Story Club

What Happens after Nora Walks Out

An exclusive essay by Lu Xun to kick off our monthly story club

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Each month we will publish a Chinese story, fiction or nonfiction, in translation, and invite you, our readers, to write in with your thoughts. Our first offering is an exclusive excerpt from Jottings under Lamplight, the new collection of Lu Xun’s essays in translation, published by Harvard University Press, that Liz Carter reviewed for us.

In this essay, originally a talk to a women’s college in Beijing in 1923, Lu Xun tackles a range of topics, all under the guise of wondering about the fate of one of literature’s most famous figures: Nora, a Norweigen housewife in the late 19th century and protagonist of Henry Ibsen’s celebrated 1879 play A Doll’s House. At the end of the play, belittled by her husband and a constrictive society, Nora walks out on her family, slamming the door behind her as the curtain falls. Lu Xun picks up the strand of thought from there, and compares Nora’s predicament to that of the fledgling republic of China.

Essay

The Afterlife of Lu Xun

How the man became the brand, both political and commercial – by Julia Lovell

On 19 October 1936, Lu Xun died of tuberculosis in Shanghai, still mired in quarrels with the leadership of the League of Left-wing Writers, and especially with Zhou Yang, the literary politico who would become Mao’s cultural tsar after 1949. “Hold the funeral quickly,” he set out in a mock testament written a month before his death. “Do not stage any memorial services. Forget about me, and care about your own life – you’re a fool if you don’t.” And finally, a message for his son: “On no account let him become a good-for-nothing writer or artist.”

Translation

Lu Xun, Demon Hunter

A wuxia parody by Pan Haitian – translated by Nick Stember

Night of the full moon, Peking.

The Shaoxing Hostel lays just outside the Gate of Military Might.

Three rooms and a courtyard, where a crooked locust tree stands, haunted by the ghost of a hanged woman. There are few guests, until the second year of the Republic, when a man in a long-sleeved gown arrives, carrying a collection of rubbings from ancient tablets. His hair is like steel needles, and a thick mustache graces his upper lip.

He spends his days copying out the rubbings.

Review

Lighting Up the Past

Liz Carter reviews Jottings under Lamplight, Lu Xun’s essays

Lu Xun is considered the father of modern Chinese literature, but until recently his essays, the format in which he was most prolific, were not widely available in English translation, with most other translations focusing on his short stories. Jottings Under Lamplight, a new collection from Harvard University Press, brings 62 of his essays, grouped thematically, to English readers, aiming to “provide lucid and accurate translations for specialists and allow a more general readership access to Lu Xun’s works.”

General

Welcome to the LARB China Channel

The birthday of a writer and a magazine

On September 25, 1881, a baby boy called Zhou Shuren was born into a Confucian household in Shaoxing, a postcard-perfect town south of Shanghai known for its canals and its rice wine. His father was a scholar and his grandfather was an official in the dynastial government in Beijing. It was a large house, with wooden furniture, a fish pond and no shortage of classic books and calligraphy scrolls. But his father was ill and the family fell on hard times, compounded when grandfather was imprisoned for allegedly taking bribes. In the early years of the twentieth century Zhou Shuren studied medicine in Japan on a Qing government scholarship, but decided that he wanted to heal China instead. He started to write essays and stories, fiery and critical, and took a pen name: Lu Xun.