The Impact of Lu Hsun’s Short Stories to Modern Chinese Culture

Categories: Culture

This paper analyzes four of Lu Hsun’s short stories namely Kung I-Chi, Medicine, Soap, and Diary of a Madman, and examines rising patterns in Hsun’s works that display the philosophies he believed in and those that he opposed. Kung I-Chi is about a man “who studied the classics but never passed the official exam (Kung I-Chi 11),” so he could not get a decent job but to be a copyist. But as he was lazy, and drank a lot, he lost his job and was forced to steal books.

Medicine tells us about a young boy who was victimized by a quack medicine sold to his father.

Soap tells the story of a man who bought soap and what he witnessed and what happened while he was buying soap and after he bought it. Diary of a Madman lets the readers peek at the diary of mentally ill man who thinks that everyone around him, including his brother is a man-eater.

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The stories were written with the influence of historical events in China that moved him to change his views and develop his literary skills (Fajardo 1). China is one of the countries with a history almost as long as man’s existence on earth.

For centuries, China adhered to the philosophical teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tze, along with those of Mencius, and later to those of Mao Zedong. Lu Hsun’s influence to Chinese modern literature and culture can be seen in the progressive attitude of Chinese in business, science, and politics.

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He is regarded as the founder of Modern Chinese Literature and the representative of Socialist Realism (Fajardo 2). China embraced communism because of Mao’s teachings, but his teachings must have been greatly supported by the writings of Hsun.

He was a part of the May 4th Movement, which led to the socialist reforms and intellectual revolution in China. He translated traditional works to address appropriately the concerns of the contemporary world (O’Neil 216). Hsun was influenced by several events in Chinese history that woke up his senses and triggered his writing prowess. One such event is the poor condition of living in China during the Manchu rule. The poverty of the people created writers like him to open their eyes about the truth regarding the real happenings in the society.

He was also influenced by the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. The nationalism in him pushed him to do something about the present condition then of China. So he curved his name in Chinese history and literature and became an important figure in rebuilding the new Chinese society (O’Neil 216). Analysis of Kung I-Chi Kung I-Chi was written in the first person point of view of a waiter in the Prosperity Tavern (Kung I-Chi 2), but the story was about a person named Kung I-Chi, a customer in the bar. He started working there at the age of 12 and was assigned to different tasks until he ended up warming wine.

He remembered Kung I-Chi, because Kung was the center of attention and laughter whenever he went there because of the people would most likely ask him what happened to him and make a laughing matter out of it. Whatever the narrator said about Kung, it was based on what he witnessed with his eyes and what rumors said about the man. The narrator seemed to be so keen in observation being able to describe the clothes of Kung and his facial expressions whenever he talked and answered questions from the people in the tavern.

The point of view is effectively used by the author to show how rumors spread about the life of a person (Kung I-Chi 2). Kung was often beaten up allegedly because of stealing books. That was why one time he had fresh scars on his face. It was common to hear people asking him if he had gone stealing again, but he would defend himself and speak archaic expressions that would make the tavern people laugh. When he had the worst beating ever that his legs broke, no one cared to cure him or help him at all. He crawled his way to the tavern, but he got the same remarks as before about allegedly stealing.

The tavern keeper reminded him how much he owes, but did not offer any help for the poor person (Kung I-Chi 3). Hsun describes Kung with the observations of the narrator-participant of the story. In par. 4. , he described Kung thus: “Kung was the only long-gowned customer to drink his wine standing. He was a big man, strangely pallid, with scars that often showed among the wrinkles of his face. He had a large, unkempt beard, streaked with white. Although he wore a long gown, it was dirty and tattered, and looked as if it had not been washed or mended for over ten years (Kung I-Chi 4).

” The fact that Kung wore a long gown seems to emphasize his belief of his belongingness to the upper class, since he also knows the Confucian classics. However, Hsun also clarified the contrasts between Kung and a normal person wearing a long gown. First, it is clear that since Kung was the only long-gowned customer that drinks while standing, most long-gowned customers drink sitting down and those not wearing long gowns drink standing up or sitting down. We can see here the difference between the upper class and the lower class noted by the clothes they wear.

Kung could be a mockery of those who pretend to be of the upper class but are actually losing their social and economic status (Kung I-Chi 4). Hsun also made an effective contrast in describing the gown of Kung, that it is torn and filthy, as if the man is just a symbol of the past, the Confucian philosophy that dominate Chinese ideology, which, during his (Hsun) time should no longer be followed. He also seems to emphasize this with the fact that Kung knew Confucian classics, but could not pass the official exam, and is hence jobless.

This presents an irony that mocks the uselessness of Confucian ethics in living a decent life, for though Kung knew the classics, he continues to be beaten up allegedly for stealing. As for the people around him, even the ones wearing long gowns, we can notice that none ever offered a decent job or home to the poor man when he already had to crawl on his way in and out of the tavern. They wore long gowns and most like are also learned in the classics, but they do not practice it. It seems that the only part of Confucian teaching that has really had a strong hold on the Chinese character is filial piety.

Hsun also developed Kung’s character by the narrator’s observations on the way he spoke and the narrator’s revelations of the things he heard about Kung. For instance, in par. 10, the narrator tells us what he witnessed: “Then Kung would flush, the veins on his forehead standing out as he remonstrated: ‘Taking a book can’t be considered stealing, . . . Taking a book, the affair of a scholar, can’t be considered stealing! ’ Then followed quotations from the classics, like ‘A gentleman keeps his integrity even in poverty,’ and a jumble of archaic expressions till everybody was roaring with laughter and the whole tavern was gay (Kung I-Chi 10).

” The allegation is that he was beaten up because he stole a book. Kung’s behavior shows us how hard he is trying to conceal his frustrations of being a scholar by his witty answers and use of archaic words. However, we can see from the excerpt that the people do not take his words seriously. They only make his words, whether with reason or not, a mere laughing matter. Even the narrator admits that he remembers Kung because he gets to laugh without his boss getting angry when Kung is around as the laughing stock ((Kung I-Chi 3). Analysis of Medicine

Medicine is told in the third person omniscient point of view. An all-knowing narrator tells the story of an old man who bought a medicine for his son, but still lost his son. The all knowing narrator is important in the story, because it allows the readers to find out what is in the mind of the other characters and what they are saying behind the back of the main characters. It helps create a foreshadowing of events for the readers to understand the things that are not explicitly mentioned in the text, but can be easily implied (Hsun 1).

For example, when the man who sold the medicine muttered, “Old fool… (Hsun 2)” after getting the money from Old Chuan, there is an immediate clue that the son will receive a quack medicine and hence die later if it is not found out. True enough, the son died. It is also easy to say that someone hesitated as Old Chuan did before the man took the money from him and gave him the quack medicine (Hsun 2). Hsun further characterized the man that sold the medicine the restaurant run by the old couple. First, we know that he is fooling the old man and taking advantage of his despair in seeking cure for his son.

He is not just cold-blooded, he even has the guts to visit the couple and tell them that they are lucky to have taken the medicine. He speaks in a loud voice and dominates the conversations in the restaurant. He scares everyone to agree with what he says and even goes to the sick boy to tell him how luck he is despite his full knowledge that he gave a quack medicine. We can see from this scene how Chinese males talk about gossips and rumors about certain things in the community, but many are not able to do anything against those that are influential or stronger than they are.

This is evident when the hunchback mere nodded in agreement, but did not really truly agree and when the man with grey beard feigned being enlightened despite his disagreement. This shows how the society is unable to fight against oppression especially when China was being colonized. The young boy died and the couple could not do anything. The mother only promised her son the he will be avenged rightfully by God. The paragraph goes: “She looked all around, but could see only a crow perched on a leafless bough. ‘I know,’ she continued. ‘They murdered you. But a day of reckoning will come, Heaven will see to it.

Close your eyes in peace. . . . If you are really here, and can hear me, make that crow fly on to your grave as a sign (Hsun 6). ’” This paragraph also shows the belief of Chinese on life after death, that a person’s spirit can possibly inhabit another body after death. At this, Hsun succeeds in telling the readers, not only the culture, but also the supernatural beliefs of Chinese. But the real theme of the story is the evil of the society and the powerlessness of the people to do something about it, because they refuse to do anything, one reason of which is fear. Analysis of Diary of a Madman

Diary of a Madman is another interesting story written in the first person point of view of a madman. The writer assumes the persona of a madman and recounts day to day accounts of his observation of the people around him, that is, with suspicions about what they want to do to him and what they think of him. He thinks in quite paranoia and assumes every person is working against him and finally believing that his brother is behind all that the people are planning against him (Hsun 1). Following Hsun’s introduction, the series of events in the diary are not by him but by his friend who got mentally ill.

He wrote it, however when he was already well. The dates were omitted and only the different colors of the ink used could tell that the different entries are of different dates. Just as Hsun says, “the entries in the diary contain confused, incoherent and wild statements beyond imagination (Hsun 2). ” He originally intended it to be a resource of his medical study, but later on he published it as a part of his story collection, changing only the names o the people and the places to protect their identities.

Nevertheless, he kept the title that the original author gave it. It was published in his book entitled Call to Arms. The story is hence an adaptation of a real diary, and only the change of names makes it fiction, but the thoughts placed there actually went through the mind of a man who got mentally ill. There are thirteen entries in this part of the diary. Despite the man’s illness, there are interesting observations that we can see from the people that the person is talking about. He usually talks about the way people look at him and talk about him.

We can see this even when the people all looked at him when he accused his brother of planning to eat him as well. His brother sent the people away. This shows how the people of the community love to be onlookers of a spectacle that they can talk about behind the backs of the people. The first entry of the diary does not yet obviously lead the readers to think that there is something wrong with the narrator except for the part that that says, “but now I must be extremely careful. Otherwise why should that dog at the Chao house have looked at me twice (Hsun 4)?

” If not for the title, the reader may not give much deal to it as indication of any mental illness. But here, one can start to notice the developments of the narrator’s paranoia about the people around him. The narrator has seemed to develop a negative form of egocentrism where he thinks everything and everyone works against him, instead of for him. He loses trust for everyone, even his brother who cares for him so much that even in the narrator’s state of madness; he recalls the way he sent the people away, “Get out of here, all of you! What is the point of looking at a madman?

(Hsun Chapter X, par. 9). The narrator, however, views this during those times as a tactic of the people around him, including his brother to find a way to eat him with impunity. He thinks that they are making it appear that he is a madman so that if anything happens to him, they could blame it on his madness and hence be acquitted of any crime. He develops this kind of thinking after putting together idioms that he hears from the conversations he hears around him like, “I’d like to bite several mouthfuls out of you to work off my feelings!

” (Hsun Chapter III, par. 3), “People exchange their sons to eat” (Hsun Chapter V, par. 2). His suspicion grows because of his paranoia with the way people look at him starting with the children (Hsun Chapter II, par. 2): “I was not afraid, however, but continued on my way. A group of children in front were also discussing me, and the look in their eyes was just like that in Mr. Chao’s while their faces too were ghastly pale. I wondered what grudge these children could have against me to make them behave like this. I could not help calling out: ‘Tell me!

’ But then they ran away (Hsun Chapter II, par. 2). ” He is initially suspicious mainly about why people look at him the way they do. He thinks that they are condemning him for a past action he has done along time ago, not understanding that they do look at him thy way because of his illness. So he continues to make personal observations and finally arrives at the conclusion that people look at him the way they do, because they are planning to eat him. The do so because they want get his strength and courage, but he will not let them do it.

He even states plans to dissuade people from eating human flesh and starts with his brother. His suspicion to his brother interestingly rises from a word of care, “Don’t let your imagination run away with you. Rest quietly for a few days, and you will be all right (Hsun Chapter IV, par. 7). ” He deems it as his brother’s desire to fatten him up so that he would be just right when they finally eat him. He even reaches the point of thinking that is brother ate his little sister. She died because he ate her and their mother knew about it, but did not do anything.

The paranoia of the narrator tells us the way gossip grows in the mind of onlookers of events, such that small matters grow into big ones when talked about without the presence of the persons concerned to clarify things. There seems to be an emphasis on this in Hsun’s works. He wants to point out that the people around chatter and make a spectacle out of personal and family matters. In the way the people look at the madman, which made him suspicious, we can deduce the judgmental attitude of the society that they even pas to their children, hence even the children look at the madman suspiciously.

Instead of sympathizing for the needy, many people judge and talk ill about them. O’Neil sees this story as a “critique of the cannibalistic nature” of the old Chinese society. (O’Neil 216) But aside from cannibalism, it also criticizes the attitude of the society that looks at people with contempt without understanding what they are actually going through. Analysis of Soap The fourth story I need to discuss in this paper is Soap. When the story was written, soap was still not very popular in China. It was still a luxury then.

The story is not really about soap literally, but the things that the main character, Ssu-min witnessed and experienced because of buying soap. He gets home with a bar of soap that he gives his wife. She likes it but Ssu-min suddenly remembers something and calls his son Hsueh-Cheng to ask him about a phrase he heard when he was buying the soap. He has been sending his son to an English school so he expects him to know it but he gets disappointed when his son fails to translate it the first time (Hsun 2). Ssu-min heard someone call him o-du-fu at the store.

He knows that it means vicious woman, but since he is not a woman, he thinks that it means something else. Finally, he agrees with his son when Hsueh-Cheng finds the transliteration “old fool. ” Here, we can see two things – Chinese effort to learn the foreign language of the colonists and the Chinese acceptance of foreign products. The story emphasizes how the family spends for the education of the son who was at that time practicing Hexagram boxing. There is much expectation from the son because of the great amount of investment in his education.

In all the scolding that the son receives, he never answers back, but instead goes on with what his father asks him to do. We can attribute this to filial piety. Many Chinese may see it as a natural behavior of a son towards his father, but there is something about the situation that palaces the father in a position that he should not act as such towards his son. His son, on the other hand may have reasoned out, but remained like a mute lamb powerless to explain his side why he does not meet his father’s expectations yet as can be seen his is reaction to his father’s response on his first attempt to explain the meaning of o-du-fu:

“Hsueh-cheng recoiled two steps, and stood straighter than ever. Though his father’s gait sometimes reminded him of the way old men walked in Peking opera, he had never considered Ssu-min as a woman. His answer, he saw now, had been a great mistake (Hsun 3). ” If we look at the situation, Ssu-min does not have any reason to be angry, because he did not even explain the details of the story where the context of o-du-fu could have come from. It is Mrs. Ssu-min that tells Ssu-min to explain what happened so that their son could get an idea of what to look for.

But looking back at the complaints of Ssu-min about comprehension and pronunciation, it may help to consider that by that time, the teachers of English may have been using one of the two oldest methods of teaching – the grammar-translation method and the direct method. Since, the prior is the older method of the two (so, someone who did not study language pedagogy may not have thought of it) and Hsueh-Cheng used the transliteration dictionary I want to assume that grammar-translation was then in use for the language schools in China.

I want to point to this why the boy was not able to show impressive progress in language learning. Hsueh Cheng’s case may have been the case of many Chinese studying English, so Hsun is actually criticizing the school system. To further stress his point, when Hsueh Cheng finds the transliteration of o-du-fu as o-du-fu-la or “old fool” he is not able to explain what it means (Hsun 5). Ssu-min explains the situation and later brings out the issue about the filial daughter he witnessed when he was buying soap. The people did not give her money, and he condemned them for that, but he himself did not give her money.

He reasons out that she was not an ordinary beggar, for she shows filial love by giving to her grandmother whatever the people give them. The people only gathered around and some even commented that she would not be so bad if she could be scrubbed with soap. Ssu-min’s wife reacts negatively to this and questions why he did not give the young beggar the soap (Hsun 5). This juncture of the story tells us again of the indifference of the people to help the people in need. Instead of helping, the people only gathered around and talked nonsense about the young girl and her grandmother.

They did not value how much piety the girl showed for her grandmother. This is very important here. Chinese are known for filial piety, but in the story they did not show respect for someone showing it. The issue on filial piety gets repeated when the Tao-Tung comes to discuss a certain matter. It seems that only Ssu-min is the only who respects the young girl for her piety. The others do not recognize her pity for reasons that she is not a native of their place and that she cannot write (Hsun 6). It is clear here how discriminative Chinese society is despite the teachings of Confucius.

They are only mindful of their own families but not of others. Piety also becomes useless when one cannot read or write; hence, social status plays a role in being recognized for filial piety. Ssu-min’s wife continues to mutter about scrubbing the young girl with soap even after the visitors have left. The next morning, she takes a bath with the soap and the scent of the soap fills the air. Hsun ends the story telling that there have been several other fragrances that filled the air after that (Hsun 6). The fragrance of the soap could mean so many things including the influence of foreign culture.

Soap has been proven to better than the traditional cleaning cosmetic of the Chinese. Now, they accepted soap and were pleased by it, like their acceptance of other foreign cultures that are for the progress of China. There is nothing with remembering the old ways, but there is more promise in being open to newer and more effective ways of looking at things. Hsun seems to be stressing here that chauvinism is not good for the country. Supporting local goods and traditions is good, but the people have to be open to new ideas and products for economic and social progress, which we now call globalization.

Lu Hsun’s Contribution to Modern Chinese Culture Two of the stories were written in the traditional third person point of view, but Hsun focuses on the attitudes of the people rather than the heroic deeds and histories of the Chinese people. He shows the reality that is taking place in the Chinese community, how hypocritical many of the people have become through the years of thinking that they have a superior culture over other people. He shows in the four stories how indifferent the people are about lending kindness to the people in need.

We can notice that in all the four stories, the people always serve as onlookers, but to no avail. They merely observe, and laugh, and even judge people. They even make fun of people who are actually on need. Showing that people are the same in all the four stories, we deduce a statement from Hsun that people in China are almost all the same. The society looks down at people, mocks them as if they were of lower forms of creation, thinking of themselves as better than others, when in fact they are not.

According to Fajardo, one of the ideologies criticized by Hsun is the Confucian teachings (Fajardo 20). We can see from the stories that the teachings did not create better people. Kung, for example, knew the classics, but it did not help him to be decent. He remained poor, lazy and morally derailed. He could have become a man of importance, but he never even passed the official exam. He was a good calligrapher, but that, too did not help him because he drank a lot. He had the talent, but not the character. And the people did not provide any support.

To this, Hsun must have been emphasizing the need of the people to work together and be mindful of others. Hsun’s style deviates from the idealistic display of Chinese beauty and elegance. He shows the flaws of the society and how these flaws have been harming the people around (Fajardo 20). He also shows how the society has been too judgmental about others just like in Kung I-Chi and Madman’s Diary. The people looked at the madman differently making him think that there is something about him. It made his situation worse.

He became more suspicious and the people seem to enjoy just making buzz out his everyday deeds and words. As for Kung, the people only make fun of his misfortunes and despair. They could have helped him, but no one offered help. Even the narrator who was a waiter thought himself better than Kung. In Medicine, we can see that the people in the restaurant were actually aware that the medicine given could not really help the sick boy, but the people cannot do anything or cannot say anything against the man who sold the medicine, because he was powerful.

This show how helpless the society is if the people will not work together. They have fear in their hearts because they believe that no one would help them, because they also would not be willing to help other in need. Medicine and Madman’s Diary show how harmful lack of education can be. In Medicine, lack of education caused old Chuan the life of his son. He paid a big amount for a medicine that may have even worsened the condition of his son, eventually leading to the boy’s death. In Madman’s Diary, the people looked at the madman the way they did, because of lack of education.

Because of this, they contributed to the worsening of the condition of the madman. Situations like these still happen today. People refuse to take medicine, because of lack of proper education. They refuse to go to the doctor to have a check-up, believing in the power of traditional medicine. Some people condemn other people because of their medical condition. Because of his style, Mao Zedong liked reading the works of Hsun (Fajardo 1). It is then not surprising that the people who embraced the teachings of Mao would soon follow to open their minds about the realities regarding Chinese society.

The social cancer that rose because of embracing fanatically doctrines that people do not fully understand had to be cured, and so there was the socialist movement. Hsun opened the eyes of the people to the fact that they need to work together; and that there should be not social boundaries; and that social boundaries cause many people to lose hope and inspiration; and that if social boundaries would be bridged, the world will be a better place to live in. The literary themes in Hsun’s works had a great impact on the society as he was also greatly influenced by the events during his time.

His attacked Confucian teachings just like in Soap where the father was unreasonable, yet the son was unable to do anything to explain his side. Hsun views Confucian ethics of unquestioning obedience as a debilitating clutch to the progress of the society and as a set of “hypocritical morality thinly concealing and encouraging injustice, inequality, passivity and conformity (Fajardo 20). ” These have been manifested in the people’s attitudes in the different stories. For instance, in Medicine and Soap injustice was concealed by piety.

The Chuan couple could not say anything against Kang whom the lady Chuan calls uncle. Her unquestioning respect for him even led to her son’s death, but she could not do anything but leave the matter to heaven. The case about Soap has earlier been explained in the section that discussed this matter. Narratives are normally written for entertainment, but Hsun writings have messages to the society, and these messages came across the minds of the intelligent citizens. They then joined him and other enlightened Chinese in facing the new Chinese society.

Now, because of Hsun’s influence, China is more open to new culture and ideas, but still preserves what is good about the traditional culture. There are still Chinese who embrace Confucian beliefs, but the government policies regarding business and international relations are not rooted in them. Hsun is not the only Chinese writer that attacked Confucianism and traditionalism. In fact, Chinese professors moved towards it even before the publication of his short stories. However, his stories have shown the people the harmful influences of Confucianism and other old traditions to the society.

His stories reached more people and hence the ideologies gained more popularity among the masses and the higher social classes. Now, China is on its path to greatness as a political and economic power. In twenty years time, since 1990s, China, the Dragon of the East has awaken and gained a lot of political and economic influence. China even became the venue of the 2008 Olympics and became the over-all champion in the event (Chinese Culture 4). Hsun’s short stories have changed the lives of Chinese forever by influencing China to open its doors to new culture, new ideologies and progress.

But also equally important, he opened China’s eyes to the problems of the society in terms of social relations. He moved people to think and consider, to be more critical, yet understanding, and to be more mindful of others. Works Cited “Chinese Culture. ” Chinese-culture. net. 2008. 9 December 2008 <http://www. chinese-culture. net/>. Fajardo-Acosta, F. “Lu Xun (1881-1836). ” fajardo-acosta. com. 2002. 9 December 2008 <http://fajardo-acosta. com/worldlit/luxun/>. Hsun, Lu. “Diary of a Madman. ” 2005. 9 December 2008

<http://www. marxists. org/archive/lu-xun/1918/04/x01. htm>. Hsun, Lu. Call to Arms. Lu Xun and Evolution. 9 December 2008 <http://www. coldbacon. com/writing/luxun-calltoarms. html>. Hsun, Lu. Kung I-Chi. 2005. 9 December 2008 <http://www. marxists. org/archive/lu-xun/1919/03/x01. htm>. Hsun, Lu. Medicine. 9 December 2008 < http://www. munseys. com/diskone/medlus. pdf>. Hsun, Lu. Soap. 9 December 2008 <http://www. munseys. com/diskone/soaplu. pdf>. O’Neil, Patrick. Great World Writers. New York: Marshall And Cavendish, 2005.

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The Impact of Lu Hsun’s Short Stories to Modern Chinese Culture. (2016, Sep 02). Retrieved from

The Impact of Lu Hsun’s Short Stories to Modern Chinese Culture

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