’s book never mentions an accounting for them, only Jiang Qing’s blustering that if anything were missing, Qi Benyu would be shot (p. 314). In October of 1975 Haiying wrote a letter to Mao Zedong asking that Lu Xun’s remaining letters be published, no matter to whom they were addressed. Mao agreed, but referred the matter to the Politburo (Zhengzhi Ju). This resulted in a new edition of his letters the following year (Lu Xun shuxin ji, 2 vols., Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1976), but a number still remain unpublished (one dated July 17, 1936 to Yang Zhihua, Qu Qiubai’s widow, is the newest one to see light; in it Lu Xun protests persecution at the hands of Party stalwarts, like Zhou Yang and Co., whom he sarcastically calls “the little heroes’ – see the Lu Xun yanjiu yuekan, 2003, no. 6, pp. i-iv). It is the fervent hope of this reviewer that the remainder of Lu Xun’s unpublished letters will soon be brought to light.
The political blockbuster Haiying drops is one which hardly surprises Lu Xun readers, but apparently served to offend the Communist authorities of the late Jiang Zemin era when the book came out. In the its second-to-last section Zai shuo ji ju (A Few More Words), Haiying retells a story ascribed to Gorky-translator Luo Ji’nan by “one of his trusted students” (unnamed), whom Haiying met at a conference on the writer Ba Ren (Wang Renshu) in 1996. As the story goes, in 1957 when Mao was in Shanghai at the beginning of the anti-Rightist campaign, at an evening gathering of fellow Hunanese where they had been talking about the fate of cultural figures in the campaign, Luo came out and asked Mao point blank what would happen to Lu Xun if he were still alive? Taking the question seriously, Mao paused to think for a moment, then responded: “In my estimation, he would either be locked up, and continue his writing in jail, or he would be perspicacious enough to grasp the situation and not utter a word” (p. 371). Haiying adds that Wang Yuanhua told him he should publish this account because he (Wang) had heard the same thing. More kudos to Wang Yuanhua! If I had a dollar for every time a Chinese student told me Lu Xun would have been in big trouble had he lived into the Communist era, I think I would easily have accumulated enough money to eat hui xiang dou and drink rice-wine in Prosperity Tavern for the rest of my life. Always the master of detail, if not analysis, Haiying then concludes his narrative by saying that during the Cultural Revolution some Red Guards wrote letters to Xu Guangping and the Central Committee giving various reasons why they thought Lu Xun should be made an honorary member of the Communist Party posthumously. Haiying wonders what Mao would have replied had anyone had the nerve to broach this with him (p. 371). What difference would have it made – a lot of good Party membership did the erstwhile head-of-state Liu Shaoqi! In that sense, Lu Xun’s non-Party status served and (arguably) still serves to protect him.
When Pollard produced his biography he had the advantage of working with a number of new sources unavailable to dissertation writers Harriet C. Mills and William R. Schultz. Aside from Haiying’s book, these include the six-volume compilation by the Lu Xun Museum of Lu Xun Huiyilu (Lu Xun remembered), the Lu Xun nianpu (Chronology of Lu Xun’s life) in four volumes (1981-4) and numerous biographically-oriented studies by Li Yun[jing], Ma Tiji, Huang Qiaosheng and Duan Guochao, as well as Wang-chi Wong’s Politics and Literature in Shanghai: The Chinese League of Left-wing Writers (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1991). Still, Pollard’s book contains little new information, save for speculation about Lu Xun’s first love, his cousin Qingu (pp. 57-8), and the anecdote about the young Mao coming to consult Zhou Zuoren in April of 1920 about the New Village Movement in Japan (p. 70). Pollard misreads Haiying’s account about the film The Life of Lu Xun and gives the impression the film was actually produced (pp. 95-96). In fact, we have only a published screenplay for part one, as Haiying attempts to tell us (p. 303). Pollard asserts point blank (again, with no source cited) that Song Qingling donated Lu Xun’s coffin (Pollard, p. 199), which Haiying vigorously disputes (see above and Haiying, pp.65-70).
At times Pollard writes in a colloquial style of English which sounds a bit like it dates from the Edwardian era (Lu Xun “conned” the classics, p. 14; he was not a “milk and water child,” p. 16; he purchased a “fob” watch, p. 29; the local gentry “dash the cup from [Ah Q’s] lips,” p. 214). Quaint though it might be at first, this style mars his translation of Lu Xun’s otherwise moving essay “To Remember in Order to Forget” (“done to death,” in a “pother,” “three chevrons,” “All I can do is...suck in some lame breaths of air”) included in the appendix (pp. 225-237), as Pollard himself admits at one point, “since it allows Lu Xun an opportunity to speak for himself, it should come as a welcome antidote to secondary sources, including this one” (p. 171). In fact, although Pollard has held for many years the chair as Professor of Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, his translation lacks the grace and subtle power of the earlier one by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang (Lu Xun: Selected Works, 1980, 3:234-246). He would have done the reader a greater service simply to include that one. My objections to Pollard’s translations are not solely stylistic, they are philological as well. Why translate quan (a fragrant grass used in the Lisao as a laudatory stand-in for the poet’s monarch) as “overlord” (p. 62)? Are Lu Xun’s post-1916 pseudonyms Si Tang and Tang Si really based on a pun meaning “‘Waiting’ for Death” (as Pollard asserts on pp. 48 and 51)? The graph for si means “to wait” and Tang indicates the Tang dynasty or, by extension, China. Under Yuan Shikai and during the warlord era, when Lu Xun used this pseudonym, China was waiting for a second chance at democracy and Lu Xun was waiting for an opening (a political/societal/cultural thaw?) to express himself in a different way. Thus while the first simply means “waiting [in the hall],” i.e. the author is waiting on the sidelines to make a move, the second pseudonym suggests “China is waiting.” Why does Guduzhe (lit. The Isolate) translate as “Lone Wolf” (p. 215)? Why should we understand the title of Lu Xun’s prose poetry collection Yecao in a negative connotation as “weeds” (zacao) and not “wild grass” (ye cao)? Simon Leys has made this argument before, but what are Pollard’s own grounds?
As a biographer, Pollard does not attempt to tackle or solve many factual problems. Did Lu Xun actually join the revolutionary organization Tongmenghui while a student in Japan? If so, where’s the proof? How can Pollard conclude on the July 1923 incident (Haiying dates it July 1922, which is wrong, see Lu Xun’s diary) in which Zhou Zuoren and Lu Xun quarreled and split for good that “it is almost certain that the offense was of a sexual nature” merely on the basis of the fact that it was Lu Xun who moved out or that Zhou Zuoren hit and Nobuko used ‘filthy expressions’ (huiyu) to revile Lu Xun a year later when he returned to Badaowan to retrieve some of his books (p. 81)? I would think that tells us more about Zhou Zuoren and Nobuko than Lu Xun. Did Lu Xun really send a telegram congratulating Mao Zedong and the Red Army on their arrival at Yan’an saying: “On your shoulders rests the hope for China’s future?” or was that written by someone else (Feng Xuefeng) and later credited to him? Pollard repeats and in some cases starts a number of falsehoods and misconceptions: Arthur H. Smith, the author of Chinese Characteristics was a Canadian, not an American, as any discerning reader of its preface can tell (cf. Pollard, p. 26). Qu Qiubai was executed by the Guomindang government, he did not merely “die in a Guomindang prison after expressing his disillusionment with political life” (p. 145). Why were “Zhou Yang and Co. surely in the right” (p. 195) in the Battle of the Slogans when even the Communist Party is loathe to say so? (Granted, some internet hacks may be doing this for them). Pollard’s grasp of the details of British history also seems to be slipping: Saxon resistance to the Normans lasting through the time of Richard the Lionhearted is merely a fiction created by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe – it had long since ceased (cf. Pollard’s p. 20). Southey called Byron and his school of poets “satanic,” not “Satanist” (p. 34). Again, the accuracy of Pollard’s account would have been bolstered by citations. After all, that’s what they are for.
To his credit, Pollard steers away from the wilder speculations that mar Haiying’s book. For example, he does not comment on Haiying’s apocryphal story about Luo Ji’nan and Mao. Where Pollard comes closest to making a real contribution is in his attempt at literary analysis, which is mostly relegated to a secondary position in this volume. The first of these is his treatment of Lu Xun’s 1912 short story written in classical Chinese Huaijiu (Pollard translates this title incorrectly as “Holding to the Past” – it means “cherishing the past” in the sense of having a degree of nostalgia for the past). On p. 43 Pollard points out: “...Yet it is not an insignificant work. It showed that his reading and translation of modern Russian fiction in particular had taught him how to put a story together, and it foreshadowed his later stories in capturing the mentality of the denizens of a backward society without being overtly satirical or cynical, achieved here by the use of a boy narrator – a device that he repeated in his famous story ‘Kong Yiji’”(pp. 43-44).
These continue in the appendix titled “Sketches of Lu Xun’s Literature” (pp. 211-223), where Pollard remarks on Ah Q:
The tone of this novella is heavily ironic, irony being the best protection against surrendering to outrage on the one hand, and pity on the other hand. In this respect, and in other ways too, Lu Xun made use of a technique he had learned from the Slavic authors he had read and translated as a student in Japan. Like them he belonged to a numerically tiny internationally-educated, reformist intellectual class who felt surrounded by an inert, feudal-minded populace whom ignorance had left without understanding of themselves or of their fellow men. Sympathy is practically unknown to the characters in this and the other stories; neither is it displayed by the author. All the same, there is an underlying current, if not of a common bond between author and creations, then of common bondage. Perhaps that is why the best stories continue to vibrate after reading. (p. 214)
Although I would dispute the contention that it is a common bond of bondage between the author and his characters which makes Lu Xun’s stories reverberate; on the contrary, their unique perspective lies in the way he dissects and exposes the mentality of those who thrive on bondage – one which I, as an American hailing roughly from the area of the so-called “swing” states, have always found particularly informative in understanding the psyches of some of my own compatriots.
Pollard offers a new and insightful interpretation of the title of Lu Xun’s second short-story collection Panghuang as “Wavering” (it had previously been translated “Hesitation” or “Wandering”). He remarks: “The title of this collection presumably refers to the theme shared by several of the stories of a generation of men who had received a modern education and imbibed high ideals backsliding, compromising, opting out, or even totally betraying their former principles. The setting has shifted from the country village to the city, and issues dealt with are the contemporary ones of the mid-1920s.” (p. 215). Perhaps his most original contribution has to do with his analysis of Lu Xun’s prose-poems in the collection Yecao, on which he concludes: “...rather than being modernist, as most critics see the prose poems, they are in spirit a reversion to antiquity. That is to say, the extreme to which Lu Xun goes was licensed by the example of the sainted, or possessed, poets of the sao school, who despaired of the world to the extent of frenzy. The Songs of the South (Chu ci) anthology, which collected their fabulous imaginings, was not only a favorite of Lu Xun, but also a revered classic. Because of that, in China you were not deemed to be truly demented if you wrote as if you were demented. All the same, Weeds did not start a trend.” (p. 220).
But Pollard seems to contradict himself here, as he has previously told us:
By the mid-1920s other Chinese writers had produced collections of prose-poems. Lu Xun also had a German translation of Baudelaire’s Petits poemes en prose . But his own Weeds owed likeness to none of them so much as to Turgenev’s Poems in Prose (1882). Lu Xun was certainly well acquainted with Turgenev – his brother says they read everything of his they could get hold of while in Japan – and may have read Liu Bannong’s translation of four of Turgenev’s prose-poems published in 1915. Though it cannot be proved that he had read the whole collection, the similarities in type are remarkable. Turgenev’s pieces are also very mixed and varied. They range from scenes from everyday life, through encounters with strange, symbolic figures in empty landscapes (some confessedly dreams, some not), to allegories, parables and legends, and also include veiled attacks on real persons. Lu Xun’s pieces have a similar mixture: like weeds, they seem to have seeded themselves. Turgenev’s pieces are most memorably dark and nightmarish, in his case due to awareness of approaching death; Lu Xun’s are much the same: predominantly eerie, surreal and frightening, with the difference that his terror may be allied to exhilaration. There is, however, little correspondence in content. (p. 218-9)
This, of course, begs the question of how Pollard defines “modernity” (he never does) and to what extent Turgenev’s prose poetry might also be informed by or at least anticipate it, as critics have asserted about Matthew Arnold’s On Dover Beach. In his analysis of the attributes that made Lu Xun’s short polemical essays or zawen so effective, he attributes them to: 1/ Lu Xun’s superior classical education (“Unlike his younger adversaries, Lu Xun had practiced writing the ‘eight-legged’ examination essay (baguwen), which was designed precisely to test verbal and argumentative skills and ingenuity, and on his behalf he had read widely in freer classical disputation.” 2/ “His own mordant wit and protean invention” and his command of “the whole range of the Chinese language from the classical to the modern demotic” and 3/ his “encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese and Western literature and history.” (p. 221). Whether the latter makes him a bona fide “modern” is likely only if we can make the same claim for Wang Guowei (1877-1927) or Chen Sanli (1852-1937). But Pollard makes a more specific case for modernity in Lu Xun’s short stories: “The stories that followed [The Diary of a Madman], however, owed their success as works of literature to the deletion of any overt message and the suppression of any show of sentiment on the part of the author. As classical Chinese literature was given precisely to extravagant expression of sentiment, this was itself a mark of modernity.” (pp. 211-212). No wonder, then that he gives “the prize for the most perfect composition in the collection...to ‘A Public Spectacle’ (Shizhong)” because “it has no story to speak of and the few words spoken are disjointed. It consists only of [an execution] scene on a hot and dusty street in the capital...The piece can be read as Lu Xun’s commentary on, literally, the Chinese ‘man in the street’, a dramatization on a lesser, domestic level of the news picture he had seen in Japan of an unfeeling Chinese crowd witnessing an execution of one of their own. But there is no commentary in the story, which is why it works so well” (p. 217). But does the modernist writer merely strive for bare bones and nothing more? If so, where do we place James Joyce’s Ulysses, which has been called “all commentary.”
Pollard obviously holds some of the stories in high regard, but his tastes differ from Lu Xun’s own. Lu Xun cited Kong Yiji as his favorite among his works. Pollard can barely conceal his contempt for it: “Kong Yiji has no symbolism. Its power to affect derives from the lack of emotion on the part of the narrator, who recounts with indifference the pathetic story of the old failed scholar who on his descent to the human scrap heap is treated with derision by the vulgar patrons of the wine shop that he frequents. His only epitaph is the slate which marks his unpaid wine bill: 19 coppers.” (p. 212). This is only a superficial reading. Kong Yiji is an ingenious story masterfully structured and crafted that evokes a whole bygone way of life and questions our inhumanity to our fellows through the eyes and observations of a child- narrator in less than five pages. Let’s see John Cheever or V.S. Naipal do that. Pollard’s observation on Guxiang (Hometown), that: “it is a cleverly composed reflection on memory deceived and dreams dissolved” (p. 212) is lyrical in itself, but again reflects an inadequate understanding of the depth of emotion, national scale and implications of the story. Moreover, Pollard shows himself a hasty reader when he asserts: “Runtu has suffered moral as well as physical decline.” (p. 213). The charges against Runtu of intending to steal from the narrator’s family are leveled by a character (Yang Er Sao, aka the Doufu Xishi or “Beancurd Femme Fatale”) whose motivations and sincerity have been questioned repeatedly in the narration.
Pollard sees Lu Xun’s dramatic sketch Guoke (The Passer-by) as influenced by Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, whose prophet he calls “the ultimate obstinate traveller” (p. 219). At another point in the text he tells us that Zarathustra was Lu Xun’s role model: “Like Zarathustra, Lu Xun did not expect to succeed, but would not spare his enemies, and would go down fighting. Zarathustra said, “I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood and you will experience that blood is spirit. That could well have been Lu Xun’s motto. The mature Lu Xun did not embrace Nietzsche’s ideas, but he did embody more than any other prominent Chinese intellectual the spirit of Nietzsche.” (p.206).” This conclusion does not differ greatly from Cheung Chiu-yee’s findings in Lu Xun: The Chinese “Gentle” Nietzsche. But Cheung explores much further than Pollard. Arguably, his book may be the first bona fide attempt at an intellectual biography of Lu Xun in English.
Cheung utilizes the prism of Lu Xun’s interest in Nietzsche to examine not only his influence on the development of Lu Xun’s thought, but a host of other issues from the interpretation of Lu Xun’s works to his marital status. In order to do this, Cheung must first come to terms with Nietzsche’s intellectual legacy, which he defines as that of the “gentle”-- the Nietzsche sans Nachlass familiar to us through Walter Kaufmann and others who have rightly discounted the Nietzsche of the Will to Power created through manuscripts reconstructed posthumously by his sister and other crypto-fascists from fragments of his unpublished works. In fact, it is best to read Nietzsche as a rumination, Cheung tells us, to pick up his Leitworte or main terms (p. 9). Nietzsche’s thought system uses metaphorical language; it follows the pre-Socratic thinkers and in this way resembles classical Chinese thought (pp. 15-16). But like many nineteenth-century Europeans, Nietzsche “regarded Chinese culture as an expression of decline,” and “the final exhaustion of life” (p. 60). Similar sentiments are reflected in Lu Xun’s essays, both of the early period and later, as well as his idea that China’s problem was “spiritual,” which was also derived from Nietzsche, we are told (p. 39). Cheung asserts that Lu Xun was the “chosen one” to realize Nietzsche’s influence on China (p. 17).
Central to all this was Thus Spake Zarathustra and Lu Xun’s understanding of it as well as what he had gleaned from secondary sources during his years of study in Japan, probably Takayama Chogyuu’s 1901 essay Bunmei hihyooka to shite no bungakusha (The litterateur as cultural critic), derived from Ziegler’s Die geistigen und socialen Stroemungen Deutschlands in neunzehnten Jahrhundert [The German Intellectual and Social Movements in the Nineteenth Century] (Berlin: Georg Bondi, 1911), which Cheung informs us is mostly based on Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations (p. 23). If that is the case, the young Lu Xun is to be commended for his choice of sources.
Ziegler considered Nietzsche the spokesperson for nineteenth century individualism which continued the liberation of individuality begun during the Renaissance and he held that Nietzsche promoted the “culture of genius” which he derived from the Dionysian aspect of Greek culture. Cheung holds that Nietzsche “was introduced to the Japanese directly from Germany in the wake of the Meiji Reform” (p. 19). Japan’s victory over China in the first Sino-Japanese War of 1895 accelerated industrial expansion but at the same time exacerbated many social problems. “The pressure of these problems,” we are told, “could no longer be contained by the ideologies of nationalism and militarism” (p. 19). This brought about intense intellectual disillusionment, creating a spiritual vacuum which nurtured a strong anti-war sentiment. The search for a new spiritual ideal led to the popularity of individualism and subjectivism, which were seen as the opposites of vulgar materialism and nationalism. In many respects this background was parallel to that in Germany, against which Nietzsche launched his “revaluation of all values” (p. 19). All this is good intellectual history, but it does not take into consideration the differences between the Chinese intellectual milieu and that of Japan. Lu Xun was interested in Byron, Shelley, Pushkin, Lermontov, Petofi, Heine, Stirner and Nietzsche because he saw them as men of letters whose lives combined ideals with action, who sought to redress the wrongs of oppressed peoples in an unjust world of power imbalances. In that sense, Nietzsche may not have played as singularly pivotal a role in the formation of his thought as the title of Cheung’s book would lead us to believe. At one point Cheung actually back-pedals on the thesis, stating: “The title ‘Chinese Nietzsche’, therefore, refers to Lu Xun not so much as a disciple of Nietzsche but rather a Nietzschean equal in the Chinese context” (p. 6). In other words, the book’s title merely signifies that Lu Xun was an innovative thinker and major intellectual force in China. Who could argue with that? But if that is the case, what are we to make of the other 177 bolder pages of text?
Influenced by Matei Calinescu, Cheung develops a central thesis, which posits the idea of two modernities: “firstly, modernity as a stage in the history of Western civilization, namely a product of scientific and technological progress of the industrial revolution, of the sweeping economic and social changes brought about by capitalism, and secondly, modernity as an aesthetic concept which was related to romanticism ... In the first half of the nineteenth century, there was ‘an irreversible split’ between the two and since then the ‘two modernities’ have been ‘irreducibly hostile’ to each other” (p. 20). Cheung then substitutes the term “cultural modernity” for Calinescu’s “aesthetic modernity” which he positions in opposition to “practical modernity.” He sees Lu Xun as an advocate of “cultural modernity” and a critic of “practical modernity,” although by the end of the book, he tells us that Lu Xun was in fact “anti-modern,” and praises “the ‘gentle’ Nietzschean anti-modern direction of Lu Xun” (p. 177). Obviously, whether a historical figure should be considered pro-modern or anti-modern depends on one’s definition of modernity, but Cheung’s conclusion would cause more than a few readers to ask for his definition. It seems to be the general view (argued elsewhere by Leo Oufan Lee, Sun Yushi and others) that Lu Xun personified the modern consciousness. Those in doubt need look no farther than his stories, essays and prose poetry.
Cheung contradicts his own position at another point in the book’s final pages, when he speculates (quoting the PRC critic Wang Jing) that had Lu Xun been alive during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), he would have opposed the Maoist idea of continuing revolution, because he would have been in favor of material progress in terms of a rising standard of living of living for the people (p. 135). This statement, though commonsensical, is at odds with Cheung’s own argument (advanced on pp. 127-8) that Lu Xun believed some of the Communists were in fact Uebermenschen who would dare take action to propel society forward, reforming the national character and reinvigorating the nation (Lu Xun was at base a Ming loyalist, we were told on p. 38) and that Communism would liberate the individual; further that, since, in his view, every revolution is in danger of being co-opted, there is a need to ensure that “there is no end to revolution” (p. 136), particularly since this concept was allegedly derived from Nietzsche’s ewige Wiederkunft (eternal recurrence). If there is an ewige Wiederkunft in Lu Xun, in my opinion, it lies in the idea that every revolution will ultimately be overcome by the forces of reaction and thus ensure the need for new revolutionary forces to arise. But this begins to sound more like Hegel than Nietzsche. It may turn out that Hegelian dialectics were more inspired by Enlightenment meditations on Jesuitical writings on classical Chinese philosophy than we have hitherto suspected. But this begs another question and that is to what extent was much of what scholars today attribute to Nietzsche’s influence part and parcel of globally-circulating fin-de-siecle discourse, be it from Stirner, Brandes, Ikuta Chookoo (the Japanese translator of Zarathustra) or the writer Mori Oogai? As Cheung himself points out (p. 34), it’s difficult to determine how much of Nietzsche Lu Xun actually read. I would speculate that this was limited to portions of Zarathustra and two or three secondary sources. Certainly Lu Xun rejected the whole “will to power” part of Nietzsche (he says so in his written works) and the most famous quotation about Nietzsche’s writings from Lu Xun in his mature period is where he groups them in 1935 together with other works under the unflattering rubric of ‘shijimo’ de guozhi (lit. “fin-de-siecle fruit juice [i.e. decadent fluff])” (Lu Xun quanji 1981, 6:243). Even in his early essays of the 1907-8 period, while commending Nietzsche’s influence as a counter-balance to the rising tide of materialism, the young Lu Xun maintained a critical distance.
Although this book may not convince the more skeptical reader of the idea that Lu Xun is in fact the “Chinese Nietzsche,” it is nevertheless eloquently written, well-researched and refreshingly, as compared with Pollard’s The True Story of Lu Xun (Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2002) well-documented. Much of the scholarship is crystallized in the footnotes, which, fortunately for the reader, are presented in Turabian style. I particularly enjoyed the final pages, where Cheung speculates on Lu Xun’s vision of China today, based on an interpretive reading of two satiric parables (Li shui [Curbing the Flood] and Fei gong [Opposing Aggression] from the 1935 collection Gushi xinbian (Old Tales Retold), which he believes foretold a future golden world dominated by profit-making and money-hungry masses. Cheung concludes, rather originally, that if Lu Xun were alive today, he might have pleaded “Save the madmen!” instead of “Save the children!” at the end of his watershed story Kuangren riji (Madman’s Diary) in 1918. This is just one of many indications in the above three books of how vibrant many core issues surrounding the Lu Xun legacy and its representations remain among the Chinese and abroad almost seventy years after his death. True, the Lu Xun mystique may have been tarnished of late, but its ability to excite and inspire has certainly not faded.
David E. Pollard, The True Story of Lu Xun. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2002. xv, 242 pps., no bibliography, no index. ISBN 962-996-060-5, HK$ 195.00
Zhou Haiying, Lu Xun yu wo qishi nian [Lu Xun and I over seventy years]. Haikou: Nanhai chuban gongsi / Feifan shufang, 2001. vi, 374 pps., no bibliography, no index. ISBN 7-5442-1956-9, RMB 25.00
Lu Xun: the Chinese “Gentle” Nietzsche. By Chiu-yee Cheung. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang 2001. 178 pp. SFR 58 (paper).