Madness and Modernity

Lu Xun’s ‘Diary of a Madman’, 100 Years On – Emily Baum

Editor's note: We're delighted to run this essay not only on the 137th birthday of Lu Xun, but on the one year anniversary of the China Channel. Thanks to all our readers, and if you enjoy our fare, please do tell a friend to follow us, or give to our translation drive to bring Chinese voices to the fore. – Alec Ash

A hundred years ago, Lu Xun published a short story that would forever leave its mark on both Chinese fiction and Chinese history. ‘Diary of a Madman’ (Kuangren Riji), Lu Xun’s first vernacular short story to appear in print, was published in the May 1918 issue of New Youth (Xin Qingnian), a radical journal edited by some of China’s foremost progressive thinkers. Modeled on Nikolai Gogol’s work of the same name, the story follows an unnamed protagonist’s descent into lunacy as he convinces himself that the people around him are harboring a secret desire to “eat men” – that is, that they are complicit in a feudal cannibalistic tradition.