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The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun (Penguin Classics) by Lu Xun (2010-01-26)

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  • By Mr. Leong Wai Hong on May 3, 2010

    Lu Xun is famous for his short stories which point out the lack of compassion and lack of honesty in Chinese society during the late Imperial china.Lu Xun is a pen-name. His real name is Zhou Shu Ren. Born in 1881 to a scholar family he abandoned the path of studying for the imperial civil service exams to study medicine in Japan. He abandoned his study after seeing a slide of the execution of a Chinese by the Japanese in front of a group of apathetic Chinese. He came to the conclusion that a nation of healthy people is useless if they are intellectually and spiritually weak. After his Damascene experience he abandoned his medical studies and turned to writing to galvanise the Chinese people.There are 2 English translations of his complete short stories. The earlier is by William Lyell published by the University of Hawaii Press in 1990. The latest is by Julia Lovell published by Penguin in 2009 with an Afterword by Yiyun Li.Lyell's translation is more accessible compared to Lovell's though his footnotes are more and better. Lyell's version also has wonderful caricatures illustrations of The Real Story of Ah-Q. Lovell's has no illustrations. The Afterword by Li , to me , is inconsequential and does not add to the readers' appreciation of the importance of Lu Xun as an important founding figure of modern Chinese literature. For me, the best of Lu Xun's short stories are ' The Real story of Ah-Q' , ' Diary of a Madman' and 'Kong Yi Ji'.

  • By Kendrick on May 7, 2013

    Outside of world literature connoisseurs and scholars, Lu Xun (1881-1936) is not well known to the West. Writing in the early twentieth century, Lu Xun is considered one of the founders of modern Chinese literature. The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun is a Penguin-published compilation of his short stories and one of his plays. Lu Xun never wrote a large novel, but stuck to painting vignettes of the life of common Chinese folk--usually peasants--and the struggles they underwent to survive.Being a strong influence in the May Fourth movement, which spawned a mix of liberal and leftist ideologues, Lu Xun is a complicated historical figure. Mao Zedong enshrined him as a staunch supporter of the masses and therefore a spokesman for the Communist cause. Lu Xun's care to write about the sufferings of the underclass at the hands of landlords, warlords, and other abusers of authority naturally lent itself to the Communist agenda. At the same time, however, Lu Xun imported Western "imperialist" literature into China, promoted reading of the Western canon, and lived in relative luxury compared to his fictional subjects. He never lived for any significant amount of time in the countryside, where he might have learned firsthand the peasants' toil.Lu Xun's most famous novella is The Real Story of Ah-Q, which recounts the quixotic story of a rural peasant (Ah-Q) who is a bully toward those he considers his inferiors and finds ways to deceive himself in order to deny humiliation when treated poorly by his superiors. He consistently finds ways to convince himself that he's better than the wealthy villagers and prestigious families. Lu Xun characterized Ah-Q as a pointed jab at China's national attitude of self-deception and pride in spite of reality.The other short stories range from a brief two-page narrative to a longer fifteen-page tale. Almost all of them take place in rural settings with lower-class protagonists. The realism of the narratives often leads to sad and unfortunate endings. Many conflicts are left unresolved, hunger and loneliness are commonplace, and conceited noblemen live in luxury above the troubles of those below. While high politics undergoes its predictably tumultuous course, commoners feel the results of shifting fortunes.In The Story of Hair, Lu Xun explores the significance of the Manchu queue--the long braided ponytail. After the Qing Dynasty collapsed, keeping the queue was considered the sign of a Qing loyalist. Peasants were forced to decide whether they should shave off their queues or not, as a question of survival. They didn't have high-flown ideals of political philosophy to defend; they merely wanted to be able to buy food. The machinations in Beijing had real, negative implications for those who could care less about power struggles.The state of hopelessness and futility are of biblical proportions. In a materialistic understanding of reality, the pain and injustice suffered by Lu Xun's protagonists are void of meaning. The suffering points to the goal: all there is to desire is a full belly and a happy family. It rings of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but the pinnacle of self-actualization is never in view. It's fascinating that in the midst of all these social ills, a spiritual dimension or solution is never explored in Lu Xun's fictional universe of misery.Lu Xun was a doctor that diagnosed, but prescribed no medication, perhaps because there is no elixir to cure all social ills.

  • By Luc REYNAERT on February 29, 2012

    Lu Xun is an important Chinese writer, because he was one of the first authors to write in the vernacular about common people in common surroundings.While his best known stories (Diary of a Madman, The Real Story of Ah-Q) are not really outstanding, some short sketches are true gems, like `New Year's Sacrifice', `The Loner' or `Forcing the Swords'. He had some formidable themes in his hands, like `Bringing Back the Dead', but he didn't develop them.A cultural crusader, not a revolutionaryLu Xun saw himself as a crusader for cultural reforms: `if people were intellectually feeble, they would never become anything other than cannon fodder or gawping spectators. The first task was to change their spirit, and literature and the arts were the best means to this end.' (Outcry)He was in no way a revolutionary: `Everything that actually happened in 1911, I can't bear it. All those old friends - young men, quietly finished off by bullets, after years of sacrifice or tortured in prison for weeks. Or just disappeared off the face of the earth, along with their hopes and ambition ... Locked, abused, persecuted, their graves forgotten.'Family and Village LifeIn `Village Opera', real village life is better than `opera'.Some stories are purely anecdotal family sketches (A Cat among the Rabbits, A Comedy of Ducks, A Happy Family, Soap, The Divorce), while other ones treat individual problems (the failure in a governmental exam in `The White Light' or obsession with cannibalism in `Diary of a Madman'), and still other ones with the Manchu law on pigtails or the stigma of baldness (Nostalgia, A Passing Storm).`Yang Yiji' and `The Real Story of Ah-Q' deal with village outcasts seeking shelter or revenge against a harsh and cruel world.Political and social issues`My Old House' paints the abject misery of the Chinese village: `too many children, famine, taxes, soldiers, bandits, officials, corrupt local potentates.'`In Memoriam' exposes the ravages of unemployment and the battle for the equality of the sexes.`Brothers' paints the fear of illness.`In Dragon Boat Festival' a strike creates money and food problems.In `Our Learned Friend' the main character fights for the education of women and against the traditional belief that `books are the root of all evil'. In `Anti-Aggression', he fights for justice for everybody. In `New Year's Sacrifice' he fights against superstition. In `The Lover' he fights for freedom of speech in a village without a school or a doctor and where the inhabitants see all outsiders as `foreign devils'.But, ultimately, in `Forcing the Swords' all men are equal in the face of Death,This book, with an excellent introduction by Julia Lovell, is a must read for all those interested in Chinese literature.


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