- Lu Xun’s Revolution: Writing in a Time of Violence by Gloria Davies, and: Literary Remains: Death, Trauma, and Lu Xun’s Refusal to Mourn by Eileen J. Cheng
Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881-1936) is the most prominent writer in modern Chinese literary history, and his work has for decades generated much scholarship, first in China and then elsewhere in the world. The first book-length study of Lu Xun was undertaken by Li Changzhi 李長之 as early as 1935.1 In 1944, Takeuchi Yoshimi 竹内好 wrote his famous book on Lu Xun, which still inspires readers today.2 In the English-speaking world, when T. A. Hsia ventured to discuss the “dark side” of Lu Xun in 1964, he brought about a paradigmatic shift, opposing the apotheosis of Lu Xun in leftist discourse.3 Leo Ou-fan Lee’s Voice from the Iron House, published in 1987, remains to date the most comprehensive review of Lu Xun as a writer and a revolutionary.4 Whereas William Lyell depicts a conflicting vision of Lu Xun’s realism (Lu Hsün’s Vision of Reality, 1976),5 Jon Kowallis brings to light the “subtle revolution” Lu Xun launched in modernizing classical poetics (The Lyrical Lu Xun, 1995).6 Eva Shan Chou’s recent book further presents an intertextual tapestry of Lu Xun’s writing and Chinese life (Memory, Violence, Queues: Lu Xun Interprets China, 2012).7 It is within this critical genealogy that we welcome two new Lu Xun studies, Lu Xun’s [End Page 467] Revolution: Writing in a Time of Violence by Gloria Davies, and Literary Remains: Death, Trauma, and Lu Xun’s Refusal to Mourn by Eileen Cheng.
Both books demonstrate their authors’ efforts to engage Lu Xun by calling attention to aspects of the master hitherto overlooked by the field. Davies seeks to reveal the “later phase” of Lu Xun’s life, from his increased involvement in politics during the late 1920s to his passing in 1936. Cheng looks into Lu Xun’s attachment to tradition despite his avowed antitraditionalist agenda. Both authors deserve praise for their meticulous textual analysis and provocative critical approach. Davies movingly describes the way Lu Xun negotiated his ideological conversion and his inborn skepticism toward any established values and ponders his legacy as a writer amid the revolutionary calls to arms. She particularly looks into Lu Xun’s zawen 雜文, or polemical essays, treating them as a site of contestation for language, political dynamics, and literary representation. In contrast, Cheng digs into the dialectic core—of both Lu Xun’s oeuvre and his life—where modernity manifests its rhizomic roots in tradition and the past casts unlikely light on the future. Above all, Cheng portrays a Lu Xun who was as much devastated as enchanted by the lure of trauma and spectrality.
The first four chapters of Davies’s book cover the years from 1927 to 1936, one of the most volatile periods in modern Chinese history, which was marked by the fiasco of the First Chinese Communist Revolution, the internecine fight among the leftist cliques, the rise of the League of Leftist Writers, the intervention of the Soviet leadership, and the Nationalist crackdown against the Communist base in Jiangxi, followed by the Long March and the dissolution of the League. It was against such a tumultuous background that Lu Xun came to terms with his politics of writing. As Davies describes, “the unbounded nature of language preoccupied Lu Xun and led him . . . to present the act of writing as an attempt to wrest something meaningful from an otherwise infinite flux of the sayable and writable” (p. 20). Although many facts in her discussion will be familiar to Lu Xun scholars, particularly those in China, she manages to weave them into the overarching theme she probes at the outset...