In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lu Xun

  • Introduction
  • Biographical Accounts
  • Primary Works in Chinese
  • Translations into English
  • Lu Xun and Woodblock Art
  • Bibliographies on Lu Xun Studies

Chinese Studies Lu Xun
Eileen J. Cheng
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0218


Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren, b. 1881–d. 1936), the “father of modern Chinese literature” and “soul of the nation,” left his mark on 20th-century literature, culture, and politics. Well-known for his collections of short stories, Outcry (1923) and Hesitation (1926), he was also an accomplished scholar, cultural critic, poet, and a pioneer of literary forms. A book collector, translator, and editor, he avidly promoted the works of other artists and writers. Hailed as a leader of the New Culture Movement, he is often regarded as a radical iconoclast. Lu Xun’s relationship to both tradition and modernity, however, was ambivalent. A supporter of the New Culture reforms, he was also skeptical of new literary trends. Critical of tradition, he nonetheless harbored a lifelong affinity for classical Chinese literature, published scholarly works on the subject, and wrote classical-style poetry until the end of his life. Ever the skeptic, Lu Xun described himself as an “in-between”—zhongjian wu中間物—an intermediary who refused to identify with either the traditional or modern camp. He was relentlessly critical of others as he was of himself. His writings exposed a “crisis of representation” by questioning intellectuals’ ability to truly represent their subjects. Despite his skepticism, Lu Xun was driven by a radical hope: he wrote to expose the illnesses of society in the hope of finding remedies for them. His radically innovative style, and often complex and sometimes abstruse creative writings, were a product of his critical engagement with a large corpus of texts and ideas—classical and modern, domestic and foreign. Besides his short story collections, his creative works include prose poems in Wild Grass (1926), an experimental memoir Morning Blossoms Gathered at Dusk (1928), and a collection of rewrites of old fables, Old Tales Retold (1928). Beginning in 1926, Lu Xun immersed himself in Marxist theories. He became the titular leader of the League of Left-Wing Writers in 1930 and began promoting—though never writing—proletarian literature. Instead, he turned primarily to the form of polemical essay (zawen) in the last decade of his life, writing wry and penetrating critical social commentaries which he referred to as his “daggers and spears.” In his later years, he often lent his name to promoting the works of young writers and artists. Especially drawn to woodcut art—a form he felt was conducive to promoting the proletarian cause—Lu Xun became an active force behind the woodcut movement in the 1930s. The bibliography focuses primarily on English-language studies with some Chinese sources.

Biographical Accounts

Chou 2012 provides an episodic account based on major events in Lu Xun’s life. More conventional biographies can be found in Denton 2002, Pollard 2002, Wang 1992, and Lyell 1976. Kowallis 1996 (cited under Translations into English) provides a biography linked to Lu Xun’s poetic compositions. Davies 2013, Wang 2000, and Lee 1987 incorporate significant literary analysis. Lee 1985 contains works assessing Lu Xun’s legacy.

  • Chou, Eva Shan. Memory, Violence, Queues: Lu Xun Interprets China. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Asian Studies, 2012.

    Examines three key political periods and personal episodes in Lu Xun’s life—cutting off his queue, the monarchic restoration of Zhang Xun, and the execution of five young members of the League of Left-Wing writers (“the Five Martyrs”). Combines historical background with analysis of his fiction, essays, classical-style poems.

  • Davies, Gloria. Lu Xun’s Revolution: Writing at a Time of Violence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674073944

    Scholarly biography focuses on the last decade of Lu Xun’s life in Shanghai after his leftist turn. Examines his relationships with various literary groups and in particular, his polemical essays (zawen) written in later life.

  • Denton, Kirk A. “Lu Xun Biography.” MCLC Resource Center Publication. 2002.

    Short, informative biography from the useful website Modern Chinese Literature and Culture created by Kirk Denton.

  • Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Voices from the Iron House: A Study of Lu Xun. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

    Seminal work in English that combines psychological biography with in-depth analysis of Lu Xun’s short stories, polemical essays, and prose poems in Wild Grass.

  • Lee, Leo Ou-Fan, ed. Lu Xun and His Legacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

    First edited volume devoted to Lu Xun in English. Topics include: the role of the narrator and limits of realism, tradition in Lu Xun’s writings and his role as a scholar of traditional literature; ethics and the experimental forms of Lu Xun’s short stories; Lu Xun’s polemical essays; the canonization and political uses of Lu Xun after his death; the reception of Lu Xun in Japan, Europe, and America.

  • Lyell, William A., Jr. Lu Hsun’s Vision of Reality. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520335004

    A biography concentrating on the early part of Lu Xun’s life and his creative years, also includes analyses of the stories, influenced by the recollections of Lu Xun’s younger brother Zhou Zuoren (b. 1885–d. 1967) and lifelong friend Xu Shoushang (b. 1882–d. 1948).

  • Pollard, David. The True Story of Lu Xun. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1353/book82018

    Detailed and informative biography useful for scholars and accessible to general readers. No footnotes.

  • Wang Hui 汪晖. Fankang juewang: Lu Xun ji qi wenxue shijie (反抗绝望:鲁迅及其文学世界). Shijiazhuang, China: Hebei jiaoyu chubanshe, 2000.

    Biography with extensive literary analysis. Highlights Lu Xun’s philosophy of “resisting despair” and the concept of zhongjian wu (“thing in between”). Includes analysis of Lu Xun’s early essays written in classical Chinese, short stories, and pieces collected in Wild Grass.

  • Wang Xiaoming 王晓明. Wufa zhimian de rensheng. Lu Xun zhuan (無法直面的人生:魯迅傳). Taibei: Yeqiang, 1992.

    Informative biography accessible to a broad readership that departs from the canonized image of Lu Xun as revolutionary hero.

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