Mao Chen (Skidmore College)



“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.