“Revenge” is written in the form of prose poetry—a subgenre of Chinese literature invented by Lu Xun. Lu Xun’s prose poetry can be seen as a poetic interpretation of the essay. The conflict between the loner and the crowd is a persistent concern in Lu Xun’s short stories. The loner is the writer, fighter, seer, madman, revolutionary, and revenger, while the crowd is the passersby, the onlookers, the cowards, the walking bodies without a soul. The gullible crowd is made up of either indifferent and passive spectators or fierce and cruel persecutors. Lu Xun admitted in 1931 that “Revenge” was written out of revulsion at the number of bystanders in society.
“Revenge” has two parts. The first part is typical of Lu Xun’s metaphorical lyricism. Visual images of thin, peach-colored skin with hot blood beneath convey the dualistic nature of human desire and revenge, forever locked in love and hate, or in embracing and killing. Lu Xun presents the reader with an allegorical tableau of revenge: “The two of them, stripped naked and grasping sharp knives, confront each other in the vast wilderness.” In Lu Xun’s short stories, the revengers always sacrifice their lives to gratify the passersby. In a symbolic twist, Lu Xun freezes the tableau. The two would-be fighters can neither embrace nor kill, and the passersby are reduced to an eternal standstill.
In part 2, he uses the story of the Crucifixion to expose the persecuting nature of passersby. The enemy’s torture brings Him pain but the senseless complicity of the passersby gives Him the greater agony. “Those who reek most of blood and filth are not those who crucify the Son of God, but those who crucify the son of man,” Lu Xun writes. The style of part 2 is quite different from that of part 1. It reads like a sermon, full of Biblical cadences, and is sensual, imagistic, and allegorical. Its fluid style and musical refrains make it a true prose poem. Its story, free from the restraints of realism, is timeless and metaphysical.