The Real Lu Xun 鲁迅

Banned in Taiwan for many years, father of modern Chinese literature Lu Xun (1881-1936) is probably the most misunderstood Chinese writer who ever lived.

Even though he died more than a decade before the communist era, Lu Xun was admired by Mao Zedong and projected as a communist ally in the literary world by academics in mainland China. As a result of creative interpretation, his works were often used to teach communist ideology. Without bothering to change the narrative, his books were banned in Taiwan in the wake of communist victory in the mainland 1949 (13 years after Lu Xun’s death). It was only quite recently that the great writer’s works were given a less controversial, more objective interpretation.

Lu Xun

Still, it is a fact that Lu Xun used to have a favourable impression of the CCP. He had close ties with Qu Qiubai 瞿秋白, the former general secretary of the CPC Central Committee. He was also a close friend of CCP’s cultural and propaganda senior cadre Feng Xuefeng 冯雪峰. He had even participated in the “Left Wing Cultural Group” 左翼文化联盟,showing his support for the CCP in the territories under Kuomintang control. However, the relationship between Lu Xun and the CCP is far more complicated than what appears on the surface.

Lu Xun was a rebel against China’s feudal and Confucianist system. It is thus not surprising that Lu Xun had sympathy for a rebel group with a common cause – the Chinese Communist Party. However, Lu Xun had never indicated his full acceptance of the political ideology proposed by the Chinese Communist Party. To a large extent, his apparent support for the CCP was merely due to his affinity for the Left Wing activists of the Republic of China at that time, many of whom happened to be CCP members.

Besides, it’s also documented that Lu Xun had long disagreed with mainstream CCP ideology. Most outstanding was his essay “四条汉子” in which he severely criticised communist party members 阳翰笙、田汉、夏衍、周扬. Zhou Yang was an influential pro-communist writer in 1930 Shanghai.

Lu Xun

Lu Xun had found some of the slogans and manifestos the CCP extremely objectionable and he had often engaged the propagandists in fierce written debates. One communist writer Lu Xun did not have problems with, was Hu Feng 胡风. As it turned out, Hu would be labelled a leader of the “counter revolutionary group”. Shortly after the CCP came to power, Hu Feng was imprisoned for decades until he became insane. If the CCP had really regarded Lu Xun as its ally, and if Mao Zedong had really admired Lu Xun as he said, Hu Feng could not have been so severely dealt with. It is clear that a balanced critic like Lu Xun could never have been a supporter of the CCP which demanded 100% praise and support. Mao’s ambivalence is shown in a speech he delivered after coming to power in 1949. He said jokingly that if Lu Xun had lived until that time, he might be in prison. Mao Zedong might have tried to be funny, but Lu Xun’s fate if he had the misfortune of living under communist rule, was practically sealed.

Lu Xun’s incompatibility with communism can be found in his works, the themes of which revolve around the pathetic characteristics of the Chinese people. With his keen observation and pointed style, Lu Xun’s stories profoundly highlights the obnoxious, self-defeating characteristics of Chinese people, including cold-bloodedness, selfishness, greed, cowardice, ignorance, etc. His famous metaphor of “eating human blood-soaked buns”吃人血馒头 is a morbid illustration for greed and the lack of compassion in Chinese society.

In sharp contrast, Chinese characteristics were the valued foundation upon which the CCP consolidated its rule as an autocratic regime. Without Chinese people being what they were, the CCP could never have been successful. A big part of that success depended on the people’s acceptance of Draconian leadership. If Lu Xun had written or spoken about this after the CCP came to power, he would have been a threat to the regime. A man like Lu Xun could never have lived long under CCP rule .

The incompatibility between Lu Xun and the CCP is also reflected in some of his profound insights on history. In the essay “Cultural Partialism” 文化偏至论(1907), Lu Xun once pointed out that Chinese people must be vigilant and not let provocateurs harness herd behaviour to suppress those who stand out” 借公以凌寡. He held that political opposition and the voices of vulnerable groups must not be suppressed in the name of national unity, ideals and constructive compromise.

Lu Xun

It was precisely the tactics employed to 借公以凌寡 that led to the victory of the Communist Party of China and the horrors of the “Cultural Revolution”. Lu Xun’s writings can be seen as prophetic. All the more, he could not have been tolerated by the CCP government.

The incompatibility between Lu Xun and the CCP also lies in his personal temperament. Lu Xun was one who would fight alone if he had to. He witnessed with his own eyes how the fervently revolutionary intellectual community cooled down after the May 4th Movement in 1919. Some activists retired and some deserted. He wrote in Southern Accents Northern Tunes Collection 南腔北调. Lu Xun had soldiered on alone. His persistent fight for reforms would not have been compatible with the CCP’s approach to government. A fiercely independent Lu Xun could not have submitted to conformity and uniformity under a totalitarian regime.

While Lu Xun undeniably sympathised with the Left Wing, he did not and could not have agreed with the CCP government. Those who understand his spirit, his temperament, his observations and judgments should be certain that he could never have coexisted peacefully with the CCP.