Class Readers








Lu Xun's 'Toward a Refutation of Malevolent Voices'

Translated and Annotated by Jon Eugene von Kowallis


boundary2, vol. 38, no. 2 (summer 2011) pp. 39-62


Single Page




The propositions being advanced by men of the present may, after some analysis and investigation, be divided into two major categories. The first suggests that one should think of oneself as a citizen of a particular nation,[14] while the second conceives of the individual as a member of the world community.[15] Advocates of the first position may attempt to intimidate us with the prospect that China will perish if their ideas are not imple- mented forthwith, while proponents of the second camp may insinuate that failure to conform to their principles would be tantamount to a betrayal of civilization. But the common goal of both camps, although not spelled out in an organized agenda, is the elimination of all human individuality, so that in their mixed-up state none dare differ from the next, and all dissolve into one great mass, as if the various colours were all overlaid with a black murky film. Should anyone make bold to disobey, the masses will be used as a weapon to attack and persecute him, as a whip to chastise him back into submission. In the past, when a man was pressed by his enemies, he might cry out to the crowd for help; if he were suffering under a tyrant, he might call upon the masses for deliverance. But now that the masses themselves shall rule by fiat, to whom can anyone turn for sympathy? The appearance of tyrants among the common people must also be dated from the present era. In olden days, autocrats[16] ruled over the majority, but the masses sometimes had opportunities to rebel or flee. Today, when individuals who stand up alone are made to suffer at the hands of the crowd, they are denied the option of resistance or dissent. The public sing the praises of freedom, but the word freedom itself has never rung more hollow, nor the concept appeared more haggard than now. Since the people have lost their individuality, who then can call upon them to rejuvenate [the nation]? Yet the clamor of the various factions has assumed an even more frenetic pitch and shows no sign of abating. Although the two aforementioned propositions may appear contradictory, they are almost identical in their deter- mination to obliterate individuality. The proposals advocated by these two groups may be reduced to several essential points. The first group simply stands for the eradication of superstition,[17] for the promotion of a cult of aggressive jingoism, and for [a system in which everyone] would carry out their duties and obligations. The other calls for everyone to use the same writing system,[18] the abolition of nations, and the unification of all into one.

Both groups assert that unless these goals are carried out, we will find it impossible to survive in the twentieth century. As shields to defend themselves, they have seized upon science, utilitarianism, evolution, and civilization, believing all they champion to be of the highest order of correctness and thus beyond refutation. Yet when we ask what science is and where utilitarianism can be applied, what is the process of evolution, or the true significance of civilization, their explanations become muddled, garbled, and even self- refuting by virtue of the sharply contradictory assumptions they maintain. Alack, for when the trunk of the tree itself has begun to shake, to what can the branches and the leaves still cling? Does this mean that the proponents of these positions are actually only drifting with the tide and have no real positions of their own, for the time being merely chiming in with others[19] so as to deceive people? Or that, knowing they possess only the meagerest of talents themselves, in order to make a living they are compelled to don such masks in the hope of advancing their reputations? If they can acquire recognition and solve the problem of their daily subsistence, then they will certainly disregard any harm or injury inflicted upon others along the way! Those who are pained at the tumultuous state of China today worry that while “men of ambition” and “heroes” are in no short supply, [real] people[20] are hard to find. It is certainly fortuitous to have heroes and men of aspiration, but it is deplorable indeed that they veil their true countenance and can never speak their mind. The noxious presence this lends them infects whomever they come into contact with. Now the confessions of Augustine, Tolstoy, and Rousseau embody true greatness; these are voices of the heart which have welled up and surged forth from its deepest recesses. If, even in their own vacuousness, our men of aspiration and heroes were at least to follow the example of others, present them- selves as men of principle, and hold forth with lofty airs on how to manage the country and the world, I would be the first to hear them out. But if they are reluctant to express their true views in public, it is advisable for them to keep their proposals to themselves and set about to expurgate such pollution; this should have a cleansing effect on the public, allowing persons of true genius[21] to emerge and awaken the radiance [of the human intellect] within others. If this be done, the meaning of human existence will become clearer, and individuality will no longer be relegated to the murky depths. But since our men of aspiration and noble heroes will never agree to this, our only option is to analyze what they advocate and bring to light the falsehoods in their various positions.



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