Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544
“Regret for the Past” is set in the 1920’s, when Chinese youth felt lost in their quest for free love. Cohabitation, the boldest gesture of free love, often resulted in the lovers’ being disowned by their relatives and in general ostracism. On December 26, 1923, Lu Xun gave a talk titled “Nala zouhou zenyang” (“What Happens After Nora Leaves Home?”) at the Beijing Women’s Normal College. His message, resembling Virginia Woolf’s in A Room of One’s Own, is that women must have economic rights. Without economic power, Nora, after leaving home, will either be a puppet in the hands of her sympathizers, die in poverty, or become a prostitute. Lu Xun’s desire for radical social and political reform led him to consider the practical steps and basic obstacles between Chinese society as it was and how he would have it.
“Regret for the Past” tells of Zijun, the woman, and Juansheng, the man. Zijun experiences romantic love with “a childlike look of wonder.” This naïve love, which enables the heroine, temporarily, to become her own mistress and defy her society, cannot survive long. Zijun escapes the fate of traditional marriage, but she falls into the cage of traditional married life. She becomes dependent on her man. She reduces herself to a housewife, devoting herself to waiting on him. Her fight with neighbors for her chickens and dog indicates how trivial her life has become. The dog, whose name means “Follow,” mirrors the fate of Zijun. Zijun’s body and mind are both vulgarized by poverty; ultimately, she fails to understand or follow her man. She is abandoned, as the dog is abandoned in a pit in the wilderness. The tragedy of Zijun lies in the fact that she does not have a profession with which to earn economic independence. Zijun, whose father takes her back into his home, dies, not from lack of livelihood but from the death of love. Without love she can no longer endure the sternness and cold glances of her hostile world.
It may be argued that while Lu Xun pities Zijun for her foolishness in making love her whole existence and in falling into a second cage after breaking away from her first, his mockery of Juansheng is merciless. Juansheng is cowardly and hypocritical as well as self-righteous. He uses imitative romantic passion and beautiful words of sexual equality to procure Zijun’s love. He constantly blames Zijun for her inability to communicate with him intellectually but never realizes that he has enslaved her and left her no room for growth. It never occurs to him that a woman should have a career or that they can fight together for survival. Instead, he treats Zijun as an obstacle to his starting a new life and even wishes her dead. The irony is that after Zijun’s death, he still wants his fresh start in life and yet remains unable to act. The romantic love that gave expectancy, meaning, and happiness to Juansheng’s empty life eventually leaves him in remorse. If he forgets Zijun and hides the truth, he will be doomed to eternal emptiness.
The subtitle of the story is “Juansheng de shouji” (Juansheng’s notes). The narrative is pure male subjectivity, saturated with egotism.
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