Consuming as Metaphor: Lu Xun’s Articulation of the Importance of Children’s Literature in China

Lu Xun (1881-1936), who was most active in the 1920s, is probably the most famous twentieth-century Chinese writer and essayist, heralded as one of the principal figures to sweep the country away from its recently-ended dynastic background into what he and other intellectuals of his time considered the modernity of the twentieth century[1]. He is also known as the father of modern Chinese literature, largely because of the publication of his first short story, “A Madman’s Diary (狂人日记)” (1918), the bulk of which he chose to write in the vernacular rather than in the Classical Chinese prose in which stories had been written up until that point.

With this kind of legacy, it is not surprising that Lu Xun is well-known for his critique of traditional Chinese society, which was based on Confucian ideals, as narrow-minded, backwards, and stifling, as well as for his push for Chinese society to incorporate into its ideology ideas imported from the West. Lu Xun is also the father of children’s literature in China, although this fact is often overlooked in favor of focusing on his legacy as the veritable proclaimer of a new age of modernity in China (Farquhar, 1999, p. 41). The disproportionately large amount of scholarship written about his adult literature and essays probably also stems from the fact that he never actually wrote any children’s literature, though he translated much from the West and frequently commented on children and children’s literature in his writings.

Much research has already been done to suggest the ways in which Lu Xun’s insistence upon the creation of a unique body of Chinese children’s literature relates to his belief in the need for progress and liberation from the constraints of traditional society. At its most basic level, perhaps the relationship between these two facets of Lu Xun’s interest can be summed up in his belief in the importance of education—for Lu Xun, the best way to avoid perpetuating the evils of the past was to educate children in the ways of the future, and the best way to do this was through children’s literature. The goal of this essay is thus not to prove the existence of this relationship, which is already well-known, but rather to reinforce it through a close reading of several of Lu Xun’s writings.

Throughout his various works, he often uses the metaphor of consumption to describe traditional Confucian societal values as literally eating up its victims, the Chinese people, until they become one homogenous glob of conformists to Confucian ideas. I want to suggest that this metaphor can be read more specifically across Lu Xun’s writing as not only illustrating the danger of traditional Confucian society to adults, but also and especially to children. I will support this argument through an examination of the key stories and works in which Lu Xun makes use of this metaphor of traditional Chinese society as predator. This is important because suggesting that a metaphor commonly used by Lu Xun connotes not just the oppressiveness of traditional society in general but rather its adverse effects on children themselves thus emphasizes the degree to which Lu Xun envisioned the salvation of his nation as resting on the shoulders of children. To link his commonly-used metaphor of consumption specifically to his concerns about the welfare of Chinese children will hopefully contribute to framing Lu Xun’s interest in children’s literature not simply as stemming from his major concern of modernizing China, but rather as central to his writings and his conception of how China was to successfully progress.[2] Before I begin to argue this point, however, it would be beneficial to briefly contextualize the time period in Chinese history at which Lu Xun was actively writing, as well as to summarize the nature of “children’s literature” in China before Lu Xun’s call for a new body of children’s literature in the 1920s.

            Lu Xun was active in a period known as the Republican Era in China, which lasted almost forty years from the fall of the Dynastic system in 1912 to the takeover of the Communist Party in 1949. During this intermediary period, while various factions vied for power and a succession of temporary governments ensued, China’s intellectual life thrived. Lu Xun was one of a number of highly influential intellectuals who produced a wide variety of essays, literature, and art during this period, still today arguably considered the most literarily and intellectually fruitful period of post-20th century China. These intellectuals were obsessed in their writings with a call for change and progress in Chinese society in the wake of the age-old Confucian tradition that they hoped would be wiped out with the fall of the Dynastic system. These traditional ideals were considered backwards and outmoded because they promoted social and economic hierarchy and the conformity of everyone to the same set of ideas, as well as total subservience of women to men and other such mandates that ultimately gave all societal power and voice to wealthy men. Republican-era intellectuals, on the other hand, were both inspired by the intellectual freedom to pursue many different ideologies that they observed in Western literature and highly influenced by Marxism with regard to their social and economic thought. One of the major ways in which they pushed for change in China was through trying to incorporate Western ideas into the structure and ideology of Chinese society.[3]

Before the Republican Era, “children’s literature” as a genre had not really existed as such in China. Rather, children were expected to read a series of increasingly challenging books that were central to Confucian philosophy. Other books for children existed outside of these as well, but like the Confucian Classics, they were intended primarily as educational tools to teach children about Confucianism (Farquhar, 1999, p. 14-16). The books that children did read for fun were often illicit—they read them without their parents’ knowledge—and were not intended for children (p. 17). Essentially, there was no real distinction between “children’s literature” and “adult literature” because ancient China had no concept of “childhood,” or in other words of the child as being completely different from an adult in terms of his or her needs and desires—children were simply considered immature adults (p. 18-19). Republican-era intellectuals, however, were fascinated by the Western conception of the child’s world as being a completely separate entity from the adult’s, and therefore worthy of its own set of literature, films, games, and so on (p. 25). Wanting to instill this same sense of the uniqueness of the child into Chinese society, these intellectuals pushed for the creation of a new body of Chinese children’s literature to “displace the important role of the Confucian classics in children’s education” (p. 4). In other words, they agreed that the best way to shut out the adverse influence of Confucian tradition from children was to expose them to a body of literature addressed to them that taught values they considered essential for modernization, such as open-mindedness, social equality and fairness, and freedom of thought.

However, this group of intellectuals quickly became divided as to how they perceived the ultimate goal and framework of the concept of the “children’s world” that they were trying to define. Lu Xun, among others, saw children’s literature as a vehicle through which to convey to children, whom he saw as China’s greatest hope for salvation, the problems of Chinese society caused by the chaos in the aftermath of the fall of the Dynastic system combined with the persistence of Confucian thought. To him, therefore, the role of children’s literature was primarily social (p. 43). Children’s literature written by intellectuals of this school is often bleak and depressing, depicting realistically the many plights of the Chinese, particularly the poor Chinese. The hope was that children would be inspired by these sad visions of their reality to go forth and change their surroundings for the better.[4]

Another school of intellectuals, however, spearheaded by Lu Xun’s equally prolific brother Zhou Zuoren (1885-1967), believed that the children’s world was one of purity and innocence that should not be tainted by the ugly face of reality that adults faced (p. 92). Therefore, literature from this school tended to be full of sentiments such as tenderness and love.[5] This conflict is quite similar to one that arose in the field of children’s literature in the United States in the early twentieth century (Lepore, 2008), suggesting that perhaps this is a conflict that is not culture-specific but common in discussions worldwide concerning what the nature of children’s literature should be—naturally, though, such a conclusion in light of the evidence given is purely speculative. In any case, Chinese debates on the subject differed from American ones in that there was yet a third school, the Revolutionary school, which promoted children’s literature that was heavily political and advocated values of the Communist movement that was burgeoning at the time. Finally, there was the old school of Confucian “children’s” literature, which continued to persist in this period, and actually seems from an analysis of book sales at the time to have remained the best-selling kind of “children’s” literature. This is not surprising—traditions that are thousands of years old do not typically depart without a fight (Farquhar, 1999, p. 129-130). Ultimately, due in part to the fact that Mao Zedong, who would be highly influential in China from 1949 onward, more or less agreed with Lu Xun regarding his view of children’s literature as primarily a social tool, this was the perspective that was to dominate children’s literature in China until the contemporary period (p. 93).

Now that the period in which Lu Xun wrote has been contextualized within the frameworks of the history of children’s literature in China as well as that of early-twentieth century movements toward modernization, I can proceed to examine my argument that Lu Xun’s metaphor of traditional Chinese society as a carnivorous terrorizer is used throughout his writings specifically to highlight his concern for the way in which this society victimizes children, rather than simple Chinese people in general. It is no secret that Lu Xun and many other intellectuals of the period were deeply invested in the education and upbringing of children. According to Jones, this “massive investment in the figure of the child…hinges on…an immaculate conception of history, a conception in which the child is figured as an agent of national redemption” (2011, p. 105). In other words, Jones claims that Republican-era intellectuals were attentive to children with a reverence comparable to that for a sacred figure, so invested were they in these children as Chinese society’s main potential of revitalization and liberation from traditional society. Lu Xun and other intellectuals saw adults as hopelessly handicapped, made either listless and apathetic or narrow-minded, if not both, by the crushing rigidity of Confucian tradition that had weighed upon them all their lives. Children, therefore, became symbols of hope for a better future. They were innocent, and had not yet been thoroughly chained by the shackles of traditional society. Were they raised to believe in Republican ideas of freedom of thought and social equality, they were certain to create a more modernized society in their futures.

This dependence on children as the heralders of a brighter future, at least for Lu Xun, was steeped in his vision of the world as governed by Evolutionary Theory, newly introduced to China at that time along with many other Western ideas. Lu Xun applied the idea of genetic mutations leading to improvements within species that was core to Darwinism beyond the evolution of different animals to the progress of Chinese society itself. He believed that older generations of Chinese people had been made weak and apathetic due to their many years’ of subservience to suffocating Confucian doctrine. Educating children to believe and to behave differently would literally eradicate these undesirable traits from the Chinese gene pool, gradually improving Chinese society as a whole (Farquhar, 1999, 60-61). I evoke this evolutionary foregrounding of his beliefs to emphasize the degree to which, throughout much of his life, Lu Xun conceived of children as literally the saviors of a China that he considered backwards and outmoded.

Lu Xun’s conception of children as the saviors of China and his often-used metaphor of traditional societal values as an evil, carnivorous consumer of Chinese people actually has been linked before by both Jones and Farquhar, who in their respective works analyze the potential of Lu Xun’s first short story “A Madman’s Diary” to serve as a representation of Lu Xun’s view of the role of children in China’s progress. The story is actually the alleged diary of a madman who insists that humans secretly eat each other, and is thus fearful of everybody he meets, including some children whom he thinks are sizing him up as prey (Lu, 1972, p. 41). At one point, he pages through a few Confucian classics in despair and laments that they instruct people to eat each other (p. 42), drawing a direct link between cannibalism and Confucian doctrine that would inform this metaphor throughout the rest of Lu Xun’s work.[6]  At the very end of the story, the madman realizes that his brother, while feeding him, has probably been sneaking human flesh into his food, so that he, too, is culpable. Despairing, the story ends with a now-famous injunction: “Perhaps there are still childen who haven’t eaten men? Save the children…” (p. 51). Seeing that even he himself is lost to the cannibalistic ways of the four-thousand year old tradition of cannibalism that precedes him, the madman turns to children as the only means of salvation for the Chinese people.

Farquhar concludes in her work that the story can be considered a call to action to save the Chinese nation through the creation of a new body of children’s literature and through new education methods to guide children toward an enlightened view of living that would improve Chinese society (1999, p. 57). It is evident in this story that Lu Xun’s narrator, while conceding that the Confucian cannibalistic tradition gobbles up everybody, draws particular attention to the children who have been consumed and demonstrates concern that children be protected from future ravaging by this Confucian tradition’s hearty appetite. My argument is to extend this connection of Lu Xun’s metaphor of Confucian tradition as cannibalistic to his concern that children be protected from its advances to his use of the same metaphor in other writings, which perhaps because it is not as explicitly stated as in the above story has been observed much less frequently.

            The second major example of Lu Xun’s work in which the metaphor of Confucian tradition as cannibalistic appears is in the short story “Medicine (药)” (1919), which takes place in the early years of the twentieth century before the Qing Dynasty, China’s last, was overthrown. In this work, a father buys a special kind of traditional Chinese medicine whose seller tells him that it is guaranteed to cure his young ailing son. The traditional medicine is a roll of steamed bread that is filled with blood. The parents, full of hope, feed this to their son, but he only gets worse, and eventually dies (1972, p. 58-67). This story, like “Diary of a Madman,” links the metaphor of Confucian tradition as cannibalistic to a profound concern for the future and well-being of children and youth. Immediately before the father receives the steamed bread dripping with blood, he sees some kind of commotion; it is a group of people, gathered together, looking at something he cannot see (1972, p. 59). Later on, he learns from a customer at the restaurant he and his wife run that the commotion was in fact the execution of a young man who had been a revolutionary, calling for an overthrow of the Dynastic system (1972, p. 63-64).

This information reveals that Lu Xun has wound his favorite metaphor of Confucian tradition as cannibal into this story in a complex and powerful manner. The young revolutionary who was executed can be seen as a youth who was consumed by the Confucian traditional society, symbolized by the officials who carried out his arrest and execution.[7] Because the father received the steamed bun immediately after the execution took place, it is implied in the story that the blood in the bun is that of the revolutionary. In fact, as much is admitted by the customer who is gossiping about the affair, since he remarks that the father got a lot out of the revolutionary’s execution (p. 63). Therefore, the father’s young son eating the steamed bun full of the young revolutionary’s blood, an unwitting act of cannibalism, represents that even the young son has now been pulled into all-consuming and stifling Confucian tradition. Just as the young son’s complicity with and perpetuation of Confucian traditon is symbolized by his consumption of the young revolutionary’s blood, the act itself represents a persistence of what Lu Xun would have considered an outmoded and backwards concept—the parents are attempting to cure the young boy through an unproven and seemingly horrific “traditional method,” rather than by relying on modern Western science and medicine to help cure their son.[8]

Ultimately, their son still dies, another victim to the superstitious and outmoded beliefs underlying traditional Chinese society. His death reinforces Lu Xun’s anxiety about what might happen to children who are not protected from the ravages of traditional society. It was precisely this kind of perpetuation of traditional society that he was hoping to avoid through instating a new body of children’s literature that would both enlighten children and arm them against being drawn in by superstitions and outmoded ideas. This story is thus clearly an instance in which the metaphor of Confucian tradition as cannibal pinpoints not simply the victimizing of Chinese people in general, but rather specifically the tradition’s horrific effects on China’s children and youth. It therefore should be understood in terms of the larger framework of Lu Xun’s investment in the creation of a new body of children’s literature.

The final major example of Lu Xun’s use of the metaphor of Confucian tradition as a carnivorous predator occurs in his short story “New-Year’s Sacrifice (祝福)”(1924).  This story’s narrator, observing a beggar whom he once knew named Xianglin Sao, chronicles her fall from grace. Although forced into an arranged marriage, she grows to love her husband and enjoys a happy, simple smalltown life with him and their young son. Her misfortunes begin when her husband dies of typhoid fever. After her husband dies, she loses track of her toddler son one day, who wanders away and is eaten by a wolf. (1972, p. 180). This final loss drives her into a dark realm of guilt-ridden feelings. She therefore becomes irritating to the other townspeople because she talks about nothing except the day that her son was eaten by a wolf, convinced that it happened because of her negligence as a mother (1972, p. 183). Furthermore, because she has encountered so much sorrow in her life, townspeople start to avoid her on the superstitious premises that she will bring bad luck to them. Eventually, she is unable to find work or compassion anywhere, since people fear having relations with her, and has to resort to becoming a beggar and living on the streets (1972, p. 187). On the eve of Chinese New Year’s, the most festive holiday in China, when families are tucked away in their warm homes feasting and sacrificing rich dishes of food to the ancestors, Xianglin Sao dies alone in the snowy cold. Nobody except the narrator seems to give her parting a second thought. Even then, the narrator ultimately concludes that perhaps it was for the best that she died (1972, p. 173-174).

            This story is often noted for the irony that its title, “New-Year’s Sacrifice,” suggests. Though the townspeople of the story are preoccupied with making sure to please their ancestors, who are already dead, by serving them extravagent foods and avoiding bearers of misfortune like Xianglin Sao, they think that to deny a flesh-and-blood woman compassion, companionship, or even scraps of food is perfectly natural because of superstition. Lu Xun’s title thus refers not to the food prepared for the ancestors, but rather to Xianglin Sao herself, who has been sacrificed at the altar of these traditional superstitious beliefs. This imagery once again evokes the image of traditional Chinese beliefs as preying on helpless Chinese people—Xianglin Sao is figuratively offered up as food to the ancestors, who represent the epitome of tradition.

However, though the story’s focus on Xianglin Sao, who is not a child, cannot be debated, the particular manner in which Xianglin Sao’s son dies also cannot be ignored. The figure of evil in many Western fairy tales, which were at this time being read and translated in China by Lu Xun and other intellectuals, is often a wolf, or at the very least a generic beast of some kind. Thus, the choice to have the child die specifically by being eaten by a wolf might suggest the fairy-tale-like idea of the wolf not as simply a wolf, but as an entity representative of some kind of incarnate evil. In this case, the story of what happens to Xianglin Sao after her son’s death indicates that the evil the wolf represents is precisely the same beast that kills her—traditional Chinese society.

Furthermore, Jones explains in his study that there was a proliferation of texts for children at this time, both translations from the West and original works, that contained episodes of children and beasts interacting together, a literary plot device that was radical in China but which was already by this point several centuries old in the West. Jones contextualizes the popularity of these kinds of interactions in literature within the framework of Evolutionary thinking popular among Lu Xun and other intellectuals of the time, who envisioned children as representing a liminal space between the primitive nature of beasts and the developed, refined nature of mankind (2011, p. 81-82). This reinforces the idea of the child as the key to the progress of Chinese society. As representing a liminal space between beast and man, children needed to be educated in such a way as to draw them toward the progressive end of the evolutionary spectrum, rather than backwards into the bestiality of oppressive Confucian doctrine. Furthermore, the choice to use a trope common to a literary genre associated with children emphasizes the importance of children’s literature as a tool for conveying truths about the backwardness of traditional society and, conversely, the superiority of Republican-era ideas, according to intellectuals of the time. Although Lu Xun’s “New-Year’s Sacrifice” is not centered around a child victim of Confucian tradition, his choice to nevertheless include within the story the incident of the wolf eating the little boy, strongly reminiscent of fairy tales and their symbolism, serves as a warning in the background of Xianglin Sao’s story: if more work is not done to better provide and care for children, they too will encounter the same fate as Xianglin Sao, or rather her son, becoming prey to the figurative wolf of Confucian tradition. To Lu Xun, Confucian tradition’s successful conversion of Chinese children spells doom for progress in Chinese society.

            There is one major opposition that emerges as a potential argument against the symbolic relationship I am suggesting between Lu Xun’s metaphor of Confucian tradition as predator and his emphasis on the importance of creating a body of children’s literature and improving children’s education in order to bring about progress in China. This is namely the fact that Lu Xun himself was never entirely confident in his ideas of Evolutionary progress, including the idea of relying on children to enlighten China (Jones, 2011, p. 11). In fact, he became much more skeptical of this idea after 1927, when a clear shift emerged in his writing from advocating for children as entities separate from adults to a more Marxist schema which posited children simply as members of an oppressed class that needed to rebel against the over-fed bourgeosie in order to modernize Chinese society (Farquar, 1999, p. 42). A large part of Jones’s book is dedicated to exploring Lu Xun’s continual wavering between acceptance and refusal of his theory of Evolutionary progress, and with it his conception of children as untainted saviors of China. Jones actually provides a new interpretation of the above-mentioned story “A Madman’s Diary,” in which he suggests that the final words “Save the children!” are not a call to literally save the children from backwards Confucian tradition through liberal education and a new body of children’s literature, but rather are meant to question the validity of the belief that children, even with these benfits, would ever actually have this power to save China. Jones comes to this conclusion by referring to an earlier part of the story in which the madman spots several children who seemingly have already been converted to cannibalism, and whom he thinks are sizing him up as potential prey (Lu, 1972, p. 41). Juxtaposing the injunction to save the children against this image of youth who are clearly on the side of tradition in the story, Jones argues, illustrates the potential absurdity of the claim that children have some kind of special potential to save China (Jones, 2011, p. 110).

While I understand Jones’s perspective, I still feel it is also possible to read the final words of “A Madman’s Diary” as a call to action and an expression of hope that children still may be able to become enlightened through education and literature, therefore saving China. The madman specifically writes, “Perhaps there are still children who haven’t eaten men? Save the children…[emphasis added]” (1972, p. 51). The use of these modifiers “perhaps” and “still” indicate that the narrator exhibits hope, however meek, that not all children have been lost to traditional society, and that some innocent ones may still be left who can be educated in modern ideology through children’s literature and modernized methods of upbringing. Nevertheless, both Farquhar’s and Jones’s representative interpretations of the text are equally valid—the “perhaps” and “still” could be read as exhibiting sarcasm or bitterness, rather than hope, especially in light of the earlier scene involving children described above. This indicates Lu Xun’s own ambivalence about the idea of children as saviors. However, Lu Xun’s ambivalence toward this idea does not change the fact that at various points in his life, he was a strong believer in a new body of literature and educational system for children in China as inextricably tied up with the progress of the nation. It therefore is not at all unlikely that, at the times he wrote the stories that contain strong cannibalistic or otherwise carnivorous imagery to connote Confucian doctrine, he was concerned in particular about the effects of this doctrine on children, and wrote these metaphors to reflect that concern.

Lu Xun’s metaphor of traditional Confucian society as a predator, then, should be seen not simply as a warning to all people to be wary of its influence, but to children in particular. This is  emphasized by the prevalence of imagery of children being consumed, or else themselves consumers, in one form or another in every major instance in Lu Xun’s fiction where the metaphor of consuming is used. This is important because, while Lu Xun’s casting of Confucian society as carnivorous has often been discussed, it has not usually, if ever, been considered within the larger framework of his concern with the status of children’s education and literature in China outside of the story “A Madman’s Diary,” even though this connection is relevant to this metaphor in its use across all of his writing. A greater recognition that this metaphor represents not simply a general concern about traditional society’s effect on Chinese people, but also a very specific concern about the well-being of children in China, will hopefully reinforce the arguments Jones and Farquhar have already put forth concerning the central importance of creating a new body of children’s literature to Lu Xun’s overall conception of how Chinese society should modernize.

Unfortunately, the importance of instating a culture of children’s literature to Lu Xun remains mostly undiscussed in Lu Xun scholarship, due both to emphasis on his incredible accomplishments in the field of adult literature and to a general prejudice in academia, at least in the field of literary studies, against the study of children’s literature as somehow not as valuable as that of the adult variety. On the contrary, as Farquhar argues in her introduction, because children’s literature is intended for the youngest generation of a given society, its nature and form provide essential clues to what kinds of ideologies that society wants to encourage or discourage in it youth. It therefore has the ability to provide all kinds of insights into a society’s educational, political, and social perspectives, as well as others (1999, p. 3). Despite this bias, a rich body of scholarship has grown up around children’s literature in the West, but this remains to be done in China.

The field of children’s literature blossomed in China from the time Lu Xun was active until 1957, seven years after the Communist takeover, and is well-documented in Farquhar’s study. However, in the period from 1957 to 1976, which encompasses the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the government increasingly controlled all media production. Literature reached a point where the publication of children’s literature all but ceased, and all literature became simply tools of promoting Maoist ideology.[9] However, it seems that nobody, at least in the Western-language-speaking world, has undertaken a comprehensive study of contemporary children’s literature, which began to blossom again after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Thus, very little is available to scholars wishing to develop a greater understanding of the current situation of children’s literature in China. Hopefully this paper can serve as one small attempt to reinforce the importance that children’s literature held in the eyes of one highly-respected literary figure, and in so doing, begin to pave the way for more attention to be paid to contemporary Chinese children’s literature as a method toward better understanding contemporary Chinese culture and society.

 

Reference List

Bing Xin (1932). Ji Xiao Du Zhe [To the Young Readers]. Hong Kong: Xianggang Wanli
Shudian Chuban.

Farquhar, Mary Ann (1999). Children’s Literature in China: From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong.

Armonk, London: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

Jones, Andrew (2011). Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese

Culture. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press.

Lepore, Jill (2008). The Lion and the Mouse. The New Yorker.

Lu Xun (1972). Selected Works. (Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, trans.). Beijing: Foreign
Languages Press.

Lu Xun (2009). Capturing Chinese: Short Stories from Lu Xun’s Nahan. Kevin Nadolny (Ed.)
Capturing Chinese Publications.

Pollard, David (2002). The True Story of Lu Xun. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

Ye Shengtao (1986). The Scarecrow: Stories for Children. Foreign Languages Press (Original
work published in 1923)


[1] When I describe the desire of Chinese society to “modernize” in this paper, what I mainly mean is “Westernize.” Chinese intellectuals of Lu Xun’s time period thought that the adaptation of ideas from the West was crucial for progress in Chinese society. I do not use the term “Westernization,” however, because it was not quite so simple—these intellectuals wanted to adapt Western ideals as part of the creation of a new Chinese national identity, as is indicated by many of their writings.

[2] See Jones (2011), who in writing almost an entire book about the role of the child and children’s literature in Lu Xun’s conception of China’s modernization, argues for children’s literature as central to Lu Xun’s idea of how China would modernize. This essay is an attempt to reinforce this suggestion by linking Lu Xun’s commonly-used metaphor of the carnivorousness of traditional Chinese society to his concern for children.

[3] This information is not specifically cited because it is common knowledge within the field of China Studies, and is discussed in dozens, if not hundreds, of texts. For an introduction to this history through the life of Lu Xun, which might be useful for a better understanding of the context of this paper specifically, see Pollard (2002)

[4] For an example, see Ye Shengtao’s (1894-1988) famous fairytale “The Scarecrow (稻草人)” (1923). This fairytale contains depictions of a woman committing suicide by jumping into a river and a mother who is so poor she cannot feed her starving child, just to name a few of the wretched characters who make an appearance. The story does not end happily for any of them.

[5] For an example, see Bing Xin’s “To the Young Readers (寄小读者)” (1932)

[6] It actually is part of Confucian doctrine that children should be filial to their parents to the extent of cutting off their own flesh to feed them, if need be. In addition, there are various incidents throughout ancient Chinese history, as described in ancient Chinese records, in which human bodies or parts of human bodies were eaten in times of starvation during war and as punishment for criminals. See the footnotes of Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman.” It is therefore likely that Lu Xun’s articulation of Confucian tradition as cannibalistic is inspired by these scattered actual incidents of cannibalism that occurred in China’s traditional Confucian society.

[7] According to an annotated edition of the original Chinese collection of short stories of which this was one, the time at which this execution would have taken place according to the text, as well as Lu Xun’s choice of name for the  young revolutionary character, point to it representing an actual historical incident in which the revolutionary who was executed was very young, around 19 or 20, which fits into the definiton of a “child” as one between the ages of 1 and 20 that was current in China at that time. See Nadolny’s annotated version of the original Lu Xun stories (2009) for the historical context and Farquhar (1999, p. 124) for the definition of what constituted “childhood” in terms of age in China at the time.

[8] Lu Xun has a long history of opposing traditional Chinese medical methods. He discusses at length in an essay that he first grew to suspect traditional methods of curing when his father died of an illness despite having had many traditional medicines administered to him (Lu, 1972, p. 33). In fact, in his youth he went to Japan to study medicine, thinking to remedy what he saw as China’s ailing society through helping to introduce Western medical practice into the country. He later decided to become a writer instead because he determined that China’s ailment was primarily spiritual, not physical, and that the best way to fix spiritual ailing was through writing (Lu, 1972, p. 35)

[9] See Farquhar for a detailed narrative and analysis of the trajectory of children’s literature in China until 1976.

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