Lu Xun Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
ph_0111206370-LuXun.jpg Lu Xun Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: One of twentieth century China’s great men of letters, Lu Xun pioneered a new literary tradition in China and offered a defiant indictment of Chinese character and traditions. He is honored by the Chinese Communists for his formative impact on young Chinese intellectuals and the revolutionary movement.

Early Life

Zhou Shuren (pen name Lu Xun) was born into a family with commercial and minor official connections in Shaoxing, China, in 1881. He and his two younger brothers received an early classical Chinese education based on Confucian texts. Although his family’s financial situation deteriorated during his early years because of his grandfather’s imprisonment for official bribery and the death of his father in 1897, Lu Xun was able to acquire a solid grounding in traditional Chinese history and literature and studied the illustrious history of his local district. His mother, a literate woman of indomitable character, held the family together during Lu Xun’s first seventeen years and had a powerful influence on him throughout his life.

As was typical of many intellectuals of his generation, Lu Xun turned to modern learning after his early grounding in Confucianism. After enrolling briefly in the Kiangnan Naval Academy in Nanjing in 1898, he transferred to the School of Railways and Mines, graduating in 1901. He then won a government scholarship to study medicine in Japan. After two years of Japanese language study in Tokyo, he entered the Sendai Provincial Medical School in the summer of 1904. After witnessing the humiliation of China in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Lu Xun turned his attention to literature as a means of awakening the Chinese people to the need for revolutionary change. Between 1906 and 1909, he sought to rescue China from its moral and physical ills. Disappointed by the failure of the masses to respond to his writings, however, and discouraged by the failure of the Revolution of 1911 to overthrow autocracy, he abandoned his crusade to change China and spent most of the years 1909 to 1919 publishing studies of traditional Chinese literature and art.

Life’s Work

Lu Xun burst into national prominence during the Cultural Revolution launched by the May Fourth Movement of 1919. Invited by a friend in 1918 to contribute to the leading periodical Hsin ch’ing-nien (new youth), Lu Xun authored his famous story “K’uang-jen jih-chi” (“The Diary of a Madman,” 1941). This was a searing indictment of the traditional Chinese family system, using the fantasies of a madman as a literary vehicle. The story epitomized the frustrations of Chinese youth with petrified Confucian social values and conventions and set the basic agenda for a generation of Chinese writers. Based loosely on Nikolai Gogol’s story of the same title, “The Diary of a Madman” moved far beyond Lu Xun’s earlier writings, since it was written in Western literary style. Thus launched on a national career, Lu Xun continued to write short essays on the Chinese public scene for the next few years. His best-known effort, “Ah Q chong-chuan” (“The True Story of Ah Q,” 1926) was published in 1921. This story satirizes the Chinese penchant for self-deception. Ah Q, an illiterate peasant outcast in the era of the 1911 Revolution, is constantly humiliated yet believes himself to be the most noble of men. He symbolizes China itself, which lies prostrate in the face of superior Western technology yet still maintains its cultural superiority.

These writings initiated the most creative period of Lu Xun’s life, the years between 1919 and 1926. In these years, he wrote about two dozen short stories designed to stimulate nationalistic consciousness among China’s youth. His acerbic, realistic stories were based on his own youth in Shaoxing and focused on young rebels struggling against the oppression of traditional society. He was extremely popular among young people, and liberal scholars recognized his great talent. He was relentless in his determination to avoid self-delusion and to carve out a new kind of humanistic morality. He launched an even more explicit attack on the evils of the old society in the essays that he wrote in those years. Using an impassioned, witty style, he called on the Chinese to abandon those elements of traditional society that were preventing China from creating a new, rational order. He called for the abolition of the traditional family system, which enslaved women and youths, and argued that China had to cease venerating the past at the expense of the present and future.

Lu Xun’s convictions led him into political controversies concerning student rights, culminating with his role in the March 18, 1926, incident in which demonstrating students were massacred by the warlord government of Duan Qirui (Tuan...

(The entire section is 1988 words.)

Lu Xun Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lu Xun (lew shewn), also known as Lu Hsün, is commonly regarded as the most influential literary figure in the history of modern Chinese literature. He was the first son of an educated country gentleman, Chou Po-yi, and Lu Jui, his wife. Frustrated in his career, his father appears to have been a somewhat temperamental man, whose behavior often kept his children at a distance. Lu’s mother did not receive any formal education; however, she taught herself how to read. Characteristic of his time, Lu started his education at home with the reading of Confucian classics. Because of his family’s literary collection, he also had the opportunity to read some famous classical Chinese novels, an interest that paved the way for a literary career later in his life. When Lu was twelve, his grandfather, the head of his family clan, was apprehended and soon sentenced to death for attempting to bribe an official. According to the preface to Call to Arms, this incident eventually led to the downfall of Lu’s affluent family, bringing him humiliation and hardship early in his life.{$S[A]Lu Hsün;Lu Xun}{$S[A]Zhou Shuren;Lu Xun}{$S[A]Chou Shu-jên;Lu Xun}

Shortly after his grandfather’s apprehension, his father fell ill and was bedridden for more than three years. The responsibility of the family thus lay heavily on Lu. As a result of his contact with Chinese doctors and the eventual death of his father, he became disillusioned with traditional Chinese medicine. Eventually, Lu decided to study Western medicine so that he could save the lives of those patients like his father and expose the inadequacy of Chinese medicine. Because of poverty, he attended the tuition-free Kiangnan Naval Academy and Kiangnan Military Academy in Nanking. While in school, he continued reading classical Chinese literature and began translating Western literature as well as composing novels and verses in classical Chinese style. In 1902 the Manchu government sent Lu, along with hundreds of other students, to Japan to study. While there, he first attended Kobun Institute and then Sendai Medical School. His determination to study Western medicine was diverted in 1906, when he saw a documentary. The film contained a scene concerning the Japanese execution of a Chinese spy working for the Russian government during the Russo-Japanese War. A large crowd of Chinese spectators appeared on the scene, watching indifferently the execution of their fellow countryman. Lu was so repulsed by this indifferent attitude of...

(The entire section is 1017 words.)

Lu Xun Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Lu Xun (the pen name of Zhou Shuren) was born on September 25, 1881, into an upper-middle-class family in the village of Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China. He was the eldest of the four sons of Zhou Fengyi (or Zhou Boyi), an old-style Chinese scholar, and Lu Rui, the daughter of a minor government official. Of Lu Xun’s three younger brothers, Zhou Zuoren became a writer, Zhou Jianren became a scientist, and the youngest died of pneumonia at the age of five.

The Zhou family was prosperous until 1893, when Lu Xun’s grandfather, Zhou Fuquing, a jinshi (entered scholar), was convicted of attempting to bribe a provincial examination official and sentenced to be beheaded. His execution, however, was postponed...

(The entire section is 1048 words.)

Lu Xun Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lu Xun (lew shewn; also known as Lu Hsün), whose real name was Zhou Shuren, was born on September 25, 1881, into a family from the gentry class in Shaoxing, China, a small town south of the Yangtze. In childhood, he received a solid education in the classics, and he loved ghost stories, fantasies, and folk art. When he was thirteen, his grandfather Zhou Jiefu, an editor at the Imperial Academy in Beijing, was charged with receiving bribes at provincial service examinations and was jailed for seven years. Lu Xun’s father, Zhou Boyi, fell ill after his grandfather’s imprisonment, remaining an invalid until his death in 1986. The family decline transplanted Lu Xun to the border world between wealth and poverty, sharpening his...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Lu Xun Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lu Xun’s moral ethos refuses to ignore either the moral failure of the individual or the moral failure of the group. Lu Xun’s short stories and prose poems demonstrate his unique creative power and rare talent. In spite of his tragic vision and constant wrestling with despair, he was not a pessimistic writer. His works are a call to arms for a brighter future. His achievement in artistic experiment has not been surpassed by any writer of modern Chinese literature.

(The entire section is 82 words.)