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The Chinese Society from Lu Xun's Perspective

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Praying mantises, named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together at a specific angle that suggests the position of prayer. In fact, in China, the praying mantis has long been honored for their majestic and strategic movements. The mantis never makes a move unless it is absolutely sure that it is the correct movie. In the prime majority of cultures, the mantis is a symbol of stillness. What is even more interesting about praying mantises is their unique breeding nature. Although mantises eat all types of insects not limited, including moths, crickets, grasshoppers, and flies, are usually the unfortunate suspects of unwanted attention. However, these mantises or creatures will also eat others of their kind. The most well-known example of this is the notorious mating behavior of the adult female praying mantis, who sometimes eats her mate after, or even, during mating. However, this behavior still seems not to deter males from this cannibalistic nature and reproduction. Regards to Lu Xun, he has displayed a similar kind of nature in his stories.

To begin, Lu Xun points out that brothers, sisters, mothers of Chinese culture eating their own, but does not stop at people of society to disobey their ranks and respect their elders. Lu Xun illustrates this by his elder brother telling him “that if a man’s parents were ill he should cut off a piece of his flesh and boil it for them if he wanted to be considered a good son”. This exemplifies the doctrine of filial piety used by the feudal ruling class to poison the people preached that a son should, if necessary, cut off his flesh to feed his parents. Further, from a historical perspective, portraying how far Chinese people will respect people above and beyond their ranks even for cutting off a finger.

Taking a look back to the ancient and prehistoric times of Chinese history, respecting elders and people of higher ranks was and still is one of the most important values in Chinese society. Lu Xun conveys this when he is behind “the view beyond blocked by the ranks of backs and extended necks as if [there] were so many ducks, their heads stretched upwards by an invisible puppeteer… Give me the money and you’ll get the goods! A man dressed in black stood before Shuan, who shrank back from his cutting glare. Moreover, from a family perspective, grandfathers and grandmothers are considered to be the kings and queens of the household, the highest-ranking officials in the family. They can do what they want and wish as they please. With that said, being a subordinate in a family or society, subordinates do not question their superiors, and do what is expected and asked. On the other hand, Li Xun, known for his iconoclastic spirit and rejection of tradition, Xun exhibits this in the readings that obeying elders and people of higher ranks, no matter what is asked constitutes a key characteristic of Chinese society. But, attempts to believe that it is unnecessary to the point of eating people of kin, casts Chinese people in a completely negative way.

Throughout Lu Xun’s A Madman’s Diary, he depicts cannibalism in all sorts of shapes and forms. Cannibalism is defined as eating another human’s flesh. Xun takes this meaning to the next level. He explains that numerous situations in Chinese society involve this feral act. For example, when the Wolf Cub Village had a failure of crops, they resorted to eating the flesh of their own. They told Lu Xun’s “elder brother that a notorious character in their village had been beaten to death; then some people had taken out his heart and liver, fried them in oil, and eaten them as a means of increasing their courage”. Xun conveys here that Chinese people are not only afraid to sacrifice people of their own to compensate for a bad season’s harvest. But appallingly kill or eat their own! Another example of this would be a woman Lu Xun saw on the street who was reprimanding her son. He heard her even make a remark to her son stating, “I’m so angry I could eat you!”. What stands here from Xun’s A Madman’s Diary. Rather than the previous example, a mother, willing to eat her own because she has the power to do so and eat the child. This, believe it or not, does not scare Xun to death because he already knows that they are capable of eating humans, so they may eat him. Xun rejects this idea and tradition because he says at the end of A Madman’s Diary that “perhaps there are still children who haven’t eaten men? Save the children…”. Another solution to reject cannibalism within society that Xun suggests is perhaps to the degree of disrespecting elders. A representation of this could be the time when Lu Xun’s had an appointment with Mr. He. Xun claims that he actually “knew quite well that this old man was the executioner in disguise! Feeling my pulse was simply a pretext for him to see how fat I was, for this would entitle him to a share of my flesh”. For Xun to admit that, “although I do not eat men my courage is greater than theirs” admits his infamous iconoclastic spirit, to denounce the elder because in Chinese culture, respecting elders is an absolute must regardless of extenuating circumstances. The counterargument to this interpretation would be; does Lu Xun understand Chinese society and filial piety?

The reader can recognize that Lu Xun understands the main characteristics of Chinese society and culture in many different respects. First, he knows his place in society, he “for more than four years used to go, almost daily, to a pawnbroker’s and a medicine shop… but the counter in the medicine shop was the same height as I, and that in the pawnbroker’s twice my height”. Xun at the medicine shop comprehends the fact from a figurative standpoint that he and the pawnbroker are not equals. The pawnbroker is figuratively and a higher rank than him by stating that the pawnbroker is twice his height or twice his rank. Besides that, in a family aspect, Lu Xun knows that the “iron house without windows [are] absolutely indestructible”. One cannot impinge on a household in Chinese society. A moral dilemma occurs when eating the flesh of another human or family member. The ethics behind people eating other people from Xun’s standpoint are blasphemy to the human race and believe that we are animals. Likewise, hyenas or wolves because we only eat dead flesh. Even more unethical, according to Xun, his elder brother. Lu Xun still cannot fathom why his brother is plotting to eat him. Xun claims “the most deplorable is my elder brother. He’s a man too, so why isn’t he afraid, why is he plotting with others to eat me? Does force of habit blind a man to what’s wrong? Or is he so heartless that he will knowingly commit a crime?” Xun does not understand why his elder brother has to give in to this part of society and strongly disagrees with it and believes it is unnecessary. Xun perceives that he can still give in to the part of society even by not eating others and still respect others. Xun asks him “is it right” and his elder brother’s response is “disconcerted and mutters, ‘No…’” Then Lu Xun asks him again “why do they still do it?” and he responds “that’s the way it’s always been”. Furthermore, Lu Xun assimilates Chinese society and filial piety to the point where he questions his elder brother’s actions and superiority about long-lasting traditions that he publicly obliged not to ask and rejects this entire idea.

To summarize, Xun demonstrates this in his short stories that obeying elders and people of higher ranks, regardless what is asked to constitute a key characteristic of Chinese society and culture but attempts to believe that is completely unnecessary to the extent of eating others, negatively casts Chinese people. From a viewpoint looking upon elders as superiors in Chinese history today, it is becoming a more unpopular phenomenon and rejecting their outdated beliefs. Chinese millennials and foreign influences are replacing those beliefs with new beliefs. One could speculate that Lu Xun was far ahead of his time and being a left-right revolutionist and rejecting the whole concept of listening to what everyone above you has to say and respect their place. Xun additionally makes critical and sarcastic comments on radical traditions such as eating other people, specifically kin. Moreover, one could say that Xun is possibly leading the reader to more of a western idea of pure freedom. People can say whatever they want and believe what is best for them, rather than the government or societal requirements. People of the west, right before Xun’s time, became free of Great Britain and obtained their freedoms. In China, people can be free, but never free to the point of society. The biggest burden for Chinese people is societal requirements. For beauty, academics, and career-wise. Chinese parents and family expect their child to study extremely hard, get a job right, and get married. Ultimately, a phenomenal leftist revolutionary writer, Lu Xun, stands out from everyone else in the crowd because he believes in the ninety-nine percent will not.

Works Cited

  • “Praying Mantis.” National Geographic, 21 Sept. 2018,
  • Xun, Lu. ‘Preface To The First Collection of Short Stories.’ Call to Arms, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladya Yang, 2007, p. 3-7.
  • Xun, Lu. ‘Preface To The First Collection of Short Stories.’ A Madman’s Diary, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladya Yang, 2007, p. 8-16.
  • Xun, Lu. ‘Preface To The First Collection of Short Stories.’ Medicine, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladya Yang, 2007, p. 37-45.

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