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Literary Remains

Literary Remains: Death, Trauma, and Lu Xun's Refusal to Mourn

Eileen J. Cheng
Copyright Date: 2013
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    Literary Remains
    Book Description:

    Lu Xun (1881-1936), arguably twentieth-century China's greatest writer, is commonly cast in the mold of a radical iconoclast who vehemently rejected traditional culture. The contradictions and ambivalence so central to his writings, however, are often overlooked. Challenging conventional depictions, Eileen J. Cheng's innovative readings capture Lu Xun's disenchantment with modernity and his transformative engagements with traditional literary conventions in his "modern" experimental works. Lurking behind the ambiguity at the heart of his writings are larger questions on the effects of cultural exchange, accommodation, and transformation that Lu Xun grappled with as a writer: How can a culture estranged from its vanishing traditions come to terms with its past? How can a culture, severed from its roots and alienated from the foreign conventions it appropriates, conceptualize its own present and future?Literary Remainsshows how Lu Xun's own literary encounter with the modern involved a sustained engagement with the past. His creative writings-which imitate, adapt, and parody traditional literary conventions-represent and mirror the trauma of cultural disintegration, in content and in form. His contradictory, uncertain, and at times bizarrely incoherent narratives refuse to conform to conventional modes of meaning making or teleological notions of history, opening up imaginative possibilities for comprehending the past and present without necessarily reifying them. Behind Lu Xun's "refusal to mourn," that is, his insistence on keeping the past and the dead alive in writing, lies an ethical claim: to recover the redemptive meaning of loss. Like a solitary wanderer keeping vigil at the site of destruction, he sifts through the debris, composing epitaphs to mark both the presence and absence of that which has gone before and will soon come to pass. For in the rubble of what remains, he recovered precious gems of illumination through which to assess, critique, and transform the moment of the present.Literary Remainsshows how Lu Xun's literary enterprise is driven by a "radical hope"-that, in spite of the destruction he witnessed and the limits of representation, his writings, like the texts that inspired his own, might somehow capture glimmers of the past and the present, and illuminate a future yet to unfold.Literary Remainswill appeal to a wide audience of students and scholars interested in Lu Xun, modern China, cultural studies, and world literature. 12 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3780-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue: The Owl
    (pp. 1-2)

    Lu Xun was fond of owls.² An illustration he designed for his essay collectionGraves(Fen,1926) prominently features an owl.³ The owl is perched on a square insignia, embossed on four sides.⁴ On the bottom right corner of the ornate frame are two trees, next to the numbers 1907–25 encrypted in black, the years in which the essays in the collection were written. Inscribed inside the insignia, which resembles a tombstone, are the following characters: “Lu Xun” 魯迅 above the slightly larger “grave” 墳.

    Lu Xun often employed symbols with ambiguous meanings in his works.⁵ In popular Chinese...

  5. Introduction: History, or What Remains in the Present
    (pp. 3-16)

    Political canonization can have bizarre consequences for a writer’s literary afterlife: key aspects of his works that contradict official narratives may be elided; some of the writer’s most outstanding attributes may be overlooked. Lu Xun—the pen name by which Zhou Shuren (1881–1936) is known—is a case in point.² In spite of his affinity for darkness and images of death, Lu Xun, the “soul of the nation,” has often been appropriated as a symbol of light. Since his death, he has been lionized by the Chinese Communist Party as a revolutionary hero par excellence. In the annals of...

  6. Part One Re-membering the Past

    • 1 The Limits of Subjectivity: Death, Trauma, and the Refusal to Mourn
      (pp. 19-36)

      Official histories are filled with accounts of heroes whose bravery and sacrifice are acknowledged posthumously. Yet the sacrifices of martyrs and revolutionaries in Lu Xun’s fiction and essays are ascribed no such noble meanings, nor relayed through coherent or logical narratives. What is highlighted is the forgettability and meaninglessness of their deaths. Lives recounted are sometimes of nameless, often faceless figures—the Chinese man in the decapitation slide, the madman, the ostracized revolutionary, Ah Q. Alongside Lu Xun’s eulogies to familiar public personages such as writers and revolutionaries is a cast of haunting characters—beggars, castaways, and the socially dislocated...

    • 2 The Illegitimate Preface
      (pp. 37-57)

      In “Liberation of the Preface” (Xu de jiefang, 1933), Lu Xun in his typical satirical manner pokes fun at his contemporary men of letters.² Alluding to the commercial transactions that formed the economic backbone of Shanghai’s foreign concessions, he portrays certain types of writers as literary “compradors,” skilled more in the arts of self-advertising than in literary practice. While intellectuals deployed slogans such as the “liberation of poetry” (shi de jiefang) and “liberation of the lyric” (ci de jiefang) to advocate for new forms of writing unfettered by onerous classical language and conventions, Lu Xun held a more cynical view:...

    • 3 (Un)Faithful Biographers
      (pp. 58-78)

      Despite the humiliation he suffered in his lifetime, the grand historian Sima Qian rested secure in the knowledge that he could hide his magisterial history in “a famous mountain and await the man who understands it.”² He professed that the satisfaction he gained from this assurance—of both the successful transmission of his text and the posthumous recognition it would garner for his biographical subjects as well as for himself as biographer—outweighs the suffering he endured in his lifetime. Such certainty, however, eluded Lu Xun. He was skeptical that similarly magisterial works would be intelligible or even produced in...

  7. Part Two New Culture through the Prism of Tradition

    • 4 Death by Applause: Eulogizing Women
      (pp. 81-110)

      The name of Fan Ainong, whose image surfaces as that of a dedicated revolutionary unrecognized by his times, would have languished in obscurity were it not for Lu Xun’s moving eulogy.¹ Lu Xun’s essay honoring his friend also alludes to the death of two prominent revolutionaries from Shaoxing—Xu Xilin (1873–1907) and Qiu Jin (1875–1907). After assassinating the governor of Anhui, Xu Xilin was executed, his heart torn out, fried, and eaten by the governor’s body guards; six days later, his alleged female conspirator, Qiu Jin, was beheaded, a form of execution normally reserved for men. While a...

    • 5 The Abandoned Lover
      (pp. 111-139)

      In the world of classical poetry, the pursuit of a lover was a commonplace allegory for a minister’s desire to serve his ruler. The abandoned woman often served as a symbol of the spurned minister, a thematic trope whose earliest traces can be found in the verses of Qu Yuan. By the time of the New Culture movement, unfulfilled love had begun to acquire a new range of symbolic meaning. As noted in the last chapter, Ibsen’sA Doll’s House, published a month after “Madman’s Diary,” generated a stunning literary response. Nora’s escape from a stifling marriage to pursue her...

    • 6 The Journey Home
      (pp. 140-166)

      Guxiang, the native place, plays a prominent role in Lu Xun’s writings. Fourteen of the twenty-five short stories collected inCall to ArmsandHesitationhave the hometown as a background.¹ All but one of the essays inDawn Blossoms Plucked at Duskare set in Lu Xun’s native home of Shaoxing. Local customs and literati from his native place were an ongoing source of interest for Lu Xun. The prominence of the hometown in his stories and essays, along with his theoretical writings on the subject, has led scholars to identify Lu Xun as one of the earliest practitioners,...

  8. Part Three Dialogic Encounters

    • 7 Mocking the Sages
      (pp. 169-191)

      Lu Xun’s creative literary experiments came largely to a halt in 1926. Around this time, his views took a sharp turn to the left and his writings became increasingly political and polemical; by 1930 he had emerged as a leading figure of the League of Left-wing Writers (Zuoyi zuojia lianmeng).¹ Despite his doubts expressed in private letters and fallouts with members of the league, he remained until his death publicly committed to promoting the left-wing cause and the advent of a “proletarian literature” (puluo wenxue).

      Curiously, Lu Xun’s political turn and prolific output of polemical essays (zawen) in the last...

    • 8 Disenchanted Fables
      (pp. 192-218)

      Lu Xun had a lifelong interest in mythology and the supernatural, as well as in folk customs and religious practices. Among his fond childhood memories recorded inDawn Blossoms Plucked at Duskwas his acquisition of a copy of theClassic of Mountains and Seas(Shan hai jing), an early collection of myths and fables.¹ Several chapters of hisBrief History of Chinese Fiction(Zhongguo xiaoshuo shi lüe, 1923) are devoted to myths and tales of the supernatural;² hisOutline of the Literary History of the Han(Han wenxue shi gangyao) contains chapters devoted to Qu Yuan and Zhuangzi, whose...

  9. Epilogue: Remembrance, Forgetting, and Radical Hope
    (pp. 219-234)

    In an essay titled “Death” (Si, 1936), Lu Xun claims not to have contemplated the prospect of death much until the twilight of his own life.¹ The presence of death, however, is ubiquitous in his writings. As I noted in Chapter 1, beyond the function of death as a symbol of a bygone age, Lu Xun’s representations of death were mediated by the violence of his age and the psychological effect of the deaths he encountered during his lifetime—the deaths, executions, and suicides of family members, friends, fellow writers, and students, as well as public figures at large. Like...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 235-238)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 239-278)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 279-284)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 285-302)
  14. Index
    (pp. 303-314)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-317)