BEIJING — Once again, the early-20th-century writer Lu Xun, whose scathing critiques of the pre-revolutionary Chinese social order won him a place in the Chinese Communist pantheon, even though he himself was not a Marxist, has provided a popular phrase for much that is amiss in Chinatoday.
In recent weeks, “Zhao jia ren,” or “Zhao family,” from Lu Xun’s novella “The True Story of Ah Q,” has resurfaced as a disparaging term for China’s rich and politically well-connected.
Lu Xun or Lu Hsün (Wade-Giles), was the pen name of Zhou Shuren (25 September 1881 – 19 October 1936), a leading figure of modern Chinese literature. Writing in Vernacular Chinese as well as Classical Chinese, Lu Xun was a short story writer, editor, translator, literary critic, essayist, and poet. In the 1930s he became the titular head of the League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai.
Lu Xun was born into a family of landlords and government officials in Shaoxing, Zhejiang; the family’s financial resources declined over the course of his youth. Lu aspired to take the imperial civil service exam; but, due to his family’s relative poverty, was forced to attend government-funded schools teaching “Western education”. Upon graduation, Lu went to medical school in Japan, but later dropped out. He became interested in studying literature, but was eventually forced to return to China due to his family’s lack of funds. After returning to China, Lu worked for several years teaching at local secondary schools and colleges before finally finding a job at the national Ministry of Education.
After the 1919 May Fourth Movement, Lu Xun’s writing began to exert a substantial influence on Chinese literature and popular culture. Like many leaders of the May Fourth Movement, he was primarily a leftist and liberal. He was highly acclaimed by the Chinese government after 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded, and Mao Zedong himself was a lifelong admirer of Lu Xun’s writing. Though sympathetic to communist ideas, Lu Xun never joined the Chinese Communist Party.