Those Were the Days

A Theatrical Adaptation (of sorts) of Lu Xun’s “In the Wine Tavern”

Recipient of Honorable Mention in University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Plays Competition, 2014

Characters (in order of appearance)

Lu Xun’s father

Lu Xun[1]


Lu Weifu[2]


Young Lu Xun

Lu Xun’s Mother

Zhu An[3]


Rowdy inn visitors

Xu Guangping[4]


Scene I

            (The curtain opens on a wide hallway that is cluttered from floor to ceiling with piles of objects representing ‘human progress’ in all its forms. These objects are mostly books, but interspersed among these books should be other kinds of objects pertaining to the pursuit of knowledge (e.g. model airplanes hanging from the ceiling or, if this is too hard to stage, propped on top of piles of books; telescopes; globes; and so on). Amidst these objects sits LU XUN’S FATHER at a long table. He patiently clasps his hands together before him, as though waiting for something or someone. Sure enough, LU XUN wanders onto the scene, looking at the objects around him with perplexity. He is wearing traditional Chinese garb, in the fashion typical of those who still refrained from wearing western clothing in 1920s China. He cannot help but touch the objects; here he toys with a telescope, here he fiddles with one of the model airplanes. He sees the globe and turns it searchingly).

LU XUN: (pointing) And here is China.

LU XUN’S FATHER: Hello, Zhou Shuren. Or should I say Lu Xun?

LU XUN: (noting him for the first time). Father? What are you doing there?

FATHER: Which name should I call you by, my son? Your name has changed so many times over the course of your life—I don’t know if you recall, but when you were young you went by Zhou Zhangshou, the name I gave you. Then it was Zhou Shuren, and now, the name the world will remember you by—Lu Xun. “Lu” meaning stupid or slow, “Xun” meaning quick—a walking contradiction. Are you a contradiction, my son?

LU XUN: How do you know the world will remember me by any name? Who can know the future? Who are you, and why do  you look like my father? Is this some kind of dream?

FATHER: It is, Lu Xun. Forever banished from the world of the living, the dead nonetheless find ways to communicate, albeit in strange and otherworldly places—such as this corridor, for instance.

LU XUN: (shaking his head) I don’t believe in visitations from ancestors.

FATHER: (shrugs) Maybe I’m just a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t matter. We can still talk.

LU XUN: (considering) Yes, well—I suppose that’s true. Whether or not you are my father or perhaps a bit of stew from dinner upsetting my sleep, talking with you will at least break up the monotony of walking through these dream-world corridors alone (LU XUN starts to walk among the objects again, occasionally picking up objects and glancing at the titles of books more closely). I knew that fish stew my wife served me earlier wouldn’t agree with my stomach later on. But listen, old man, since I’m fairly certain you’re an extension of myself anyway, what harm is there in a little light conversation? What did you come back for? To warn me to waste more food at your altar, food that could feed the hungry mouths lining the cold streets of Beijing? Did you want me to return to your grave more often to genuflect before it, though all that is left of my father there is bones and rags? Or did you perhaps come to inform me that doom will fall onto the shoulders of my family because of my grandfather’s actions all those years ago, helping young men to cheat on the officer exam?

FATHER: (in a disgusted tone) That wouldn’t be a prophecy, it would be a mere iteration of the reality. You grandfather’s disgrace was the ruin of our family.

LU XUN: It was on its way out anyway, you old fish stew. Dynastic China was on its way out. Do you have newspapers in the afterlife? Are you able to follow along with current affairs? (a pause; then, quietly) I think perhaps my father died from shame.

FATHER: I did. (LU XUN looks at him with some interest for the first time) A few years after I died, you went to Japan to study medicine.

LU XUN: Your death, or at least my father’s, was a large part of the reason that I went. I spent so much time going around and collecting various herbs and other obscure items to make ridiculous concoctions to feed to him–you. I still remember handing over one family valuable after the next to pay for these obscure concoctions, the man in the pawn shop’s grimy hands sternly removing them to a distant spot out of sight behind the counter—he knew my family name, of course. Everyone did. That made it all the worse. When I handed over the valuables, I could never stand to look him in the eye. But still, I never complained. Every time I went to a new expert requesting a prescription different from all the others, I would cavort about plucking flowers and collecting blood from the chickens we killed for dinner and crushing tortoise shells with renewed hope, thinking that this was the broth that would attack that terrible illness wrecking him from the inside, this was the special ingredient that would bring him back to life. Then I would bring him the finished mixture as his wretched, gnarled body lied there hacking away in bed. I watched, filled with hope, as he drank it down. As the days ticked by afterwards, I would at first try hard to discern in his cough some sign that it was getting better, only after several days allowing my heart to drop in disappointment as I realized that, once again, I had been tricked. After he died, how could I not conclude that Western medicine was a worthwhile pursuit? Perhaps if he had been fed their medicine instead of ours, he would still be here today and you and I would not have met in this dire room, in a dream.

FATHER: But you didn’t graduate. You left Japan after only a few years and returned to China. Not only that, but you stopped studying medicine altogether, and became a writer. Do you think writing essays and stories could have prevented my death, my son?

LU XUN: If you were truly an extension of my own mind, you would know why I left Japan. I suppose perhaps you really are my father. (A book in one of the piles suddenly interests him; sliding it out with care, so as not to overturn the pile, he examines it in more detail). Confucius’s Analects! What is this doing here?

FATHER: (makes a grand sweeping gesture with his arm, indicating the objects around him) What you see here, all of this, represents the so-called vast attempts of mankind to seek Truth. Everything, all of man’s efforts, ultimately fit within the space of this corridor. Does it surprise you to see how little the efforts of Mankind to find Truth amount to?

LU XUN: (as LU XUN’S FATHER has been speaking, LU XUN has put the Confucius book aside and continued to curiously examine other books and objects, making his way gradually down to a drawn curtain at the far end of the corridor, away from his father). With what ease you talk of this elusive Truth. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps there is more than just one, or perhaps that there is no inherent Truth at all, but only that which we create for ourselves? But what am I doing, instructing a visitor from the afterworld about how my own world works? Surely you must know better than I (His tone is satiric. Stopping before the curtain at the end of the corridor, he thoroughly examines it as he has the other objects, while his father looks on, bemused. Finally, he turns back to his father and gestures at the curtain). What’s this?

FATHER: Behind that curtain, my son, lies the great Truth of which you speak so glibly.

LU XUN: (musing) What a quaint idea, that I could understand some central Truth by pulling back a mere curtain. If you came all the way from the world of the ancestors to convince me of that, I’m afraid you’re destined to be disappointed…

FATHER: Draw back the curtain, and all will be revealed.

LU XUN: (his curiosity is starting to overtake him. He gazes at the curtain once more, then finally gives in and draws it open. Behind it is a vast darkness, extending seemingly forever in all directions. LU XUN stands at its edge and looks first down, then up, then back at his FATHER). Is this some kind of trick? There’s nothing here.

FATHER: That’s because you have to jump.

LU XUN: (storms toward him, animated) Do you take me for a fool? Why don’t you just tell me, hm? Why do these prophetic dreams always have to be so damned impenetrable?

FATHER: (retains his calm and composure) I have not the words to describe it, my son. Even we in the afterlife suffer from language’s shortcomings. That is why we do not use it with one another.

LU XUN: You’re trying to trick me. Perhaps you are a robber who has broken into my house, and who who has paid the maid off beforehand to feed me some kind of drug by mixing it into my morning meal. This is an elaborate means by which to break my neck, rob me; do you want my wallet? I’ll give it to you. I apologize in advance if it’s real money; I don’t know if that will be of any use to you in Dream-World.

FATHER: Take the plunge, my son, and learn what nobody before you has come close to glimpsing. On the other hand—if you do not want to jump, stay here with me a little longer. We can talk about what’s on your mind. I feel a break between your brother and yourself (LU XUN glares at him). I feel a woman on your mind, my son. Oh, but it is not your wife–

LU XUN: (cutting him off) Now that I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve realized that given my options, jumping into a great pit of darkness could not possibly be any worse than spending an eternity in this dismal corridor of the netherworlds with nobody but you for company (he steadies himself; takes a breath; and jumps, disappearing into the darkness)

 (Lights out. End of scene I)


(Spotlight on a young woman. As she sings the following verses of Mary Hopkins’s song “Those Were the Days,” she stands quite still in the middle of the stage. After she is done, she bows a little and walks offstage without ado)

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two.
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose.
We’d fight and never lose.
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la…
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.

Scene II

(The next set consists of a writing desk to one side of the stage. The top of the desk is littered with papers and books. An ashtray with a smouldering cigarette butt in it lies to one side. At the back of the stage is a door that leads from outside to LU XUN’S lodgings. There are no other props. When the curtains rise, LU XUN is resting his head on his desk, sleeping. He lets out a startled cry and bolts upright in his chair, looking around frantically to orient himself the way people often do when they are rudely awoken by a bad dream of some kind. Gradually waking up, he calms down, finally settling on the piece of writing sitting before him on his desk.

LU XUN: (to himself) Well, better get back to work. Just a bad dream, that’s all (he still looks unsettled, though, as though he has not thoroughly convinced himself the dream was benign).

(at this point, LU XUN takes out a cigarette, lights it, and takes a drag. Laying it aside, he begins to write at his desk, which he will do throughout the entirety of the next scene until his next mention. The scene of his story that he is writing plays out next to his desk as he writes. The lights should dim and the setting for this scene should be brought out—a table and two chairs, facing each other, as well as two bowls to put on top of the table in front of the chairs. Afterwards, LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR process onto stage and sit down in their seats; who sits where doesn’t matter. They are wearing Western suits. The lights should then brighten on the table, but remain dim elsewhere—so, essentially, only LU XUN’s outline, writing, should be visible through the duration of this scene)

NARRATOR: Weifu, there you are.

LU WEIFU: Do you know why I wanted to meet here?

NARRATOR: How could anybody not know? The movement in Beijing on May 4th, I’m assuming.

LU WEIFU: (excited, energetic) Isn’t it fantastic? Those students who gathered together at Tiananmen Square have proven that we’re finally moving to take back our country, to make it our own again!

NARRATOR: (made excited by LU WEIFU; it is clear in the dynamics of the two that LU WEIFU is the leader of sorts, the NARRATOR the loyal friend who is easily influenced by him) Down with our spineless government, kowtowing to the demands of imperialist forces!

LU WEIFU: Yes, yes! But just replacing the officials won’t be enough, my friend. Why do the officials make concessions to the Americans the way they do? What iron cage restrains them but has no hold on the Americans? We have no individualism!

NARRATOR: We have no spine ourselves!

LU WEIFU: Down with Confucian values of modesty and submission, then! Down with tradition!

NARRATOR: We’ll begin to read Marx in the schools!

LU WEIFU: Not just Marx! We’ll read the Russian authors, and Darwin. We’ll educate ourselves and then, best of all, we’ll incorporate that education into producing a new wave of literature, philosophy, and science, better than anything that’s come before it!

NARRATOR: (enraptured) Then, this movement is the beginning of intellectual progress.

LU WEIFU: Yes, a new kind of intellectualism for a new century. Our counterparts in Beijing already worked to overthrow the emperor. That was incredible.

NARRATOR: That was exhilarating! Liberating!

LU WEIFU: But not enough! Now the foreign powers believe they can walk all over us, divide our land this way and that! But not anymore! Not today! Not from here on out!

NARRATOR: Weifu, when do we book our train tickets to Beijing? I feel that I’m simply standing on the outside looking in, waiting as I do in this brackish small southern town for newspapers to tell of the wonders happening up north. Our country is changing, and our world—but we don’t feel any of it, sitting here in the inn in Luzhen that we’ve frequented since our youth. The wine’s the same, the hot-and-sour tofu is the same…

LU WEIFU: I know, everything’s the same. Even the waiters seem the same as I remember them (sits back, lost in thought)

NARRATOR: (withdrawing, thinking to sense reluctance on LU WEIFU’S part) I suppose we can always leave the movement to those already in Beijing. They’ll take care of it. After all, we have families here to take care of. (after some hesitation) Your mother, after all, must be beside herself after the death of your little brother…

LU WEIFU: Grief is grief, death is death. These things are natural in life. People die, and their families grieve them. Afterwards, life continues. But don’t you see, my friend? The values we have grown up with teach us to submit ourselves to these forces, to treat them as our gods. We allow these kinds of forces to rule our lives, shape our ambitions and goals—we need to break away from exactly that kind of submission.

NARRATOR: Yes, I understand your point.

LU WEIFU: Westerners are fierce in their individuality. They care not for whatever ridiculous claims are made about the interrelatedness of all things; they forge ahead paths for themselves, goaded on solely by the power of their own convictions about what is right and wrong, about what they want to get out of life and what they don’t want.

NARRATOR: So, are you suggesting, then…?

LU WEIFU: Leaving here? Is it too radical a suggestion for you, my friend? I’ve got enough money saved up from the tutoring I’ve been doing all these years. I’ve been just waiting for the right opportunity to get out of here, and this is definitely it.

NARRATOR: I’ve got enough too.

LU WEIFU: It’s agreed then. Let’s meet at the train station tomorrow at 10 and get on the next train to Beijing! We’ll stow away if our money’s not enough! My parents won’t want me to go; I’ll have to leave the house on the pretense of buying vegetables from the market or something like that (both laugh). Will you be able to get away from your parents?

(the two characters freeze in their positions. LU XUN stops writing, then scans the page)

LU XUN: No, no, no! This is no good. (he picks up the piece of paper and tears it to shreds. As he does so, LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR begin to contort and shake as though they can feel themselves being ripped apart from inside. Moaning and shouting with pain, they twist and turn as they roll their way offstage. At the same time, in full view of the light, backstage crew should emerge to remove the props for the inn. Perhaps some kind of intense rumbling music, as from the pounding of drums, could play in the background. When he is done tearing at the paper, by which point the entire setting for the inn should be removed, LU XUN throws the pieces of paper into the air and lets them flutter about him, dismayed).

LU XUN: As if two young men would so easily throw caution to the wind and leave their family obligations behind. (he picks up a letter from a pile and begins to read it aloud, while picking up his cigarette and smoking it with the other hand) Ah! Today’s mail. Maybe there will be something of interest in these pages to distract me from the drudgery of my own mind. “Dear Professor Lu, will be by your new lodgings again next week on Sunday at noon, this time alone. I have lots to discuss with you concerning developments in the protest against the principal at the Women’s College. Yours faithfully—Xu Guangping” (upon reading the name aloud, LU XUN grows silent, casts his eyes down to his lap, and lets himself sit there for a moment, contemplating. He puts the cigarette aside) Next week, Sunday at noon…when is this letter dated? Why, that’s today! Why alone, I wonder? Were her classmates unavailable today? (a pause) How passionate she is in this damned ongoing rebellion at her college against the current principal and her inefficiency! She thinks she will change the way that things are…with nothing but a thirst for justice and truth, she and her classmates will trample the greedy money-holders and lay the foundation for a new world. I was the same way, once. Full of exuberance when I left on that ship for Japan as a student. I remember hearing the rhythmic pattern of the waves crashing against the dock as I boarded…I remember the sea air. I remember being surprised at how seemingly unfazed I was to be leaving the only country I had ever known for a completely new world, and one in which I barely knew the language, at that (he laughs. YOUNG LU XUN emerges onto the stage, as sounds of the sea (e.g. waves crashing, seagulls calling, a ship blowing its horn as it leaves anchor) rise in the background. YOUNG LU XUN looks about him, bewildered. LU XUN should get up from his desk and begin to pace around the stage as he continues to talk, occasionally glancing at and interacting with the following scenes, which play out from his memory as though he actually sees them there before him) But then, of course, I came back. (sea sounds stop. YOUNG LU XUN looks saddened) I didn’t finish. I gave up medicine and decided to write my “little stories” instead. I was optimistic. I thought I could change China with my words—show people the way in which our traditions stifle us, consume us! (sighs) Before I gave up on medicine for good, I returned to China another time—for the marriage Mother had arranged for me (the light dims on LU XUN as he has this memory;LU XUN’S MOTHER emerges onto stage and bustles ove to him)

YOUNG LU XUN: (accusatorily) You said in the telegram that you were ill. That’s why I came home.

MOTHER: And we both know you wouldn’t have come home otherwise, dear. Zhu An’s family has been waiting for you for several years, and she isn’t getting any younger. She’s far past the prime age for marriage—

YOUNG LU XUN: You really want me to go through with this, don’t you? Mother, I haven’t even met the woman!

MOTHER: Well, there have been plenty of opportunities over the past few years if only you had been more cooperative. Hiding away in Japan like that shirking responsibility, now really, is that a very mature thing to do?

YOUNG LU XUN: Have you at least taken pains to meet my conditions?

MOTHER: What conditions would those have been?

YOUNG LU XUN: (exasperated, and listing the conditions even though he knows well how his mother will likely react) Have her feet been unbound?

MOTHER: Impractical! She’s already in her mid-twenties. Even if her parents and I had been interested in respecting your silly condition, unbinding them wouldn’t have done any good at this point.

YOUNG LU XUN: Has she been educated?

MOTHER: Go through all of that expense this late in her life, over a woman, no less, because her soon-to-be husband is spoiled rotten? Well, what do you think, dear? Can you possibly find it in yourself to understand why none of those conditions were in the least reasonable? (she looks on at her son disapprovingly) What has that foreign land over there been pouring into your head all of this time?

YOUNG LU XUN: Mother, you don’t understand. This isn’t fair—back in Japan, my brother and our Japanese maid are falling in love, and you don’t say a word, but when it comes to me—

MOTHER: As the oldest son and head of this family, since your father has died, you have a duty and a responsibility to make a match with a suitable family—

YOUNG LU XUN: Mother, that system is dying! Are you so blind that you can’t see the change taking place before your eyes? In ten years nobody will care whether or not our family has “set up a good match!” Everybody will be marrying out of love!

MOTHER: Oh, please get these notions out of your head, my son. Until a few years ago this sort of thing wasn’t even questioned. It’s never harmed anybody, and it’s been this way for thousands of years, why change it now? Hasn’t it worked? America is only several hundred years old, compared to our lengthy history. How could any element of their culture claim to be as tried and tested as ours have been? Now try to calm down, your wedding is taking place in a week. This should be a happy occasion for you, a mark of growing older—not something to be upset about. It’s marriage, not the end of the world (she walks to the back of the stage and stands facing him, hands clasped, face firm. YOUNG LU XUN, who looks utterly depressed, sinks down to his knees and buries his head in his hands)

LU XUN: I didn’t have to marry her. Nobody strong-armed me into doing it, after all. I could have defied my mother—ran away, fled the country. (Presently, a bride wearing traditional red dress and opaque veil walks over to YOUNG LU XUN, in measured paces. It is his wedding day) But I didn’t. I married the woman (YOUNG LU XUN looks up at her as she comes over and gradually rises. After she has approached, he pulls back her veil, revealing his bride, ZHU AN. He looks away). Her name is Zhu An (Characters freeze. THE SINGER walks onto the side of the stage and sings the following verses).

SINGER: Then the busy years went rushing by us

We lost our starry notions on the way

If by chance I’d see you in the tavern

We’d smile at one another and we’d say


Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way.

La la la la…

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

(She freezes along with the other characters, and the light dims on everyone except LU XUN, seated at his desk)

LU XUN: Xu Guangping would—does, probably—scorn the way in which I have upheld our marriage since then. With her young ideas, she probably wonders how I can write essays and stories calling for reform in China, all the while remaining faithful to a woman I did not ask to spend my life with. Why do I do it, she will think to herself, though she will not ask. Why do I do it? I don’t know. (he sits back down at his desk. He then perks up as though he has just been struck by an idea) Ah. I think I know a better starting-point for my story (he picks up his pen and begins to write again. End of scene. Lights out.)

Scene III

(Lights on–the same setting as before, the dim outline of LU XUN writing visible next to the inn setting. LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR should already be sitting at the table, looking about twenty years older and wearing traditional Chinese robes appropriate to their class. They are evidently in the midst of a discussion)

LU WEIFU : « As soon as I came back I knew I was a fool. » [5]( LU WEIFU is smoking ; he holds his cigarette in one hand, his cup of wine in the other. Pause. A light shines briefly on LU XUN, who looks up, while the light dims on his characters. The author looks around him with curiosity, hearing a distinct buzzing noise. Upon seeing the perpetrator, evidently an errant fly, he kills it with a book that had been lyng on his desk).

LU XUN : Aha ! Got you (he glances at which book he used as he begins to put it aside again, but hesitates) The Analects ? Hm. (he thinks for a moment, then commences writing again. The lights dim on him, and brighten on his characters)

LU WEIFU : « When I was young, I saw the way bees or flies stopped in one place. If they were frightened they would fly off, but after flying in a small circle they would come back again to stop in the same place ; and I thought this really very foolish, as well as pathetic. But I didn’t think that I would fly back myself, after only flying in a small circle. And I didn’t think you would come back either. Couldn’t you have flown a little further ? »

NARRATOR : « That’s difficult to say. Probably I too have only flown in a small circle. But why did you fly back ? »

LU WEIFU :  « For something quite futile. (LU WEIFU empties his cup in one gulp, takes a few draws of his cigarette) Futile—but you might as well hear about it. (the WAITER brings in a few dishes that they evidently have ordered, then departs) Perhaps you knew that I had a little brother who died when he was three, and was buried here in the country. I can’t even remember clearly what he looked like, but I have heard my mother say he was a very lovable child, and very fond of me. »

(light brightens on LU XUN. As he continues to write,interspersed with the following dialogue, a recent memory of his wife presently fills his head. She marches onto stage, enraged, and shouts into the audience. When she is not speaking in the ensuring duet between her and LU WEIFU, she paces angrily about on the stage.. When she speaks, LU WEIFU stops talking completely, but continues to move his lips ; this indicates that LU XUN is still writing, but that he cannot hear what he writes over his wife’s words)

WIFE : I’m not surprised you want to move out of this house, away from your brother, after what you did to him and his wife. I don’t know how you can hold your head up in front of him at all anymore. I really knew something had changed when you started taking your meals by yourself. Oh, for years you’ve naturally disdained to eat with me, but now that he’s snubbed you, you have a taste of your own medicine.

LU WEIFU : « Even now it brings tears to her eyes to speak of him. This spring an elder cousin wrote to tell us that the ground beside his grave was gradually being swamped, and he was afraid before long it would slip into the river ; we should go there at once and do something about it. As soon as my mother knew this, she became very upset, and couldn’t sleep for several nights—she can read letters by herself, you know. But what could I do ? I had no money, no time : there was nothing that could be done. Only now, taking advantage of my New Year’s holiday, I have been able to come south to move his grave » (he drains another cup of wine and looks out at the audience, as though looking through a window. He continues to speak, althought he is only moving his lips, as explained above)

WIFE : Your very brother ! You two were so close ! You published that collection of short stories together back in Japan ! Don’t stomp around with your nose to the ground as though you’re busy packing, you aren’t deaf ! You have words enough when you want to talk about the state of the nation, but apparently by the time you come home to your own wife you’re all dried up, is that it ?

LU WEIFU : « So the day before yesterday I bought a small coffin, because I reckoned that the one under the ground must have rotted long ago—I took cotton and bedding, hired four workmen, and went into the country to move his grave. At the time I suddenly felt very happy, eager to dig up the grave, eager to see the body of the little brother who had been so fond of me : this was a new sensation for me. »

WIFE : Well, apparently there were other ways I didn’t satisfy you as well. (she is close to tears). I could have guessed as much. I was more like a servant than a wife in my own home. You barely acknowledged me, perhaps even preferred to go days without seeing me !

LU WEIFU : « When we reached the grave, sure enough, the river water was encroaching on it and was already less than two feet away. The poor grave had not had any earth added to it for two years, and had sunk in. I stood in the snow, firmly pointed it out to the workmen, and said : ‘Dig it up !’ »

WIFE : You know I’ve never given you any trouble. I’ve done everything you’ve asked, followed you everywhere you’ve found work, never raised my voice to you in protest or for any other reason, until now. I’ve been a dutiful wife !

LU WEIFU : « I really am a commonplace fellow. I felt that my voice at this juncture was rather unnatural, and that this order was the greatest I had given in all my life. But the workmen didn’t find it at all strange, and simply set to work to dig. When they reached the enclosure I had a look, and indeed the wood of the coffin had rotted almost completely away, leaving only a heap of splinters and small fragments of wood. My heart beat faster and I set these aside myself very carefully, wanting to see my little brother. However, I was taken by surprise. Bedding, clothes, skeleton, all had gone ! I thought : « These have all rotted away, but I always heard that the most difficult substance to rot is hair ; perhaps there is still some hair. » So I bent down and looked carefully in the mud where the pillow had been, but there was none. Not a trace remained. »

NARRATOR : (notices LU WEIFU’S wine cup is empty, and that its effect on him is desirable ; it is causing him to become more vigorous, more like the friend he knew when they were both younger) Just one moment, my friend. Waiter ! (the waiter appears at their table from offstage). Heat two more measures of wine for us (the waiter bows silently and heads back offstage. LU WEIFU hardly notices the disruption ; he stares off, dreamy-eyed, consumed by his story) Go on, my friend.

LU WEIFU : « Actually it need not really have been moved again ; I had only to level the ground, sell the coffin, and that would have been the end of it. Although there would have been something rather singular in my going to sell the coffin, still, if the price were low enough the shop from which I bought it would have taken it, and at least I could have saved a little money for wine. But I didn’t do so. I still spread out the bedding, wrapped up in cotton some of the clay where his body had been, covered it up, put it in the new coffin, moved it to the grave where my father was buried, and buried it beside him. Because I used bricks for an enclosure of the coffin I was busy again most of yesterday, supervising the work. In this way I can count the affair ended, at least enough to deceive my mother and set her mind at rest. Well, well, you look at me like that ! Do you blame me for being so changed ? Yes, I still remember the time when we went together to the Tutelary God’s Temple to pull off the images’ beards, how all day long we used to discuss methods of revolutionizing China until we even came to blows. But now I am like this, willing to let things slide and compromise. Sometimes I think : If my old friends were here to see me now, probably they would no longer acknowledge me as a friend. But this is what I am like now. (he takes out his old cigarette and puts a new one in his mouth) Judging by your expression, you still seem to have hope for me. Naturally I am much more obtuse than before, but there are still some things I realize. This makes me grateful to you, at the same time rather uneasy. I am afraid I am only letting down the old friends who even now still have some hope for me… »

WIFE : And yet…Xun…you still did this to me. How could you still do this to me ?

 (LU XUN pauses for a moment in his writing—the other characters on the stage freeze—but then, resolutely, continues.LU WEIXU continues to lip words. LU XUN’S WIFE, not angry anymore but evidently saddened, mopes around on stage, shoulders hunched, head down, and finally sits down on the ground and puts her head in her hands. As all of this goes on, the SINGER comes out and moves slowly across the stage, singing the next verse of her song. When she is finished, she proceeds off-stage)

SINGER : Just tonight I stood before the tavern.

Nothing seemed the way it used to be.

In the glass I saw a strange reflection–

Was that lonely woman really me ?


Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

La la la la…


(end of Scene III. Lights out)


Scene IV


(when the lights come back on, LU XUN is still at his desk, writing. His wife is gone, though—evidently he has managed to block her from his memory. LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR are still sitting at the table in the inn. There should be some kind of doorway to demarcate the inside of the inn from the outside, where they will presently be)


LU WEIFU : « When I have muddled through New Year I shall go back to teaching the Confucian classics as before. »


NARRATOR : (astonished) « Are you teaching that ? »


LU WEIFU : « Of course. Did you think I was teaching English ? First I had two pupils, one studying the Book of Songs, the other Mencius. Recently I have got another girl, who is studying the Canon for Girls. »


LU XUN : (talking to himself as he writes) Ha ! How very traditional of you, Lu Weifu. Should I have the narrator say that ? No, that’s evident enough as it is.


LU WEIFU : « I don’t even teach mathematics ; not that I wouldn’t teach it, but they don’t want it taught. »


NARRATOR : « I could never really have guessed that you would be teaching such books. »


LU WEIFU : « Their father wants them to study these. I’m an outsider, so it’s all the same to me. Who cares about such futile affairs anyway ? There’s no need to take them seriously. »


(the narrator evinces a sigh, and a moment of silence ensues. Then, a group of somewhat rowdy people crowd into the inn and demand to be seated. LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR glance at one another ; then, over the din of the others, the NARRATOR calls for the waiter)


NARRATOR : Waiter ! (WAITER arrives at their table) Bring the bill.


WAITER : Yes, sir (he bows and departs. LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR stand up and begin to dust themselves off)


NARRATOR : « Is your salary enough to live on ? »


LU WEIFU : « I have twenty dollars a month, not quite enough to manage on. »


NARRATOR : « Then what do you mean to do in the future ? »


LU WEIFU : « In the future ? I don’t know. Just think : has any single thing turned out as we hoped of all we planned in the past ? I’m not sure of anything now, not even of what I will do tomorrow, nor even of the next minute… »


(the WAITER brings the bill to the NARRATOR, who examines and pays it as LU WEIFU watches. Then, the two of them leave the inn together, and stand briefly in front of it facing one another, to say goodbye. If possible, a light snowfall should begin to drift about them)


LU WEIFU : I’m sorry to have spent our reunion boring you to death with the futile affairs I occupy myself with these days. (NARRATOR starts, and seems to be searching for something appropriate to respond with, but there is no need to ; LU WEIFU doesn’t give him  a chance to respond). Ah, well, no matter—let’s be honest, my friend, how much more worthy are your affairs than mine, eh ? Look at the two of us, a pair of wrinkled old disappointments with nothing to show for our time. But then again, let us not dwell too long on this reality. For really, how could anybody still believe that, having reached our age, any of that matters ? Nothing ever changes. Heh. Well, goodbye. Until we meet again.


NARRATOR : Hopefully that will be soon, Weifu. Goodbye (the two men shake hands stiffly, an awkward way for two people who were once the best of friends to part from one another, perhaps never to meet again. Afterwards, LU WEIFU turns steadfastly and walks offstage. The NARRATOR stands looking after him a moment, until he has disappeared, then turns and walks offstage in the opposite direction, his gait and pace so elegant as to appear regal, passing behind LU XUN’S chair, of course, as he exits. As LU XUN puts the last few touches on his story, the members of the inn who entered as LU WEIFU and the NARRATOR left should get up and move offstage, taking the components of the inn setting with them)


LU XUN : (finishes his last character ; reads his final paragraph aloud, evidently pleased with it.Takes a drag of his cigarette) « As I walked alone toward my hotel, the cold wind and snow beat against my face, but I felt refreshed. I saw that the sky was already dark, woven together with houses and streets into the white, shifting web of thick snow. » Funny, that reminds me of an ending to another short story. Which one was it, now ? (sits back in chair smiling, satisfied, evidently not trying particularly hard to remember which short story he is thinking of. He hears a loud sound, someone knocking on his front door, and sits up again) Oh, Xu Guangping ! I forgot ! (he gets up quickly, revealing perhaps more anxiety/excitement about the imminent meeting than he should, and goes promptly to answer the door. The young woman has short hair, cropped quite closely to her head, and wears a barrette. Some may think of her as cute, but she is by no means a beauty. For someone as young as she is, she is quite solemn. LU XUN seems happy to see her). Miss Xu, please come in. I apologize that I have been rather behind on things lately, and thus only read your letter this morning, so I’m afraid I am not entirely prepared for company. My wife doesn’t even know that you’re here (there is something awkward about this last sentence, uttered in complete innocence as it was ; LU XUN notices, and turns away from her to walk back toward his desk, looking down at the papers there. She notices too, but seems to view it as a small triumph—she smiles to herself).


XU GUANGPING : Have you been busy writing more essays ?


LU XUN : (the moment of discomfort has passed. He looks back up at her from his desk and smiles) Essays ? Well, perhaps some—in fact, it’s been mostly stories I’ve been working on recently (XU GUANGPING gives him a puzzled look). I know you want to discuss the details of how to stage the protest you’d like to lead at your college, Miss Xu—a very important matter indeed—but first, why don’t I put on some tea ? We Chinese can hardly call any meeting of minds a success without the consumption of tea, after all (this last comment is said in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion.. Nevertheless, he pulls out a cart with a Chinese tea set on it from offstage and proceeds to stand there brewing some tea).


XU GUANGPING : Certainly. (She is not shy, in fact seems quite confident. As Lu Xun is momentarily facing away from his desk, she walks over and sits down at his chair, picking up an examining a framed photo there as she does so). Is this your wife ? (LU XUN turns and sees her sitting at his desk ; she does not notice, continuing to stare at the photo)


LU XUN : Yes.


XU GUANGPING : (after some silence, as though she is deliberating) Arranged ?


LU XUN : Look at my age, Miss Xu. What do you think ? The times have not always been so kind to the idea of freedom to love whomever we please (XU GUANGPING looks at his back longingly as he makes tea ; it seems like she is burning to ask more questions. Perhaps, for instance, she wants to know why he continues to stay with a woman he obviously did not marry out of love, or if perhaps feelings have grown between them since their wedding day. She realizes that these questions are far too personal given their relationship, though and desists. Instead, she looks down at the papers spread out on his desk). Why do you write these stories ? (LU XUN turns to look at her once more ; now, she stares steadfastly back at him)


LU XUN : As opposed to not writing them ?


XU GUANGPING : You know what I mean. The pulse of China is throbbing right now with change. Everybody is up in arms about pursuing modern ways of thinking, freeing ourselves from the chains of tradition, rebelling against the world’s determination to treat us as mere mud under their feet, and all you can think to do with your precious hours is to sit there writing stories ? I understand the essays better—I am a student, after all, and how could a student not understand the power of essays to persuade ? But stories. I apologize if I’m being too forward, but isn’t that more or less child’s play, compared to all the work that lies ahead of us to make China great again ?


LU XUN : (smiling, but not at her ; it is as though he has exchanged a little joke with himself, that she has not been privy to) I’m not surprised by your reaction, Miss Xu.


XU GUANGPING : No ? Good, I thought you’d be boiling. I have a tendency to be a little too honest sometimes.


LU XUN : (walking toward his desk carrying two cups of tea ; XU GUANGPING gets out of his chair) The reason is quite simple, and it’s written in the preface to my first set of short stories, published about a year ago. Have you not read them ?


XU GUANGPING : (proudly) Nope. Haven’t got the time.


LU XUN : (hands one cup to her, places the other one on his desk. He begins to rifle through some of the piles of papers there) No worries. I will read it to you, if I can find it. In my preface, I detail the reason I left Japan…and this, Miss Xu, is inextricably tied to why I find it necessary to write fiction.


XU GUANGPING : No need to go through all of that for me. If it’s published as you say it is, I’m sure I can find it on my own—


LU XUN : No, I insist. To be honest, I’ve been going a little mad this morning, alone with nothing but my stories and my thoughts—I even began talking to myself (XU GUANGPING chuckles). It would do me well to remind myself, as well as to teach you, why exactly I chose this path to begin with. Ah, here it is (he takes a book out from one of his desk drawers, which he has been rifling through, flips to a page near the beginning, and stands behind his desk, reading it aloud to XU GUANGPING, who stands at a distance listening attentively as she sips her tea). « I dreamed a beautiful dream that on my return to China I would cure patients like my father, who had been wrongly treated, while if war broke out I would serve as an army doctor, at the same time strengthening my country’s faith in reformation. I do not know what advanced methods are now used to teach microbiology, but at that time lantern slides were used to show the microbes ; and if the lecture ended early, the instructor might show slides of natural scenery or news to fill up time (as LU XUN speaks the previous sentence, the backstage crew should roll out onto the stage a screen and a slide projector ; the screen should face the audience and the projector, obviously, should be facing the screen, a good distance away from it. Alternatively, if an electronically-controlled large screen is available in the theater, this screen may be lowered. YOUNG LU XUN emerges with a chair, places it in the center of the stage halfway between the projector and the screen, and sits down facing the screen. After him, various students emerge with their own chairs and set up around him in rows ; this is his memory of why he left his studies abroad. He is back in the classroom, in Japan). This was during the Russo-Japanese War, so there were many war films, and I had to join in the clapping and cheering in the lecture hall along with the other students. It was a long time since I had seen any compatriots, but one day I saw a film showing some Chinese, one of whom was bound, while many others stood around him (At this point, the famous image that is thought to be the one LU XUN was talking about in his preface should begin to fade gradually onto the screen). They were all strong fellows but appeared completely apathetic. According to the commentary, the one with his hands bound was a spy working for the Russians, who was to have his head cut off by the Japanese military as a warning to others, while the Chinese beside him had come to enjoy the spectacle (YOUNG LU XUN remains sitting, silent, as the students around him jump up and cheer/clap at the scene before them). Before the term was over I had left Tokyo, because after this film I felt that medical science was not so important after all (YOUNG LU XUN walks briskly away from the classroom setting, which begins to dismantle, and retrieves a suitcase from offstage. He then reemerges and stands at a distance, watching the remnants of the classroom scene as they are carted away. As LU XUN speaks the next words, YOUNG LU XUN, reflective, gradually moves across the stage, until finally, at LU XUN’S last sentence, YOUNG LU XUN should sit down at the desk). The people of a weak and backward country, however strong and healthy they may be, can only serve to be made examples of, or to witness such futile spectacles ; and it doesn’t really matter how many of them die of illness. The most important thing, therefore, was to change their spirit, and since at that time I felt that literature was the best means to this end, I determined to promote a literary movement. » [6] (silence prevails after he finishes reading. The figment of his memory YOUNG LU XUN is still present, sitting at the writing-desk. After a few moments, XU GUANGPING speaks).


XU GUANGPING : I understand.


LU XUN : Because you are young. When I made that determination, I was young too. I grew jaded soon afterwards, though, when all of my attempts to influence others with my writing failed. I tried to begin a literary journal—it failed. I tried to rouse people to, oh I don’t know, something. Anger, pity, patriotism, sympathy—to hatred, for all I care. I just wanted to see them react. But indifference—indifference is a cruel master. Even crueller, perhaps, than the so-called traditional Chinese values you are so eager to dispel, Miss Xu (he shakes his head sadly at the memory).


XU GUANGPING : Maybe they work together ; partners-in-crime.


LU XUN : Perhaps. Whatever their relationship, the two together make up a barrier more impenetrable than the Great Wall of China itself. You know, I almost gave up my endeavor (spotlight on LU XUN, as a distant look enters into his eyes and he steps forward in front of his desk, stance as rigid as a soldier’s). « I told a friend of mine once to imagine an iron house, indestructible, with many people inside who would soon die of suffocation. But you know, I said, since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. I told him, if you cry aloud to wake some of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn ? »[7] (SINGER emerges onto the stage, and sings a line—distant, hesitant, watching LU XUN to see if he will interrupt her).


SINGER : Through the door there came familiar laughter.

I saw your face and heard you call my name—


LU XUN : And do you know what that friend said, Miss Xu ?


XU GUANGPING : (enraptured) What ?


LU XUN : (slowly ; powerfully) But if a few awake, you can’t say there is no hope of destroying the iron house (he and XU GUANGPING lock eyes. Curtains close on them. Singer moves, singing, to center stage in front of the curtain, more confident now that she is alone)


SINGER : Oh my friend, we’re older but no wiser,
for in our hearts the dreams are still the same.

Those were the days my friend–

We thought they’d never end.

We’d sing and dance forever and a day.

We’d live the life we choose.

We’d fight and never lose.

For we were young and sure to have our way.

La la la la…

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days (she bows and exits)






























[1] “Loo Shoon” is a rough approximation of the pronunciation of this character’s name

[2] “Loo Way Foo”

[3] Joo Aahn

[4] “Shoo Gwan Ping”

[5] Throughout the rest of the play, all lines in quotations are direct quotations of Lu Xun’s writings. Those said by either Lu Weifu or the Narrator are from Lu Xun’s short story “In the Wine Tavern (在酒楼上)”

[6] Lu Xun, “Preface” to his short story collection A Call to Arms (呐喊)

[7] Also the “Preface,” quoted above.