Saturday, August 25, 2007
The Soul of the Nation
Today my friend and I visited the Lu Xun Museum in Fuchengmen, in the southwest side of the city.
It's located near the subway station and is one of three houses the acerbic writer used to reside in Beijing. This particular home was one he designed himself in 1924 for him, his mother and first wife.
And next to it is a great museum filled with interesting photographs, original books and essays he wrote, some clothing and at least four of his desks. One of them is his elementary school desk on which he carved the character zao, or "early" to remind him not to be late for class.
Lu Xun is his pen name, and his given name was Zhou Shuren. His grandfather became an official during the end of the 19th century, but was later accused of bribery. And when his grandfather became ill, Lu Xun had to take the family possessions to the pawn shop to sell in order to buy expensive Chinese medicine that later turned out to be ineffective. Lu Xun remarked at the time that he quickly realized how harsh life could be.
However, because of Lu Xun's intelligence, he had the chance to study medicine in Japan. And not only did he learn Japanese, but also Russian, English and German, well enough to translate books. He was also quite an artist, drawing sketches and appreciating prints made from woodcuts.
He came back to China to teach and as he saw the country going through profound change during the New Republic, he wrote about the unjust things he saw. They were all fictionalized in many of his short stories, like "Diary of a Madman" and "The True Story of Ah Q".
It wasn't explicitly explained in the museum, but when he taught at Beijing Women's Normal University, he met and fell in love with one of his students. They eventually married and had his only son when Lu Xun was 49.
He died in 1936 of pulmonary tuberculosis. And at his funeral, his coffin was draped with a white sheet with the characters that read "Soul of the Nation".
Chinese students today are taught Lu Xun's biography, read his stories and memorize poems about him. That's probably because at one time the Kuomintang (KMT) banned his works, and also Chairman Mao admired Lu Xun's work.
He may have written his critical stories almost a century ago, but his writing still resonates today.
In "For Future Reference III", Lu Xun chided self-deceit in Chinese characteristics and urged people to be more open:
"We should read this, reflect and analyse ourselves to see whether he has said anything correctly or not, then make reforms, struggle and change ourselves without asking others for their forgiveness or praise. So we shall prove what the Chinese are really like."