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




Those who venerate jingoism do so out of various motives, the better of which is that they are [themselves] of a bestial nature, the other alternative being that they are of the basest slavish character: which of these motivations best characterize China’s “men of aspiration”? The earliest people lived only in groups; later, states were formed and borders delineated, within which people lived out the span of their lives. Had they made the best possible use of natural conditions, devoted their efforts to the improvement of their livelihood and lived in harmony without warring upon one another, they would have done well for themselves: nor would this have been impossible for them to achieve. Human life originated in protozoa and may be traced through various insect, feline,[33] and simian stages before achieving its present form. Thus the instincts of man’s antecedents are still nascent within him.[34] At times, these instincts come forth, and that accounts for his predisposition to wreak mayhem and murder, commit acts of aggression, seize territory, women and children, gems and valuables in order to sate his beastly cravings. Yet at times men fear the words of others, and so create a mass of high- sounding names to camouflage what they have done in order to escape censure. With the passage of time, these high- sounding phrases permeate human consciousness and their origins are forgotten; they become second nature to us and our disposition is thereby altered. Such vile, evil distortions have infected even the wisest and most learnedof men. One example of this is how the doctrine of “pan-Slavism,” which has long existed in Russia, Bohemia, and a number of other states, is used by those in high positions to justify their every action. Although it has not yet filtered down through society as far as the peasantry, this ideology has taken such a firm grasp on the hearts of the intelligentsa and the poets of those lands that even their most noble thoughts and highest inspirations can scarcely purge them of it. What they term patriotism has very little to do with developing art and culture so as to contribute to the greater glory of mankind. Rather, it refers to incessant boasting of the military prowess of one’s own country, of how much land it has seized and how many people have been killed in the process. Recently these people have come to realize that man has other more lofty missions to fulfill. Acting like tigers and wolves is no longer the first priority, and so such practices have been curtailed somewhat. But men of lowly character have not yet abandoned evil ways, and this has become a source of apprehension among people of learning and insight, who have come to dread the military as they might an adder or a scorpion, and this has led to widespread appeals for peace. Their voices have struck a responsive chord in many hearts: Tolstoy was one of their prophets. He argued that nothing in human life is more precious than achieving self- sufficiency, i.e., each person living by his own means. Rapine and aggression must be eliminated. The common people are con-tent to live in peace [he contends], and only the rulers are fond of blood-letting, driving their subjects forth to wars, which squander the human resources of a nation, destroying homes and scattering families. The destitute and unwanted inundate the country, stranded without places to live or means of livelihood, thanks to the crimes of the politicians. How does he propose this be remedied? The best course of action is not to obey orders. When the call for mobilization comes, the troops should not assemble--just remain in their fields and continue tilling. When orders are issued to arrest the protesters, the law enforcement officers should refuse to fall in and instead take up ploughs and harrows and join in the great tilling of the fields. If tyrants can be isolated on high by their vassals’ and their servants’ refusal to follow orders below, then all under heaven will be well governed. However, evaluating the situation objectively, there are fallacies in this theory. If one morning it were actually put into effect throughout the Russian Empire, enemy troops would surely arrive in invasion force that evening. If the people were to lay down their arms at dawn, they would lose their land by dusk, and the degree of displacement and suffering would exceed anything that ever took place before.

Hence, Tolstoy’s proposals, though fine as ideals, would in practice bring about results far different from their original intention. But what [I am saying] here is determined solely on the basis of what is in the vital interests [of any one nation]. When the differences between peoples[35] are taken into account, then the ineffectuality of Tolstoy’s view should become all the more apparent. During the course of evolution, disparities in the level of development emerged among humankind, such that some may be said to have retained certain traits identifiable with insects, others with apes, et cetera. Even after ten millennia of evolution, all may not have reached the same stage. Should this eventually take place, it would still require only one lone deviant to bring about the ruination of the entire social order. Since people of a gentle, accommodating nature are like newborn lambs, should a wolf suddenly enter their pasture, it would have the potential to slaughter every last one. To seek protection at the eleventh hour would surely be of no avail. It is obvious that the drive to slaughter and commit aggression, and to aggrandize one’s own nation at the expense of others are animalistic forms of patriotism. If humanity wishes to rise above fowl and insects, we should no longer cherish such notions. But, as a corollary to this, the total elimination of war and the realization of permanent peace would seem possible only with the extinction of the human race and the destruction of the earth. Such being the case, weaponry will exist as long as humankind does. Weapons were invented for self- defense, to deliver us from tigers and wolves; they were not intended to be used as claws and teeth with which to maim and devour the weak and vulnerable of the earth. Weapons should be used for humanity’s welfare; not as the means to enslave us. Only when people have understood this can they be considered responsible enough to discourse upon military affairs and to refrain from unleashing new horrors upon the world. Be that as it may, in the case of China, I find the theories which are current to be of a completely different order. Although there are those who mouth patriotism[36] and those who champion the cult of the warrior,[37] their motivations are particularly savage. In the name of culture, they roar like carnivores about to sweep down upon their prey; were they equipped with talons and fangs, they would lay waste to vast tracts. With such dispositions, they are hideousness and violence incarnate, yet the description “animalistic” still seems a bit inappropriate.

On what do I base this opinion? I would venture to say that they display two deeply rooted characteristics that other animalistic jingoists lack. One is the way they worship powerful countries, and the other is the contempt in which they hold subjugated peoples. Jingoists must ordinarily hail from large, strong nations--countries awesome and powerful enough to ride roughshod over the rest of the world. For this reason, jingoists show respect for their own countries alone and look disdainfully upon others. Seizing upon the doctrine of the “survival of the fittest,” they attack the weak and small in order to realize their own desires.[38] They will know no satisfaction until they have taken over the entire globe and made all other races their subjects. Now, how does China fit into this as a nation? Traditionally, our people were content with farming and reluctant to stray from their native villages. Those lofty officials in high posts strove to attain recognition through meritorious service, while those in rural retirement [i.e., out of office] frequently bemoaned the state of affairs. China took the greatest pride in the splendor and beauty of her achievements as a civilization and did not seek to dominate the neighboring barbarian peoples by force; her love of peace was rarely equalled in the world. It is only that after so long a time of peace, our defenses gradually slackened and tigers and wolves were suddenly upon us, dragging our people through flood and fire. But that such events have come to pass is through no fault of our people. They have always abhorred bloodshed and slaughter, shown the greatest sorrow when taking leave of relatives or friends, and are content in their daily tasks. If the rest of the world were to adopt the norms of China,[confining themselves] as Tolstoy stipulated [to the defense of their own frontiers and refraining from aggression], war would never break out again despite the existence of many diverse ethnic groups and various sovereign states across the world. The rise of bestial jingoism[39] has proven traumatic for all peace- loving peoples, and the constant threat of war has made it impossible for people to carry on ordinary lives until it can be driven away. In so doing, our only motive should be to drive [the enemy] back within his old borders and certainly not to revive the bestial proclivities in ourselves, much the less employ arms to slaughter the weak and pillage the powerless and vulnerable. But this has not occurred to our “men of aspiration,” who are matchless in their praise of aggression and yearn to emulate the brute force of Russia and the might of Germany, as if those countries were some sort of paradise. As to the fate of oppressed peoples with no one to turn to, such as the populace of India and Poland, they simply ridicule their fall with icy, contemptuous words. Of course, our own land of China has long chafed under oppression at the hands of stronger nations, and though we are not yet dead, carrion kites already circle overhead. As if our loss of territory were not enough of a blow, it has been accompanied by indemnities. Consequently, the people suffer from all forms of privation, and the countryside is strewn with the corpses of the starving and the frozen. Here-after we should amass the sharpest weapons and the strongest shields[40] to defend ourselves, in order to prevent wild beasts and giant serpents from devouring our country. But these should be applied only to self- defense; we should not imitate the behavior of the aggressors by using them to commit armed aggression against others. Why do we disapprove of aggression? I would] say [it is because we have ourselves been its victims, and], reflecting on our own past, we must therefore become opponents of bestial jingoism. Poland and India are countries suffering the same illness as China. Although Poland has never had direct interaction with China, it is known that her people have lofty, romantic sentiments and love freedom; hence all feeling, freedom- loving peoples cherish that country as a symbol of these two ideals. Can those who are unwilling to be slaves afford not to mourn her? India, on the other hand, has been in communication with us since ancient times and has given us wondrous gifts: our philosophies, faiths, codes of morality, literature, and art have, without exception, gained immensely from contact with India in a way that defies comparison even among intimates and brothers. So if either of these countries are brought into peril, we ought at least to feel sadness at their fates. If they should perish, we ought to bewail them with loud cries.

Similarly, if they are spared calamities, we should offer thanks to heaven and pray for divine protection that they, as well as our own land of China, may survive into the future. But our “men of aspiration” are at present singularly of a different mind. They assert that all such countries have fallen into this state through their own degeneracy, and add to this a list of other gratuitous defamations. But is it not due to the fact that we have ourselves repeatedly tasted fire and the blade, and have cowered beneath the heel of power and despotism for so long that we have lost our old character, and our ability to feel sympathy for others has been worn away? All that remains in our hearts is the urge to fawn upon the powerful, and it is because of this that such deluded, absurd, and uninformed attitudes have led us to this pass! Thus, generally speaking, those who sing the praises of militarism today have, through their prolonged submission to power and despotism, gradually nurtured a sense of servility in their own hearts. They have forgotten their origins and joined the cult of aggression, thereby becoming the lowest of the low. Those who merely echo others and hold no firm opinions of their own are, in fact, a step above them. There are also people who fall into neither of the above two categories, but who nevertheless occasionally exhibit the characteristics of our prehuman ancestors. I have seen several instances of this sort of thinking reflected in poetry and song lyrics, where they take pride in being partof Kaiser Wilhelm II’s theory of the “Yellow Peril.” They growl ferociously, calling for the destruction of London and the leveling of Rome. Paris alone, they announce, will be allowed to remain standing, as a tourism destination for libertine sex. Although the original proponents of the “Yellow Peril” slogan compared the yellow race to animals, not even they could have been so vicious. Through the present writing I beg to submit to all those of abilityin China that though bravery, strength, and resolve in struggle are certainly attributes most appropriate to human life, they are best applied to self-improvement and should not be employed to attack and swallow up innocent countries. If our own foundation is stable, and we have surplus strength, let us then act as the Polish general Bem[41] did in supporting Hungary, or as the English poet Byron[42] in aiding Greece, that is, to promote the vital cause of freedom and to topple oppression, so that the world will finally be rid of tyranny. We should offer aid and support to all nations in peril or distress, starting with those which have been our friends and extending our aid throughout the world. By spreading freedom everywhere, we can deprive the ever-vigilant white race of its vassals and lackeys; this will mark the beginning of a real “Yellow Peril.” As the situation stands today, we must curtail our desire for and emulation of power and domination, and place a greater emphasis on self-defense. A pity that China, herself a victim of aggression, has thus far failed to reflect!

(To Be Continued)[43]



1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5