Today marks the anniversary of the death of Lu Xun, arguably the greatest Chinese writer of the 20th century. 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 in 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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Lies written in ink can not cover facts written in blood.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Just because it’s always been [this way], is it correct?”
“Beasts always walk alone. Only flocks and herds need to gather in crowds.”
“The true warriors dares to face up to the misery of life and confront the dripping blood.”
Cover image of Pu Cunxin as the title character from the movie Lu Xun (2005)