Mao Chen (Skidmore College)


Mao Chen, Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, Professor of Chinese Literature and language, and the Courtney & Steven Ross Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies at Skidmore College. Her academic interests include Chinese literary culture of the nineteenth to early twentieth century, women’s writing, hermeneutics and reception theory, translation studies, film and performative criticism. Mao Chen served as President of New York Association for Asian Studies (NYCAS), as an elected member of COC on the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), and Director of Asian Studies Program at Skidmore College. Twice a recipient of the Outstanding Service Award, she also served as a Director on the Executive Board of NYCAS till 2022.

Lu Xun and Transnational Modernism: Breaking with the Past

Lu Xun’s famous short story, “Regret for the Past,” in many ways epitomizes the literary values of the May Fourth period. This short story is personal in tone, subjective in quality and alludes to Romantic works with admiration and sensitivity. However, Lu Xun was also a writer who compares to the more iconoclastic Modernists of his own period. What I would like to do in my papers is to explore how Lu Xun was not only a product of May Fourth culture but equally of a transnational community to which he, perhaps unconsciously, belonged. I will be guided by Gang Zhou’s insights into how modern Chinese literature combined three themes that enabled it to break with the past on the basis of content, language and sensibility. First, Lu Xu, like many other May Fourth iconoclasts, was clearly interested in exploring the Utopian possibilities of modern literature. For instance, in the short story, “The True Story of Ah Q,” Lu Xun offers a stylized portrait of the Chinese peasant in a strange setting that borders on the fantastic. Second, Lu Xun takes up the more daring aspects of the Chinese ‘Renaissance’ in rejecting Confucian tradition in Call to Arms, an early collection of short stories that demonstrates the author’s dissatisfaction with classical tradition. Finally, and again in accordance with Gang Zhou’s thematic overview, Lu Xun shows us how the Chinese literary tradition is far more of a “shaking house” than a solid foundation, particularly when he criticizes the “iron cage” of the Confucian bureaucracy that everywhere stifled artists and writers by imposing rigid conformity. My final remarks will pair Lu Xun with Franz Kafka, whose short and often fragmentary works can be compared to Lu Xun’s own.