Story references taken from Norton's Anthology, Expanded Edition
No page numbers listed as requested, chapters listed instead Writers are often influenced by their circumstances and, as a result, inspired to write about the things they feel passionately about as well as the things they witness. Writers sometimes use fiction as a tool to express their emotions and opinions and the most successful of writers are able to shape their situations and surroundings just as much as situations shape their literature. That certainly can be said of the Chinese writer, poet, and essayist Lu Xun, who is considered by many of his contemporaries to be the founder of modern Chinese literature. (Chinese Cultural Studies)
From his writings, it is clear that Lu Xun was heavily influenced by the Chinese culture and the politics of the day. It is also obvious that if Lu Xun had any inhibitions regarding his writings, they never appeared to surface. This paper will look at the Lu Xun and his work "Diary of a Madman" and will also examine how his writing was shaped by his culture as well as the time is which he lived.
Born in China in 1881, Lu Xun was exposed to the traditional ways of Chinese culture, which included learning at home from Confucian classics. Confucianism is a strict code of ethics based on the teachings of Confucius. Confucianism focuses on obedience to authority and submission to the government. Later in his career, Lu Xun would attack Confucianism, accusing it of being oppressive and hypocritical. (Chinese Cultural Studies) That type of accusation on such a solid government may have been the genesis of such a story as "Diary of a Madman" and perhaps the only way to express such sentiments about the government at that time without severe repercussions.
Lu Xun did not set out to be a writer, though. His first interest was in the direction of medicine, which was influenced by the illness and eventual death of his father. By experiencing the frail Chinese medical system first hand, Lu Xun decided he wanted to practice medicine in hopes to improve China's medical field. As he pursued his education in medicine, he still maintained an interest in Chinese literature but it always seemed to be in second place in relation to medicine. However, this mindset was dramatically changed when Lu Xun saw a documentary that exposed a Chinese spy being executed by the Japanese for working for the Russian government. He was moved to become a writer after witnessing the "cold indifference of Chinese onlookers during the execution of a Chinese prisoner during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Reform, he wrote, was impossible without changing the mentality of the people" (china.org).
Lu Xun set out to work toward that type of reform he was looking for by first pursuing a literary career, believing he could serve his country better with his writing which could possibly reach more people. He felt he could change the minds of his fellow countrymen easier with the influence of his words.
Lu Xun became popular in 1918, when "Diary of a Madman" was published. It is said that he was inspired by Nikolai Gogol's novel of the same name. After the publication of his story, Lu Xun became a part of the New Culture Movement. The new Culture Movement called for liberal democracy and social equality as well as rejecting Confucianism and traditionalism. An interesting thing worth nothing is that this short story was published in New Youth magazine which was founded by Ch'en Tu-hsiu, who would later become a founder of the Chinese Communist Party. Pricked by anger over Communist crackdowns and pressure against leftist students, Lu spent his last 10 years in Shanghai. (china.org) On all accounts, he is considered a revolutionary hero. (Chinese Cultural Studies)
Lu Xun was very active politically and had very firm beliefs concerning the modernization of China. He wanted China to break free from the liberalization of foreign imperialism and hoped that China could escape its oppressive traditions. He became a representative writer of Socialist Realism and he helped found the China League of Left-Wing Writers, of which he remained a leader until he died. He founded the magazine The Torrent and was editor of the magazines Benliu and Yiwen. The very ideas that made him popular also made him not so popular as well. He was wanted by authorities in 1926 for supporting the Beijing students' rebellion. (china.org). By the 1930s, when his reputation as a writer was established, he had no problem identifying "Communism as the only means of unifying China and solving its social and economic problems" (Chinese Cultural Studies). His popularity no doubt helped open the eyes of probably countless individuals who may have otherwise never heard the kind of message Lu Xun was trying to spread.
Being the first Western-style short story written in Chinese, "Diary of a Madman" was a satirical attack on the traditional Confucian culture of China. It was original for its time because it was written in the form of a diary and also because it is written in the first person. Its popularity and success laid the foundation its acceptance as a short story. (Chinese Cultural Studies)
The story leads the reader to consider many issues related to the Chinese culture during that time that it was published. The most obvious, of course, being cannibalism. The reader could possibly interpret the cannibalism in the story as a symbol of Confucianism, which was something that at away (or was eating away) at mankind. This is an example of how Lu Xun dreamed about moving the people of his generation and beyond to higher level of enlightenment and therefore, a better life.
No doubt story has been influenced by the Chinese Revolution of 1911. It could also be safely assumed that Lu Xun's message is one a story non-conformity. The possibility also exists that the story also be exposing the cannibalistic society of pre-revolution China. However, the latter can only be speculated.
Diary of a Madman" is perhaps more of a representation of how Lu Xun felt about the oppressive government he and his fellow countrymen were forced to live under. Lu Xun did not offer "sensitive descriptions of the sufferings of the Chinese people" (Chinese Cultural Studies). Instead, through "vivid analogies and exaggerated characters, Lu Xun presented his personal vision of Chinese society. The intensity and darkness of this vision makes reading a Lu Xun story a moving and disturbing experience" (Chinese Cultural Studies). Dark and disturbing perhaps, but his overall goal, which was to cause others to think about their situation in life, was achieved.
In this story, Lu Xun is able to carry out the fear and terror associated with a power so strong that the people feel absolutely helpless in regards to stopping it. The story can be interpreted as how the majority influences the minority, which bears a slight resemblance to the teachings of Karl Marx, although this cannot be proven.
As a result of this kind of majority rule, the narrator believes he is surrounded by cannibals and will eventually be eaten by them. This is quite an analogy, when one considers the circumstances in which Lu Xun lived. Whether or not one is in agreement with Lu Xun's politics, one has to respect the man for speaking out against such a government that is to this day oppressive.
On closer inspection, the story reveals much about what Lu Xun was feeling about his government and the Chinese. As aforementioned, expressing one's views becomes an easier task when told in such an extreme manner. Lu Xun takes complete advantage of this and demonstrates his versatility as a writer as well as illustrating a useful technique. Because the story told by the narrator from a friend's diary, Lu Xun is able to paint an even more absurd picture of what is going on.
For instance, almost from the very beginning in the first chapter, the reader is aware that something might be a little wrong with the writer, as he states that he "must be careful" otherwise, "why would the Zhoas' dog have looked at me twice?" Lu Xun does an excellent job in escalating the paranoia as the story moves along. The reader can easily see the continued paranoia as the writer thinks that everyone is talking about him, including the children, in the second chapter.
It becomes evident, and almost comical, to the reader in the third chapter that the writer of the story is quite obsessed with cannibalism and is convinced that everyone wants to eat him. In the forth chapter, he imagines his "executioner" feeling his pulse to see how fat he had become. It in also in this chapter that the reader gets a glance at Mr. Ho, another character in the book, and the chance to determine how crazy, it at all, the writer of the diary may be. Even though the writer expresses his…