China Beat Archive



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November 3, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright November 3, 2009. Used by permission.


We’re pleased to present here an excerpt from the introduction of Julia Lovell’s forthcoming translation of Lu Xun’s fiction. Lovell examines the uses (and abuses) of Lu Xun’s writings by Mao Zedong in the decades after the author’s death, pointing out the ways in which the CCP smoothed over rough edges and ignored inconvenient truths as it disseminated Lu Xun’s work for the Chinese public to study. Since the reforms of the late 1970s, Lu Xun has been transformed yet again, and now occupies a status equivalent to that of Charles Dickens in Britain: while his work might be respected, it strikes some students as out-of-date. Yet, as Lovell notes, Lu Xun is a ripe target for commercialization — a topic that China Beat will explore later this week.

On 19 October 1936, Lu Xun died of tuberculosis in Shanghai, still mired in quarrels with the leadership of the League of Left-wing Writers, and especially with Zhou Yang, the literary politico who would become Mao’s cultural tsar after 1949. “Hold the funeral quickly,” he set out in a mock testament written a month before his death. “Do not stage any memorial services. Forget about me, and care about your own life – you’re a fool if you don’t.” And finally, a message for his son: “On no account let him become a good-for-nothing writer or artist.”[1]

In perfect disregard of Lu Xun’s instructions, the writer was swiftly adopted by Mao Zedong – who would within twenty years crush into socialist realism the sardonic irreverence that defined Lu Xun’s legacy to Chinese literature – as “the saint of modern China”. “He knew how to fight back against a rotten society and the evil imperialist forces,” Mao lectured school children in 1937. . . .