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Chinese Cultural Studies:
Luxun Lu Hsun:
Selections from His Writing


I - from Selected Works of Lu Hsun, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1956-60), Vol. 1, P 345, Vol. 2, pp 338-339, as excerpted in Alfred Craig et al, The Heritage of World Civilizations, 2d ed. (New York; Macmillan, 1990), p. 889

[Craig Introduction] Like other writers of the May Fourth Movement, Luxun saw China's old society as rotten and corrupt. Only after a radical reform, he felt, would the Chinese be able to realize their human potential.


I dreamed I was in the classroom of a primary school preparing to write an essay, and asked the teacher how to express an opinion.

"That's hard!" glancing sideways at me over his glasses, he said: "Let me tell you a story -

"When a son is born to a family, the whole household is delighted. When he is one month old they carry him out to display him to the guests -- usually expecting some compliments, of course.

"One says: 'This child will be rich. ' Then he is heartily thanked.

"One says: 'This child will be an official. ' Then some compliments are made him in return.

"One says: 'This child will die. ' Then he- is thoroughly beaten by the whole family.

"That the child will die is inevitable, while to say that he will be rich or a high official may be a lie. Yet the lie is rewarded, whereas the statement of the inevitable gains a beating. You. .."

"I don't want to tell lies, sir, neither do I want to be beaten. So what should I say!"

"In that case, say: 'Aha! Just look at this child! My word.... Oh, my! Oho! Hehe! He, hehehehehe!' "


Downstairs a man is on his deathbed, next door they have the gramophone on; in the house opposite they are playing with children Upstairs two people are laughing wildly, and there is the sound of gambling. In the boat on the river a woman is wailing for her dead mother.

Men cannot communicate their grief or joy -- all I feel is that they -are noisy.

Every woman is born with the instincts of a mother and daughter. There is no such thing as wifely instincts.

Wifely instincts come through the force of circumstances, and are simply the combination of the instincts of mother and daughter.

The sight of women's short sleeves at once makes them think of bare arms, of the naked body, the genitals, copulation, promiscuity, and bastards.

This is the sole respect in which the Chinese have a lively imagination.

II from John Gittings, ed., A Chinese View of China, (New York: Pantheon, 1973), 97-99


[Gittings Introduction] The May Fourth Movement which sparked off a new wave of social and anti-imperialist struggle after the First World War also brought about a revolution in Chinese literature. Consciously rejecting the classical style of composition which the traditional scholars had a vested interest in preserving, young writers began to use 'plain language' (pai-hua), the colloquial style which could be understood without a classical education, to speak directly to a wider audience. Short stories were a popular form of political and literary self-expression in the dozens of journals which flourished in the new literature movement. Luxun (Lu Hsun), already a distinguished classical scholar, adopted the new style and turned later to Marxism, becoming after his death a model example for the communists of how a writer should combine his art with politics. Luxun's short stories are in a class of their own, touching the raw nerves of all that was backward and evil in Chinese society in a vivid but economical style. In this story, 'An Incident', written in 1920, Lu Hsun uses the tale of a minor rickshaw accident to criticize subtly the reluctance of most Chinese intellectuals (including himself at that time) to get involved in politics and the life of the ordinary people.

An Incident

Six years have slipped by since I came from the country to the capital. During that time I have seen and heard quite enough of so-called affairs of state; but none of them made much impression on me. If asked to define their influence, I can only say they aggravated my ill temper and made me, frankly speaking, more and more misanthropic.

One incident, however, struck me as significant, and aroused me from my ill temper, so that even now I cannot forget it.

It happened during the winter of 1917. A bitter north wind was blowing, but, to make a living, I had to be up and out early. I met scarcely a soul on the road, and had great difficulty in hiring a rickshaw to take me to S-Gate. Presently the wind dropped a little. By now the loose dust had all been blown away, leaving the roadway clean, and the rickshaw man quickened his pace. We were just approaching S-Gate when someone crossing the road was entangled in our rickshaw and slowly fell.

It was a woman, with streaks of white in her hair, wearing ragged clothes. She had left the pavement without warning to cut across in front of us, and although the rickshaw man had made way, her tattered jacket, unbuttoned and fluttering in the wind, had caught on the shaft. Luckily the rickshaw man pulled up quickly, otherwise she would certainly have had a bad fall and been seriously injured.

She lay there on the ground, and the rickshaw man stopped. I did not think the old woman was hurt, and there had been no witnesses to what had happened, so I resented this officiousness which might land him in trouble and hold me up.

'It's all right,' I said. 'Go on.'

He paid no attention, however -- perhaps he had not heard -- for he set down the shafts, and gently helped the old woman to get up. Supporting her by one arm, he asked:

'Are you all right?'

'I'm hurt.'

I had seen how slowly she fell. and was sure she could not be hurt. She must be pretending, which was disgusted. The rickshaw man had asked for trouble, and now he had it. He would have to find his own way out.

But the rickshaw man did not hesitate for a minute after the old woman said she was injured. Still holding her arm, he helped her slowly forward. I was surprised. When I looked ahead, I saw a police station. Because of the high wind, there was no one outside, so the rickshaw man helped the old woman towards the gate.

Suddenly I had a strange feeling. His dusty, retreating figure seemed larger at that instant. Indeed, the further he walked the larger he loomed, until I had to look up to him. At the same time he seemed gradually to be exerting a pressure on me, which threatened to overpower the small self under my fur-lined gown.

My vitality seemed sapped as I sat there motionless, my mind a blank, until a policeman came out. Then I got down from the rickshaw.

The policeman came up to me, and said, 'Get another rickshaw. He can't pull you any more.'

Without thinking, I pulled a handful of coppers from my coat pocket and handed them to the policeman. 'Please give him these, I said.
'Even now, this remains fresh in my memory. It often causes me distress, and makes me try to think about myself. The military and political affairs of those years I have forgotten as completely as the classics I read in my childhood. Yet this incident keeps coming back to me, often more vivid than in actual life, teaching me shame, urging me to reform, and giving me fresh courage and hope.