Lu Xun

Lu Xun

One of the greatest Chinese writers of the 20th century is remembered for his influence over writing style


Lu Xun_L
Artwork by Henry Wong


Quick Facts

Profession: writer

Famous for: prose written in everyday language, and for championing a new China

Born: September 25, 1881, Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, China

Died: October 19, 1936, Shanghai, China

Married: Xu Guangping


Early years

Find words that mean: be distributed, centre, doubtful about, incident, got worse

Lu Xun was born with the name Zhou Zhangshou to an educated, but not wealthy, family. His hometown, Shaoxing, was in a region of China known as Jiangnan. It had long been China's cultural heartland.

Lu's grandfather was a famous scholar. Lu's father was also an educated man. But when he didn't pass some exams, Lu's grandfather bribed a local official to get him into a job.

Lu's grandfather was arrested. At first, he was sentenced to death, but this was changed to a jail sentence. The episode left Lu's father depressed. As his health declined, Lu frequently had to find traditional Chinese medicines made from herbs. They had little effect, and the experience left Lu sceptical of traditional remedies for the rest of his life.

When he was 17, Lu went to study at Jiangnan Naval Academy. It was here he learned of the modern, Western ideas that were starting to spread in China. The failure of Chinese medicine to cure his father made him want to study modern medicine.

In 1902, Lu won a scholarship to study in Japan. He went to Tokyo first to study Japanese, then to Sendai Medical Academy, where he was the first foreign student.

"Just because it's always been that way, does that make it right?"

Curing social ills

Find words that mean the opposite: spiritual, established, released, begin

Lu didn't complete his studies in Japan. After two years at the medical school, he had an experience that changed his career plans.

Japan and Russia were at war over who controlled Manchuria, an area of what is now northeast China. Lu saw a slideshow on a Chinese national who was captured by the Japanese and accused of spying for the Russians. The Japanese executed him. Lu was shocked by the pictures of Chinese people who had come to watch the execution for entertainment.

Lu decided that the spirit of his people was not healthy. He realised curing their spirit was more important than curing their physical illnesses. But he didn't go back immediately. He stayed in Tokyo, where he started writing essays and translating Western literature and scientific writings from Japanese into Chinese.

When Lu eventually returned to China in 1909, the country was going through a lot of changes. He returned to his hometown and worked as a teacher.

In 1911, the Nationalist Revolution toppled the Qing dynasty. Lu became dean of Shaoxing Normal College. His first act was to tell all the students to cut off their queues - the ponytails all men had to wear under the Manchu Qing dynasty.

The next year he moved to Beijing.

Man of letters

Choose the right option

For intellectuals like Lu, the 1911 Revolution was a huge disappointment. The country's new leader made himself a virtual

Lu's reaction was to write a work of fiction written in colloquial Chinese. It was called Diary of a Madman and he used his pen name, Lu Xun, for the first time. The book was a powerful attack on Chinese traditions and feudalism.

Lu continued to attack what he thought were outdated Chinese traditions in his writing. In The True Story of Ah Q, a man believes he is better than the powers that are him. He lies to himself throughout the story before being executed for a petty crime. Ah Q represented how Lu felt about the character of Chinese people. The story revealed his feelings about how the government was preventing China from .

Lu spent his last years in Shanghai, and died of tuberculosis in 1936. Towards the end of his life, he no longer felt that literature could lead to change. But he is remembered as the most writer associated with the struggle for a strong, modern China. Even the Chinese Communist Party regards Lu as a revolutionary writer, although he was never a member.

True or false?

To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 Lu Xun was born in Shanghai.
2 Lu Xun started writing in Japan.
3 Lu Xun returned to China and worked as a doctor.
4 Lu Xun was a member of the Chinese Communist Party.



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