Between the 19th and 20th centuries China was devastated by a series of internal and external wars.
The great Chinese empire was crumbling, and foreign powers were fighting to control it.
During these uprisings, in 1881, Zhou Shuren, later known as Lu Xun the father of modern Chinese literature, was born.
He came from a well-off family who initiated his classical education, however, two unfortunate events prevented him from continuing: his grandfather’s imprisonment and his father’s illness.
When his father died the family became bankrupt and being the oldest male, young Lu Xun found himself thrown into the adult world.
He continued his studies in several national technical schools and won a scholarship to study abroad. He went to Japan.
Initially he chose medicine, later he realised that as a doctor he would not be able to save his people from lethargy: he needed a stronger instrument, he therefore chose literature.
During his life he approached the communist thought without ever adhering to it, but it was the communists who made him famous throughout the nation.
Lu Xun died in 1936, but his influence reached its apex during the Cultural Revolution (which began in 1966) when it was second only to that of Mao himself.
Mao was such a great admirer of Lu Xun that he called him “lord” as an extraordinary exception – in fact, the term had been banned because it differentiated social classes.
He had fought all his life to free his people from imperial oppression, to only find himself being one of the symbols of a different oppression; his words that indicated the truth were used to accuse the old regime and justify the new.
Although I wasn’t aware of it in the beginning, now that I know I’m someone with four thousand years’ experience of cannibalism behind me.
They fed on Lu Xun until nothing remained of him except an empty name that echoed from mouth to mouth: men, women and children did not spare him.
“Lu Xun” became a political term: the Chinese would cite him constantly; his name followed by “he says” gave truth to their speech. They fed on Lu Xun until nothing remained of him except an empty name that echoed from mouth to mouth: men, women and children did not spare him. Not even the children so dear to him.
Maybe there are still children who have not eaten human flesh.
Save the children…
These are the last lines of A Madman’s Diary, a short story that reveals how the values of the society of his time devoured people’s individuality, a story that was primarily present during the Cultural Revolution and yet was never banned.
He was the first Chinese vernacular writer, and he was the only Chinese writer admitted by the regime during the Cultural Revolution, that Mao loved. Lu Xun’s writings were preserved by a regime that he would later abhor with all of his might, a regime that abolished individual identity once again.
A regime that, before coming to power, was favoured by the author.
With the failure of the Cultural Revolution the writer’s reputation was tarnished: many criticised him and many forgot him, but not everyone. His – ever so incisive stories – survived every change.
Lu Xun’s words still echo in us today, at a time when mass identity has taken over the individual.
Moonlight’s really nice tonight. Haven’t seen it in over thirty years. Seeing it today, I feel like a new man. I know now that I’ve been completely out of things for the last three decades or more.
But I’ve still got to be very careful. Otherwise, how do you explain those dirty looks the Zhao family’s dog gave me? I’ve got good reason for my fears.
 Yu Hua, China in Ten Words, Pantheon Books, USA 2011
 Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, University of Hawaii Press, USA 1990, p. 41
 Watered with blood, China’s grass thickens, / This great frozen land starts flourishing Spring flowers. / Prowess of the powerful cowardly opposers, / Tears streaming over sepulchres, while crows caw at dusk
This poem was translated by La Livella Magazine’s translator from its Italian version; therefore, the original English translation might be quite different.
 Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, University of Hawaii Press, USA 1990, pp. 28-29