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  • Jottings under Lamplight: Lu Xun ed. by Eileen J. Cheng, Kirk A. Denton
  • Paul B. Foster (bio)
Eileen J. Cheng and Kirk A. Denton, editors. Jottings under Lamplight: Lu Xun. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2017. viii, 329 pp. Hardcover $35.00, isbn 978-0-674-74425-7.

Lu Xun’s cultural critique has remained relevant throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century in part because his person has been posthumously canonized as the “the father of modern Chinese literature” (p. 2) but also because such caustic critique of Chinese culture in many manifestations cannot or dare not be replicated. Lu Xun thus eludes the censorship of which any lesser cultural figure might run afoul. Jottings under Lamplight: Lu Xun is a book of translations of important Lu Xun essays and prefaces which elucidate both this cultural critique and moreover humanize Lu Xun through self-reflection on his own foibles and misgivings related through autobiographical essays and prefaces.

Jottings begins with an “Editors’ Introduction” and is followed by two parts, “Self-Reflections” and “Reflections on Culture.” Part 1: Self-Reflections is composed of two sections with twelve and eight translations, respectively. Part 2: Reflections on Culture is composed of three sections containing [End Page 151] fourteen essays each. Altogether, there are sixty-two translations, most of which are newly retranslated for this collection. Each section spans Lu Xun’s topically related essays starting in 1918 and extending up to his death in 1936. The book is thus not chronological from section to section, per se, but the translations within each section are generally ordered chronologically, which is helpful in tracing the development of Lu Xun’s thought vis-à-vis the particular topic of the section. The editors note that this approach helps “shed light on formative experiences shaping his worldview and sensibilities” while concurrently providing “valuable insights in to the cultural currents of Lu Xun’s time” (p. 7). The length of the translations varies from one-half page to thirteen pages. A total of fourteen experienced translators, indeed denizens of academia, are involved in this project, with a core of five to six translators, which includes co-editor Eileen J. Cheng, accounting for a significant part of the translations (Cheng clocks in at 17 translations herself). Chinese characters are used only under the title of each translation and in an appendix section titled “Lu Xun’s Oeuvre” (p. 315).

By design, this book does not include Lu Xun’s creative fiction, but rather his essays, some of which are prefaces to his fiction. The editors note that these essays continue the biting satire of his creative works and thus may be considered a “creative genre” in themselves, a genre of which Lu Xun alone excelled and which still stands unassailable in critique of modern China of the twentieth century.

Editors’ Introduction: Lu Xun, the In-Between Critic

The “Editors’ Introduction” is brief and lays out two specific aspirations for this new collection of translations, to “provide lucid and accurate translations for specialists and allow a more general readership access to Lu Xun’s works beyond his two short story collections” (p. 7). These goals are understated in terms of potential impact. Although specialists have access to the works in their original Chinese, the editors’ aspiration is laudable in as much as improved accuracy could provide specialists a “go-to” translation when writing in English. Being of high quality in both their faithfulness to the original and well-crafted English, these new translations may have a unifying affect for Lu Xun analysis and discussion in the English language. Secondly, higher quality translations will also have the second level salutatory impact of enhancing the teaching and of Lu Xun’s works and the discourse of modern Chinese literature as filtered down to non-Chinese literate audiences. Thirdly, the organization of the works selected here will stimulate and direct students also studying Chinese language to further investigate the original texts in Chinese. While the essays selected for translation are appropriately predictable, the editors start with “Self-Reflections” in what appears to be a bit of myth-busting, as it were, through the organization of...


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pp. 151-158
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