David Pollard, The True Story of Lu Xun

David Pollard’s book, the first reliable biography of
Lu Xun in a Western language, is an important undertaking, as the subject’s
life is closely linked with the great events of the first third of the twentieth
century in China. Aimed at the uninformed reader, the biography is written in
a pleasant style, free of notes and detailed references to ideological or literary
issues in which Lu Xun was involved. It presents a balanced synthesis of Chinese
sources, such as Lu Xun’s diary and the memoirs published about him (by
his brothers Zhou Zuoren and Zhou Jianren, by his wife Xu Guangping, and by his
friends), or of more recent research into various episodes of his life. It includes
a chronology of his life and suggestions on further reading, but there is no index
or formal bibliography.

Three episodes deserve mentioning for the new information
they may represent for Western scholars of Lu Xun. At the purely private level,
Pollard gives us a valuable insight into Lu Xun’s arranged marriage in 1906
to Zhu An, an illiterate woman from Shaoxing with bound feet. Like Hu Shi and
Yu Dafu, Lu Xun agreed to submit to a marriage of this kind but went on later
to live with his student Xu Guangping. David Pollard concludes that Lu Xun’s
mental worlds were distinctly separated (which may throw light on some of his
stories): on the one hand, the traditional world of filial piety and on the other,
the modern world of free marriage. These worlds coexisted but never overlapped.

Pollard goes on to tackle the 1923 break between Lu and his
brother Zhou Zuoren. The two brothers, very close until the early 1920s, as both
were leading representatives of the New Culture Movement and fellow-teachers at
Peking University, never saw each other or wrote to each other again after their
quarrel. Pollard conjectures that there had been an ambiguous relationship between
Lu and Habuto Nobuko, Zhou’s Japanese wife, whom Lu had known before his
brother when he was studying in Japan (1).

Lastly, in a less intimate vein, the book narrates the encounter
between Lu and the historian Gu Jiegang, another leading intellectual of the republican
period, at Xiamen University in 1927, at a time when both were fugitives from
the anticommunist persecutions of the warlord Zhang Zuolin in Peking. Pollard
shows how Gu Jiegang attempted to win Lu’s favour by offering him copies
of his books and how Lu, refusing any comment on the innovative theories that
Gu was developing on Chinese history, took pleasure in mocking him as a henchman
of Hu Shi and ridiculing his stammering and his red nose.

These three episodes illustrate both the qualities and the
defects of the book. It is a highly approachable biography, but lacks ambition
in analysing Lu’s intellectual development. We may cite here the example
of the conservative revolutionary Zhang Binglin (1868-1936) whom Pollard mentions
only briefly and who exercised an undeniable influence on Lu Xun. After Zhang’s
death, Lu was to devote two texts to him, written a few days before his own death.
While he had always rejected, sometimes vehemently, the “national essence”
theories that Zhang had developed, Lu explained in these two texts that he remained
loyal to Zhang, the Confucian man of letters turned revolutionary polemicist,
and that he would like his polemical writings to be republished. Here also is
to be found a key to understanding the poem “Author’s inscription on
a small photograph” (Ziti xiaoxiang), which Lu had written in Tokyo
in 1903 on the back of a photo of himself taken after he had cut off his braid.
Pollard reads this poem in a purely anecdotic way, decoding it as a veiled allusion
to the marriage that Lu’s mother was arranging between him and Zhu An. But
the last line (“I shall give my life for the Emperor Xuanyuan”, otherwise
known as the Yellow Emperor, the mythical ancestor of the Han race) brings Lu
close to the theories of Zhang Binglin, whose classes he had not yet attended
at this time, but who had written in 1901 an article describing how he had cut
off his own braid, mentioned by Lu in the homage to his master.

Lu Xun’s thinking lends itself only too well to a narrative
placing the main emphasis on personal connections, as Pollard shows by drawing
up a list of men who, like him, were from Zhejiang and to whom he was close. One
example is Cai Yuanpei, his mentor at Peking University, who allowed him as Director
of the Daxue Yuan (the Higher Education Ministry) in the Chiang Kai-shek
government, to draw a monthly income of 300 yuan from January 1928 to December
1931, during which period he was moving closer to the Communist Party.

Thus, all Lu’s intellectual commitments seem to result
from personal connections forged with men and women from Zhejiang, taking him
from the nationalism of the revolutionary Qiu Jin (executed in 1907) and of Zhang
Binglin, by way of Qian Xuantong (who drew him into the May 4th 1919 Movement)
and Xu Shouchang (who obtained for him a teaching post at the Peking University),
to the Marxism of the “revolutionary martyr” Rou Shi (executed in 1931)
and of Feng Xuefeng (the friend of his last years).

Lu’s loyalty to his own native town and to his origins
ought to have been examined as a puzzling element in his personality and intellectual
evolution. We should have liked to know more about Lu’s relationship with
Hu Shi, to whom he had not always shown such deep hostility as he did during the
1930s, with the writer Yu Dafu, who he befriended in Shanghai despite their political
and aesthetic differences, and particularly with Chen Duxiu (2)
with whom he shared part of the intellectual journey that was to lead Chen towards
Trotskyism and Lu to radical left-wing criticism of the united front policy dictated
by Moscow in 1936.

Translated from the French original by Philip Liddell

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