Class Readers








Interpreting Lu Xun

By Jon Eugene von Kowallis


Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 18 (1996) pp. 153-164 


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  1. Mingbao yuekan, March 1995, p. 13.
  2. See Margery Sabin, "Lu Xun: Individual Talent and Revolution" in Raritan, IX, no. 1 (Summer 1989), p. 45.
  3. The 1980 edition of Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang's Lu Xun: Selected Works (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press) differs in several notable ways from the 1956-1960 edition. All of the omanization has been redone into pinyin, which is far preferable to the unreliable "modified" version of Wade-Giles previously used by the Foreign Languages Press at Beijing. A number of translations have been revised for the sake of readibility and accuracy and two new essays have been included in volume IV. These are "The International Settlement in March" (1936) which attacks the hapless literary critic "Mr. Dick" (then the pseudonym used by Zhang Chunqiao, later member of the "Gang of Four," which supposedly ruled China from behind the scenes in the early 1970s) and "Reply to Xu Maoyong on the Question of the United Front Against Japanese Aggression" (also 1936), which is important for understanding Lu Xun's position in the "Battle of the Slogans" and the controversy over "literature for national defense," even though its authorship is questioned.
  4. William A. Lyell, trans., Lu Xun: Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1990), p. 28.
  5. See Lydia H. Liu, Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity - China, 1900-1937 (Standford: Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 45-76.
  6. Examples can be found in vol. V, p. 92, paragraph 1: "Wo sind denn aber bitte die Beweise, wenn es in der Tat so viele Sänger voller Inbrust gibt?" (Without looking at the original, no reader of German could even attempt a guess at Lu Xun's meaning). At the end of the same paragraph we have: "Die Bemühungen, uns endlich aus der Lethargie zu befreien, gehen auf Anstösse von aussen zurück, wir sind nicht in der Lage, mit eigener kriftiger Stimme zu rufen." In the original, the simile from the preceeding sentence (someone trying to speak out in dream) continues here, but the German translation switches the subject. This is also true for the last sentence of the last paragraph on the same page: "Allein die Vielfältigkeit und Anzahl dieser Stimmen macht es unmöglich, sie alle darzustellen, doch ausgehend von ihrem EinfluB, der Kraft, mit der sie in der Lage sind, die Menschen zu bewegen, nicht zuletzt auch aufgrund ihrer eindrucksvollen Sprache, gibt es eine Dichterschule, die den Namen Mara verdient, ein Sanskritwort in der Bedeutung von Himmelsdimon, also etwa das, was die Europier Satan nennen," where a reader of German would have difficulty figuring out that the Mara school is one of the new voices the author seeks for from abroad. For more convolution, see p. 101, paragraph 2: "Wie viele Beispiele für Dichter mag es seit dem Beginn der Schrift bis zum heutigen Tag in China wohl gegeben haben, denen es mittels einer ausdrucksvollen Sprache gelang, das Wesen der Menschen zu verändern und ihre Gedanken zu erhöhen?"
  7. My annotated translations appear as a part of The Lyrical Lu Xun: A Study of His Classical-Style Verse(Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1996). For this particular poem, see p. 214-218.
  8. From Zhang Yiping's Zhen shang suibi [Random jottings upon the pillow] (Shanghai: Beixin shuju, 1929), where he waxes: "Ah, the effect of those lazy days of summer on a man! I can't even find the energy to rub a girl's bum..." As quoted in the Lu Xun quanji (1991), VII, p. 436.
  9. Hence the reference to pork within the poem, as another slap at Zhang for his offhanded treatment of Chinese Muslims. See The Lyrical Lu Xun, p. 217.
  10. W.J.F. Jenner, Lu Xun: Selected Poems (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1982). My review article treating this and other works on "Lu Xun's Classical-style Poetry" appeared in CLEAR 13, (December 1991).
  11. Wild Grass (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1974), p. 22.
  12. William A. Lyell, p. 29.
  13. Zheng Yi's book, Scarlet Memorial: Tales of Cannibalism (New York: Westview, HaperCollins, 1996) sheds new light on the question of just how "metaphorical" and how historical the whole image is. Perhaps Lu Xun's madman was more prophetic than anyone realized. Also see Zheng Yi and Kowallis in the "Freedom to Write Forum" at Brown University March 21, 1996 in C-Span Archives at Purdue University, video tape #96-08-31-20-2, where Zheng discusses cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution.
  14. The Lyrical Lu Xun, pp. 142-146.
  15. Das Neujahrsopfer is, again, regrettably, "The New-Year Sacrifice." I say regrettably because there is great irony in Lu Xun's choice of the word zhufu ("benediction"; "blessing"; literally "[I] wish you happiness")for the title of this story; hence it ought to be preserved. Of course, Xiang Lin Sao is the human sacrifice, deprived of her human dignity even more with each passing day by her heartless gentry employers and her jealous peasant rival at work, then finally cast out by her employer and allowed to die by the people of her adoptive town, whom the author actually curses, rather than "blesses" a tthe end with is irony; anyone can "win" if they are totally ruthless.
  16. Lu Xun: Selected Works, I, p. 188.
  17. Lyell, p. 241.



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