5 Lu Xun

Lu Xun (1881-1936)

Lu Xun (1881-1936)

“Diary of a Madman”

Chinese

Modernism

“Diary of a Madman” is a famous short story by Lu Xun, who is regarded as a great writer of modern Chinese literature. Lu Xun (surname: Lu, and the pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a short story writer, translator, essayist, and literary scholar. Although Lu was educated in the Confucian tradition when he was young, he later received a modern western education; he studied modern medicine in Japan and was exposed to western literature (including English, German, and Russian literatures). In 1918, “Diary of a Madman” was published in New Youth, a magazine of the New Culture Movement that promoted democracy, egalitarianism, vernacular literature, individual freedom, and women’s rights. Inspired by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s story of the same title, Lu wrote this story, which is the first western-style story in vernacular Chinese. The cannibalistic society that the madman narrator sees is generally interpreted as a satirical allegory of traditional Chinese society based on Confucianism. Although Lu and his works were associated with leftist ideas (and Mao Zedong favored Lu’s works), Lu never joined the Communist Party of China. The English translations of this short story include a version by William A. Lyell, a former professor of Chinese at Stanford University.
Consider while reading:

  1. What difference is there between the language and style of the preface and those of the “diary”?
  2. According to the “madman,” what is the evidence of cannibalism in China?
  3. How reliable is the story of the “madman”?
  4. What could be the story’s allegorical meaning?

Written by Kyounghye Kwon

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