A madman’s diary (1918)

The story

An unidentified narrator begins to relate the narrative of how he came into possession of the diary. He claims to be on his way home when he arrives, but he learns that an old friend is unwell and he thus decides to pay him a visit. When he arrives, he discovers that his friend has recovered and has left, so his friend’s brother gives him his diary. The anonymous narrator continues by stating that he studied the diary’s and that he chose the next chapters for the sake of ‘medical’ study; however, he does not specify how he would utilize them for this purpose.

He does state that it is an incomprehensible piece of writing plainly produced by a sick person. This may be observed in the first journal entry, for example; ‘Tonight, the moon is very bright. I have not seen it for more than thirty years; so after seeing it today I feel my spirit is refreshed. I am beginning to realize that I have been in a daze for the past thirty years: but now I must be extremely cautious. Otherwise, why would the Zhao family’s dog have looked at me twice? I have reasons for my fear.’[17]

And thus starts the novel A Madman’s Diary; he does, indeed, sound a little insane in his first diary entry. This entrée claims that he hasn’t seen the moon in thirty years and that he has grounds to be afraid. However, one could wonder if he is truly insane, or if he is the only sane person in a mad society. This journal also has some mind-boggling lines loaded with many analogies, allusions, and subtle critiques. Throughout the novel, the reader follows the author’s descent into insanity. By doing so, the true author, Lu Xun (1881-1936), criticizes Chinese customs, history, and culture. For example, the first chapter discusses a terrible omen in the form of a dog looking twice, while the second chapter discusses a bad omen in the form of no moon. These are almost certainly criticisms of superstition and folklore.

He also slams Confucianism. During his experiences, the ‘madman’, hears people talking about him and about eating him. This makes him anxious and paranoid, and thus he seeks answers. The ‘madman’ studies some authoritative classic Chinese literature, The Four Books and Five Classics. These books, however, are worthless to him since he can only see what is written between the lines, he  only reads ‘eat people’ in them. As a result, the narrative is also about cannibalism in a strange sense, but it is about a societal affinity for it. It is acceptable for the people to be cannibals because their parents and ancestors were cannibals. Thus, in a way, he assaults culture, namely Confucian culture, because he reads in the Confucian classics, “eat people.” As a result, he wants us to consider why we do certain behaviors, who taught us to do them, and whether or not we should continue to do them.

That is, at least, my interpretation, although I may be incorrect. Another thing I noticed was that Lu’s work and his ability to make us think about culture and tradition has some connections with Friedrich Nietsche’s (1844-1900) book On the Genealogy of Morality (1887). In this more scientific book, Nietsche examines the origins of moral concepts and hierarchies, as well as who decides what is good and evil. As a result, Lu, like Nietsche, encourages us to think about morality, culture, and customs.


Historical context

This novel was published in 1918, the seventh year of the Republic. China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644-1912), had been toppled just seven years earlier during the Xinhai revolution (1911-1912), afterwards the country had become a republic. The Republic of China (1912-1949) was neither stable nor powerful; it was dominated mostly by warlords and foreign powers. In 1915, Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), the first president of the Republic, sought to revive the empire by calling himself the Hongxian Emperor; however, his endeavor was short-lived, since he died in 1916.

In addition to these problems, China witnessed the development of a social movement known as the New Culture Movement. This movement sought national independence, individual liberty, and the rebuilding of society and culture. They mocked traditional Confucian principles while praising Western notions like as science and democracy. Their research into liberalism, pragmatism, nationalism, anarchist, and socialism was used to critique traditional Chinese ethics, philosophy, religion, and social and political systems.

The movement also has another name, the May Fourth Movement. The movement was named after an demonstration on May 4, 1919. On that day thousands of students marched in protest of the Versailles Peace Conference’s decision to transfer the German Kiautschou Bay concessions in Shandong province to Japan and the Chinese government accepted this decision. It was during these turmoils that Lu wrote his book. As a matter of fact, Lu was even part of the New Culture Movement.

Lu Xun was the pen name of Zhou Shuren, and he was born in Shaoxing in 1881. He believed that the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 was a failure. He says ‘I feel the so-called Republic of China has ceased to exist. I feel that, before the revolution I was a slave, but shortly after the revolution, I have been cheated by slaves and have become their slave.‘[Inroduction 2]. He became disillusioned with the Republic, in 1927, he thought a revolution by force was necessary.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976) considered him to be one of the most important authors involved with the May Fourth Movement. Mao himself was a lifelong admirer of Lu’s work. As a result, after 1949, the Communist leadership held Lu in high respect. Lu, on the other hand, never joined China’s communist party.


Yay or nay

This enjoyable little book is well worth your time. The way it’s written is one of the most intriguing aspects. The reader has the impression that they are reading someone’s journal. This journal takes the reader on a voyage inside the mind of a ‘madman’, but it also makes you wonder what is written there. This metaphor-filled narrative provides the reader with phrases that may be taken in a variety of ways. For example, does Lu discuss cannibalism, or is it a social critique, or both? Does he mention a cannibalistic society that tramples and consumes dissidents to defend itself from change? In a way, he also gives us counsel and assistance in resisting these types of societies. So, in order to figure out what he’s talking about, one must read and understand the narrative for themselves.

The sole disadvantage of the book is that it requires some prior understanding of Chinese culture and history. This is critical if one is to identify analogies, hidden references, and criticisms.


A madman’s diary (1918)

Written by Lu Xun (1881-1936), introduced by Paul Meighan (unknown), and translated by Vito Inguglia (unknown).

64 pages. Easy Peasy Publishing


Copyright © 2021 Studentlifehistorian.com


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