BOOK REVIEW: A MADMAN’S DIARY Lu Xun

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    A Madman’s Diary is a short story published in 1918 by Lu Xun, a Chinese writer. Lu Xun was the pen name of Zhou Shuren (born 25 September 1881 – and died 19 October 1936). He was a Chinese writer, essayist, poet, a literary critic, and a leading figure of modern Chinese Literature. The history of Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature vernacular fiction novels that arose during the Ming dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese. It is also  known as Baihua, in the forms of written Chinese based on the varieties of Chinese spoken throughout China, in contrast to the Classical Chinese, the written standard used during imperial China up to the early twentieth century. A written vernacular based on the Mandarin Chinese was used in novels in the Ming and Ching dynasties, and later refined by intellectuals associated with the May Fourth Movement. A Chinese anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement which grew out of students protests in Beijing on 4 May 1919.

    The introduction of widespread woodblock printing during the Tang dynasty during the period (618–907) and the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng during (990–1051) during the Song dynasty between (960–1279) rapidly spread written knowledge throughout China. In more modern times, the author Lu Xun (1881–1936) is considered an influential voice of baihua literature in China.

    Writing in Vernacular Chinese and Classical Chinese, he was a short story writer, editor, translator, literary critic, essayist, poet, and designer. In the 1930s, he became the titular head of the League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai.

    Lu Xun was born into a family of landlords and government officials in, Zhejiang. The family’s financial resources declined over the course of his youth. Lu aspired to take the Imperial Civil Service Exam, but due to his family’s relative poverty he was forced to attend government-funded schools teaching Western education. Upon graduation, Lu went to medical school in Japan but later dropped out. He became interested in studying literature but was eventually forced to return to China because of his family’s lack of funds. After returning to China, Lu worked for several years teaching at local secondary schools and colleges before finally finding a job at the Republic of China, Ministry of Education.

    After the 1919 May Fourth Movement, Lu Xun’s writing began to exert a substantial influence on Chinese literature and popular culture. Like many leaders of the May Fourth Movement, he was primarily a leftist. He was highly acclaimed by the Chinese government after 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded. Mao Zedong himself became a lifelong admirer of Lu Xun’s writing. Though sympathetic to socialist ideas, Lu Xun never joined the Communist Party of China.

    ‘Diary of a Madman’ was the first and most influential modern work written in vernacular Chinese in the republican era, and became a cornerstone piece of the New Culture Movement. It is placed first in Call to Arms, a collection of short stories by Lu Xun. The story was often referred to as “China’s first modern short story”. This book was selected as one of the 100 best books in history by the Bokklubben World Library.

    The title ‘A Madman’s Diary’ of Lu Xun was inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Diary of a Madman”, as was the idea of the madman who sees reality more clearly than those around him. The “madman” sees “cannibalism” both in his family and the village around him, and he then finds cannibalism in the Confucian classics which had long been credited with a humanistic concern for the mutual obligations of society, and thus for the superiority of Confucian civilization. The story was read as an ironic attack on traditional Chinese culture and a call for a New Culture.

    Far from its success and dominance in Chinese literature, Lu Xun’s stories took five years before it was widely recognized as a notable piece of writing. Before he published the “Diary”, Lu Xun was hopeless and in complete despair. His state of mind was unknown to the readers while he was writing the “Diary”, except to the few individuals who were close to him. The theme of cannibalism, in notion of “eating oneself”, sparked intrigue and criticism among the readers due to its ambiguity and come across as very strong, controversial talking point. The author’s attempt to cure the cultural malaise exists in Chinese tradition through his writings was not easily embraced by the readers. However, the “unprecedented” nature of the story and its silent arrival captures the attention of many authors and spectators. Overall, it serves as an account of historical change and biting social satire. Lu Xun’s short stories were recognized as a significant work of Chinese modern classics, as it evokes a power struggle, social structure and issues in political sphere.

    The story presents itself as diary entries (in Vernacular Chinese) of a madman who, according to the foreword, written in Classical Chinese, has now been cured of his paranoia. After extensively studying the Four books and five classics of old Confucian culture, the diary writer, the supposed “madman”, begins to see the words “Eat People!” written between the lines of the texts (in classical Chinese texts, commentary was placed between the lines of the text, rather than in notes at the bottom of a page). Seeing the people in his village as potential man-eaters, he is gripped by the fear that everyone, including his brother, his venerable doctor and his neighbours, who are crowding about watching him, are harbouring cannibalistic thoughts on him. Despite the brother’s apparently genuine concern, the narrator still regards him as a big threat, as big as any stranger. Towards the end the narrator turns his concern to the younger generation, especially his late sister (who died when she was five) as he is afraid they will be cannibalized. By then he is convinced that his late sister had been eaten up by his brother, and that he himself might have unwittingly tasted her flesh.

The story ends with the famous line: “Save the children…”

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

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Our Publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 8 prestigious libraries of the US that includes Harvard College Library; Harvard University Library; Library of Congress; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven; University of Chicago; University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill University Libraries. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in libraries and archives of Canada, Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai; Jaipuria Institute of Management, Noida; India. Shoolini University, Yogananda Knowledge Center, Himachal Pradesh and Azim Premzi University, Bangalore).  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi; Available for reading in Indian National Bibliography, March 2016, in the literature section, in Central Reference Library, Ministry of Culture, India, Belvedere, Kolkata-700022)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be the undying characteristics of Lucknow. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014. It is included for reading in Askews and Holts Library Services, Lancashire, U.K; Herrick District Library, Holland and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, USA).

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

RHYTHM … in poems

(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)

MIRAGE

(Published in February 2020. The book is a collection of eight short stories available in Amazon, Flipkart and Notion Press)

Short stories and Articles published in Bhavan’s Journal: Reality and Perception, 15.10.19; Sending the Wrong Message, 31.5.20; Eagle versus Scholars June, 15 & 20 2020; Indica, 15.8.20; The Story of King Chitraketu, August 31 2020; Breaking Through the Chakravyuh, September 30 2020. The Questioning Spouse, October 31, 2020; Happy Days, November 15, 2020; The Karma Cycle of Paddy and Wheat, December 15,2020; Power Vs Influence, January 31, 2021; Three Refugees, March 15, 2021; Rise and Fall of Ajatashatru, March 31, 2021; Reformed Ruler, May 15, 2021; A Lasting Name, May 31, 2021; Are Animals Better Teachers?, June 16, 2021; Book Review: The Gram Swaraj, 1.7.21;

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

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