Photo Credit: Pu Cunxin as the title character from the 2005 movie “Lu Xun”

The Greatest Sayings of Lu Xun

Ten quotes from the 20th-century literary giant that tackle past—and present—Chinese society

Lu Xun, arguably the greatest Chinese writer of the 20th century, is considered the founding father of modern Chinese literature. Lu Xun had a huge influence not only on his own country’s literary movement but also its overall development.

Born on September 25, 1881, in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province,  Zhou Shuren (Lu Xun was a pen name) published his first short story, Diary of a Madman, in 1918. Known for his incisive style, Lu Xun was a master of irony and satire, but one can also find in his works deep empathy for the foolishness and apathy that he criticized in Chinese society.

Since many of his works are still compulsory reading in schools, almost every educated person can recall several of Lu Xun’s renowned sayings. Here are 10 quotes that show the literary master at his most penetrating—most of which are still relevant today.

  • 中国人的性情是总喜欢调和折中的,譬如你说,这屋子太暗,须在这里开一个窗,大家一定不允许的。但如果你主张拆掉屋顶他们就来调和,愿意开窗了。
    “As a nation, Chinese people like to compromise and mediate. For example, If you say, the room is too dark and we need to open a window, people will definitely not approve. But if you propose to remove the roof, they will begin to mediate. Then, everyone will agree to open a window.”

  • 我先前总以为人是有罪,所以枪毙或坐监的。现在才知道其中的许多,是先因为被人认为“可恶”,这才终于犯了罪。
    “Previously, I thought that people were executed or jailed because they are guilty. Now I know that many people commit crimes because they were already judged to be evil.”

  • 在中国,尤其是在都市里,倘使路上有暴病倒地,或翻车捽摔伤的人,路人围观或甚至高兴的人尽有,有肯伸手来扶助一下的人却是极少的。
    “In China, especially in the cities, if someone falls ill and collapses on the road, or meets with a traffic accident, many  passersby will stand around to watch and even enjoy themselves, but few will offer a helping hand.”

  • 从生活窘迫过来的人,一到了有钱,容易变成两种情形:一种是理想世界,替处同一境遇的人着想,便成为人道主义;一种是甚么都是自己挣起来,从前的遭遇,使他觉得甚么都是冷酷,便流为个人主义。我们中国大概是变成个人主义者多。
    “People who have experienced poverty may go in one of two different directions after they become rich: In the ideal world, they will care about others who are suffering, and become humanitarians; alternatively, they will believe that they earned everything by themselves, and their previous hardship convinces them that the world is cruel, so they become egotists. In China, there will probably be more of those who become egotists.”

  • 墨写的谎说,绝掩不住血写的事实。
    “Lies written in ink can not cover facts written in blood.”

  • 我独不解中国人何以于旧状况那么心平气和,于较新的机运就这么疾首蹙额;于已成之局那么委曲求全;于初兴之事就这么求全责备?
    “I don’t understand why Chinese people are so untroubled about the old circumstances, but so worried and depressed about new opportunities; why they compromise with the status quo, but demand perfection in emerging things.”

  • 面具戴太久,就会长到脸上,再想揭下来,除非伤筋动骨扒皮。
    “If you wear a mask for too long, it will grow onto your face. If you want to take it off again, you will have to tear your skin and break your bones.”

  • 从来如此,便对么?
    “Just because it’s always been [this way], is it correct?”

  • 猛兽总是独行,只有牛羊才成群结队。
    “Ferocious beasts always walk alone. Only cattle and sheep need to gather in herds.”

  • 真正的勇士敢于直面惨淡的人生,敢于正视淋漓的鲜血。
    “The true warriors dares to face up to the misery of life and confront the dripping blood.”

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