Lu Xun’s short story “Diary of a Madman” marks the birth of modernism in Chinese literature and is the earliest literature works written in modern vernacular Chinese during the May Fourth period. Modeled after Nikolay Gogol’s story with similar title, the story condemns the old traditional Confucian values that have long persisted in the Chinese society; portrayed by the madman in the story that sees it as a ‘man-eating’ society. Lu Xun despises the idea of a society who adheres to the tradition blindly and calls for a change of strengthening. Lu Xun is considered as China’s greatest modern writer and many of his works spurred his fellow intellectuals into shaping China during the revolutionary period. As such, Mao Zedong is a lifelong admirer of his works and called him ‘commander of China’s cultural revolution’. In his piece of work “Diary of a Madman”, it was a tour de force in the New Culture Movement in which its appeal has lasted till today. The story begins with a preface in classical Chinese by a narrator telling the discovery of the diary with explanatory remarks about the Madman’s illness and his eventual recovery. The use of classical Chinese here suggests a false, polite world in which ethics is no more than a façade maintained for social appearance. The story then proceeds to the content of the diary, which begins with ‘Tonight the moon is very bright. … I begin to realize that during the past thirty-odd years I have been in the dark.’ The moon represents his madness and is always present during his most paranoid thoughts. In another entry, which reads, ‘No moon at all tonight-something’s not quite right.’ Under the moonlight, he is able to see the ‘dirty looks’ that have been given by the people and even animals. The moon here intensifies his thoughts on cannibalism. The bright moon here represents Lu Xun’s frantic call for revolution in the society that
conformed to cultures of thousands of years and in this period, realization kicks into the author that traditional cultures itself are the cause of the stagnated society. The thoughts and actions of the madman in the diary, who is the first-person narrator of the main text, are overruled by his growing obsession with cannibalism in which he believes is a common practice by those around him. He is convinced that everyone he sees including the children is trying to eat him. Initially, Lu Xun’s brother, Zuoren translates Nikolay Gogol’s Diary of a Madman as Fengren riji instead of Kuangren riji, which the latter became the standard translation.1 Lu Xun himself was aware of the underlying significant difference between fengren and kuangren. According to an article by Tang; in Lu Xun’s earlier youthful essay ‘On the Power of Mara Poets’ (1907), he postulates kuang as a Nietzschean self-affirmation that provides an essential regenerative energy for any thriving civilization.2 The word also characterizes talented individuals who contempously oppose themselves to a stagnant society and whose actions exceed public’s comprehension.3 In the analects of Confucius, kuang refers to the unconstrained personality of a person who was striving for the Tao.4 Unlike the general portrayal of madman as a person with an impaired mind, the madman in the story depicted Lu Xun’s perception of Confucius culture as a society where the strong prey on the weak and he strongly opposes Xiaobing Tang, ‘Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman" and a Chinese Modernism’, PMLA Vol. 107, No. 5 (Oct., 1992), pp. 1226. Xiaobing Tang, ‘Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman" and a Chinese Modernism’, PMLA Vol. 107, No. 5 (Oct., 1992), pp. 1226. 3 William A. Lyell, Lu Hsun’s Vision of Reality, (University of California Press, 1976), pp. 9192 cited in Xiaobing Tang, ‘Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman" and a Chinese Modernism’, PMLA Vol. 107, No. 5 (Oct., 1992), pp. 1226. 4 Clement Ng Shin Kiat, ‘The Analects of Confucius’,...
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