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Lu Xun’s Madman’s Diaries

1, Read Lu Xun’s Madman’s Diaries and write an essay that addresses the following questions.
a) Why, according to Lu Xun, China’s traditional culture was all about ‘eating people’?
b) By reference to the Madman’s Diaries, discuss the nature of the May Fourth Movement.

Diary of a Madman

At school I had been close friends with two brothers whose names I will omit to mention here. As the years went by after we graduated, however, we gradually lost touch. Not long ago, I happened to hear that one of them had been seriously ill, and while on a visit home, I broke my journey to call on them. I found only one of them at home, who told me it was his younger brother who had been afflicted. Thanking me for my concern, he informed me that his brother had long since made a full recovery and had left home to wait for an appropriate official post to fall vacant. Smiling broadly, he showed me two volumes of a diary his brother had written at the time, explaining that they would give me an idea of the sickness that had taken hold of him and that he saw no harm in showing them to an old friend. Reading them back home, I discovered he had suffered from what is known as a “persecution complex”. The text was fantastically confused, and entirely undated; it was only differences in ink and styles of handwriting that enabled me to surmise parts of the text were written at different times. Below, I have extracted occasional flashes of coherence, in the hope they may be of use to medical research. While I have not altered a single one of the author’s errors, I have changed all the local names used in the original, despite the personal obscurity of the individuals involved. Finally, I have made use of the title chosen by the invalid himself following his full recovery.

2 April 1918


The moon is bright tonight.

I had not seen it for thirty years; the sight of it today was extraordinarily refreshing. Tonight, I realised I have spent the past thirty years or more in a state of dream; but I must still be careful. Why did the Zhaos’ dog look twice at me?
I have reason to be afraid.


No moon tonight; a bad sign. I went out this morning – cautiously. Mr Zhao had a strange look in his eyes: as if he feared me, or as if he wished me harm. I saw a group of them, seven or eight, huddled around, whispering about me, afraid I would catch them at it. Everywhere I went – the same thing. One of them – the most vicious of the bunch – pulled his lips back into a grin. I prickled with cold fear; their traps, I realised, were already in place.
Refusing to be intimidated, I carried on my way. A gang of children blocked my path ahead – they, too, were discussing me, their eyes as strange as Mr Zhao’s, their faces a ghastly white. What quarrel could these children have with me, I wondered. “Tell me!” I shouted, unable to stop myself. But they just ran away.
Mr Zhao, all the others I saw that morning – what was the source of their hatred? All I could think of was that twenty years ago, I stamped on the Records of the Past, and it has been my enemy since. Though he has no personal acquaintance with this Past, Mr Zhao must have somehow got wind of the business, and resolved to take up the grudge himself. He must have rallied everyone else I saw against me. But what about the children? They weren’t even born twenty years ago – so why do they stare so strangely at me, as if they fear me, or wish me harm? I am hurt, bewildered, afraid.
Then the answer came to me. Their parents must have taught them.


My nights are sleepless. Only thorough investigation will bring clarity.
Those people. They have been pilloried by their magistrate, beaten by their squires, had their wives requisitioned by bailiffs, seen their parents driven to early graves by creditors. And yet, through all this, none looked as fearful, as savage as they did yesterday.
The most curious thing of all – that woman, hitting her son. “I’m so angry, I could eat you!” That’s what she said. But looking at me all the while. I flinched in terror, I couldn’t help myself. The crowd – their faces bleached greenish-white – roared with laughter, exposing their fangs. Mr Chen rushed up to drag me home.
To drag me home. Back home, though, everyone was pretending they didn’t know me, that same look in their eyes. The moment I stepped into the study, the door was latched on the outside, as if I were a chicken in a coop. I had no idea what lay at the bottom of it all.
A few days ago, one of our tenants – a farmer from Wolf Cub village – came to report a famine. The most hated man in the village had been beaten to death, he told my brother, and some of the villagers had dug out his heart and liver, then fried and eaten them, for courage. When I interrupted, the farmer and my brother glanced at me – repeatedly. Now – now I recognise the look in their eyes: exactly that of the people I passed yesterday.
I shiver at the very memory of it.
If they are eating people, I might well be next.
That woman scolding her son – “I could eat you!” – those bleached faces and bared fangs, their roars of laughter; the farmer’s story; the signs are all there. I now see that their speech is poisoned, their laughter knife-edged, their teeth fearfully white – teeth that eat people.
I don’t think I’m a bad man, but I now see my fate has been in the balance since I trod on those Records of the Past. They keep their own, secret accounts – a mystery to me. And they can turn on you in an instant. When my brother taught me to write essays, he would always mark me up if I found grounds to criticise the virtuous or rehabilitate the villainous: “It is a rare man who can go against received wisdom.” How can I guess what they are really thinking, when their fangs are poised over my flesh?
Only thorough investigation will bring clarity. I seem to remember, though only vaguely, that people have been eating each other since ancient times. When I flick through the history books, I find no dates, only those fine Confucian principles “benevolence, righteousness, morality” snaking their way across each page. As I studied them again, through one of my more implacably sleepless nights, I finally glimpsed what lay between every line, of every book: “Eat people!”
All these words – written in books, spoken by the farmer – stare strangely, smirkingly at me.
Are they planning to eat me too?


I sat quietly a while, through the morning. Mr Chen brought me some food: a bowl of vegetables and a bowl of steamed fish – its eyes glassily white, its mouth gaping like the village cannibals. After a few slippery mouthfuls, I could no longer tell whether I was eating fish, or human; up it all came again.
“Tell my brother,” I said to Chen, “that I feel stifled inside – that I want to take a walk in the garden.” Chen left me without a word but shortly afterwards unlocked the door.
I did not move; I wanted to see what they planned to do with me next; I knew they would not relax their grip so easily. And so it proved. My brother brought an old man in to see me. My visitor approached slowly, head bowed, afraid I would catch the savagery in his eyes, sneaking glances at me through his spectacles. “You seem well today,” my brother said. “Yes,” I answered. “Dr Ho here has come to examine you,” my brother went on, “at my request.” “Be my guest!” I replied. My executioner, of course! Come to check how fat I was, while he pretended to take my pulse (Lu Xun’s thorough anti-traditionalist approach-he has taken all forms of traditional culture to task, see his denunciation of traditional theatre art in Shexi). Presumably his fee would be a slice of my flesh. Yet I felt no fear: my nerve remained steadier than that of the cannibals about me. I held out my wrists to see how he would go about it. Taking a seat, the old man closed his eyes, held them for a considerable length of time, stared blankly a while longer, then opened those terrible eyes of his. “Avoid over-excitement,” (is it the resounding motto of Confucian teaching?) he pronounced. “A few days’ rest and you’ll be fine.”
Avoid over-excitement! Rest! Of course: they want to fatten me up, so there will be more to go round. “You’ll be fine”? They were all after my flesh, but they couldn’t be open about it – they had to pursue their prey with secret plans and clever tricks; I could have died laughing. Indeed, I burst into uncontrollable roars of mirth – a laughter that rang with righteous courage. The old man and my brother blanched at the robustness of my morale (The protagonist’s hysteria-everything done about him was for eating his flesh).
But my boldness succeeded only in sharpening their appetites (shamelessness)– the braver the prey, the more glory for the hunter (the glory of the stronger was built upon bullying the weaker, ‘linchi’, but where came this bullying culture). “To be eaten immediately!” the old man muttered as he left. My brother nodded. Et tu! And yet I should have foreseen it all: my own brother in league with people who wanted to eat me!
My own brother was a cannibal!
I was the brother of a cannibal! (Families are cannibal, but family is where Ren Yi Li Zhi Xin is based…)
And destined to be eaten myself – this brother of a cannibal.


These last few days, I have reconsidered a couple of my earlier suspicions: perhaps the old man was not my executioner, perhaps he really was a doctor. But he will still have eaten people. In his Book of…what is it? Herbs?…Li Shizhen openly observes that boiled human flesh is perfectly edible. He must have tried it himself (so again, the thorough, ruthless and unreserved denunciation of traditional culture, P.S. human eating as herbal treatment did exist in the countryside but certainly not Li Shizhen. Lu Xun has mixed so many traditional practices which are contradictory into one category of human eating culture).
Neither were my suspicions of my own brother unfounded. When he was teaching me history as a boy, he once told me people could “exchange sons to eat” in times of scarcity; or then again, while discussing a notorious villain, he told me death alone was too good for him; that “his flesh should be devoured, his skin flayed into a rug.” For hours afterwards, my heart pounded with fear. A few days ago, when the farmer from Wolf Cub village told him about the business with the heart and liver, he merely nodded; nothing surprises him. At heart, he is ruthless; still perfectly ruthless. If sons are fodder for the dinner table, then anyone could be. I used to just let him preach at me – to let his sermons pass me by. Now, I know his lips were smeared with human grease, his thoughts only of eating people.


There is darkness all around me. I cannot tell day from night. The Zhaos’ dog has started barking again.
Fierce as a lion, cowardly as a rabbit, cunning as a fox… (Does this characterise Chinese personality? Machiavelli?)

I know their ways. They do not want, or dare to kill me openly (conspiracy); they fear the vengeance of the ghosts. Instead, they conspire to drive me to suicide (that’s why people believe that Mao is using every bit of the old world to murder his opponent). I see through their plans, most of them – I remember their looks on the street from a few days ago, and my brother’s behaviour. Their first, fondest hope is that I should sling my belt over the beam in the ceiling and hang myself; that they will achieve their heart’s desire without staining their hands with my blood – I hear their gasps of jubilant laughter already. Failing that, I could always pine away, of melancholy, or nerves. Though my corpse would have less fat on it, it would still be a corpse.
They can only eat carrion. I remember reading in some book somewhere about a fearfully ugly creature called a hyena, with terrifying eyes and a fondness for dead meat, capable of chewing the most enormous bones down to a pulp. I shiver just to think of it. This hyena is cousin to the wolf, the wolf cousin to the dog. The way the Zhaos’ dog looked at me the day before yesterday, he’s in on it too; and that old man who couldn’t look me in the eye – but he couldn’t fool me either.
It’s my brother I feel sorry for. He’s only human: he must feel the dread of it, and yet still he conspires to eat me. Has he become hardened over time – can he no longer see the wrong of it? Or is his conscience in pieces: does he commit his crimes in the full knowledge of their evil?
A curse on all cannibals – beginning with my brother. And if I am to turn them, I must begin with him too.


They should have been able to see it for themselves.
Suddenly, another visitor. A young man, barely in his twenties, his features a blur – except for his broad grin. He greeted me with a nod; I found no sincerity in his smile. “Is it right to eat people?” I asked him. “What are you talking about?” – his smile did not flicker. “No-one’s eating anyone; it’s not a famine year.” I knew then that he too was of their number: that he too feasted on human flesh. Screwing my courage, I determined to press him further.
“But is it right?”
“I – I don’t understand the question. What a…sense of humour, you have…Lovely weather we’re having today.”
The weather is indeed fine, and the moon indeed bright. But I will repeat my question: “Is it right?”
“No…” he mumbled, beginning to sound vexed.
“So it’s wrong? Then why is it going on?”
“It’s not…”
“They’re eating each other here and now – in Wolf Cub village. Look here: it’s written in all the books, in fresh red ink!”
His face went a ghastly white. “Maybe,” his eyes bulged, “maybe that’s how things have always been…”
“But does that make it right?”
“I’ve had enough of this. You shouldn’t be talking about it.”
I sprang to my feet, my eyes flying open. He had disappeared. I was covered in sweat. He was much younger than my brother, and yet already he was in on it with the rest of them; his parents must have taught him. And he will have taught his son; even the children stare at me like wild beasts.


Craving flesh, dreading the teeth of others, eyeing each other with fear…
If only they could leave it all behind them, how easy, how comfortable their lives would become. Such a tiny thing. But they are all part of it – fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, wives, friends, teachers, pupils, enemies, perfect strangers, pulling each other back.


Early this morning I went looking for my brother. I found him standing by the door to the hall, staring up at the sky. Approaching from behind, I placed myself between him and the doorway.
“I have something to tell you,” I said, taking care to keep my voice soft, meek.
“Go on,” he spun round to face me, nodding.
“A few, difficult words. Primitive men probably did eat human flesh. But their thinking changed, developed over time, and some of them stopped – they were determined to become human, genuinely human. Those who wouldn’t give it up remained reptiles, some of them changing into fish, birds or monkeys, then finally men. But they remain reptiles at heart – even today. The shame of the cannibal, brother, before the non-cannibal! Greater than the reptile before the monkey.
“Thousands of years ago, the royal cook Yi Ya steamed his own son for his king to eat. We all know it’s been going on – since the creation of the earth itself. That revolutionary, Xu Xilin, a few years back – didn’t they eat his heart and liver? Then there’s the Wolf Cub villagers; and last year, I heard that a consumptive ate a steamed roll dipped in the blood of an executed criminal.
“And now it’s my turn to be eaten. I don’t expect you to fight on my behalf, alone against the rest of them. But do you have to join the conspiracy? They’ll do anything, eat anyone: me, you, each other. Pull back from them, change – and we will all live in peace. However long it’s been going on for, we can decide to stop today, we can! I know you can do it. Why, when that tenant of ours wanted his rent reduced the other day, you started by saying it was impossible (showcasing the cultural mundanity).”
As I began my speech, his lips curled back into a scornful smile. Then his eyes shone with a terrible, savage gleam. When I set to exposing their awful secrets the colour drained dreadfully from his face. A crowd gathered outside the gate, Mr Zhao and his dog among them, craning forward to listen in. Some faces remained only a blur, as if masked in gauze; on others, I saw the same bleached pallor, the same bared fangs as before – their lips distorted into smiles. I recognised all of them: the eaters of human flesh. But I knew they were divided in their thinking. Some believed that the eating of men must go on, because it was how things had always been. Others recognised it for the sin it was, and yet still they ate, terrified of exposure. The more I said, the angrier they became, through their frozen smiles.
My brother chose this moment to show his true, unrepentant colours.
“Clear off!” he roared ferociously at them. “Where’s the fun in gawping at a madman! (Foucault Madness and Civilization)”
Another of their ingenious devices: to discredit me as insane. The plot was too well laid; they would never change. And when the moment arrived for me to be eaten, there would be not a murmur of opposition, only sympathy for my butchers. Death by character assassination – a method tried and tested by the farmers of Wolf Cub village.
Chen stormed in through the gate. Though they wanted to shut me up, I was not yet finished with my audience.
“You can change! In your hearts! Soon there will be no place for cannibals in this world of ours. And if you don’t change, you will all be eaten. However many children you have, you will all be destroyed – by real humans, just as a hunter kills a wolf!”
Chen chased the crowd away. My brother disappeared. Then Chen coaxed me back inside. A stifling darkness hung over the room; the beams and rafters shuddered, then began to swell – piling distendedly down on me.
They pinned me to the ground; they meant me to die beneath them. But I struggled through my illusion, drenching myself in sweat.
“Change, in your hearts!” I gasped. “Soon there will be no place for cannibals in this world…”


The sun will not come out, the door does not open; two meals, every day.
As I held my chopsticks, I thought again of my brother. Now I know what happened to my sister. I can see her now, in all her heartbreaking vulnerability; only four years old when she left us. I remember my mother’s uncontrollable sobs, my brother’s efforts to stop her. He’d probably eaten her himself, and all the crying was making him uncomfortable. If he had any conscience left…
I wonder if Mother knew.
I think she must have known, even though she didn’t say a word about it as she wept – maybe she just accepted it. When I was three or four, I remember my brother telling me, as I sat in the courtyard enjoying the cool of a summer evening, that a filial son should cook a piece of his flesh for a sick parent. Mother said nothing to contradict him. If it’s all right to eat a piece of flesh, then why not a whole person? But the way she wept that day; the memory of it, even now, is painful. How inconsistent people are!


Further thought is painful.
I now realise I have unknowingly spent my life in a country that has been eating human flesh for four thousand years. My sister, I remember, died while my brother was managing the household. He probably fed her secretly to us, by mixing her into our food.
I, too, may have unknowingly eaten my sister’s flesh. And now it’s my own turn…
With the weight of four thousand years of cannibalism bearing down upon me, even if once I was innocent how can I now face real humans?


Are there children who have not yet eaten human flesh?
Save them…

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