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Diary of a Madman

Lu Xun’s story “Diary of a Madman” serves to demonstrate his discontent with traditional Chinese cultural, not only by the fact that it clearly addresses the incidence of cannibalism that is believed to have occurred but also symbolizes the oppressive nature if Confucian principles.  That Lu Xun’s madman has the ability to recognize the oppressive elements of Chinese Confucian culture serves to mock established but out-dated traditional scholarship and symbolizes the greater wisdom of cultural reform, especially as it is advanced by modern intellectuals of the period.

Diary of a Madman

Lu Xun’s madman lives in an environment that sparks in him episodes of both tenacity and indecision, symbolic of the tenuous state that revolution and reform elicited among the masses, especially where reform and revolution had to this point failed to manifest improvements.  According to an author , the revolution of 1911 followed naturally the failed attempts at a modern China: “Nationalist sentiment though long delayed, now arose from China’s sense of cultural identity. But neither the bureaucratic administrators nor the radical scholars had been able to create a new order to meet China’s needs and of course the peasant rebels had not even tried”.

The oppressive nature of Confucianism on the Chinese is symbolized in the madman, representative of innovative and reform thought and ideology and his Elder brother, representative of Confucian scholarship and principles whose controlling and now peculiar doctrines are manifested in the following: “Elder brother told me that when parents are ill, a son, in order to be counted as a really good person, should slice off a piece of his flesh, boil it, and let them eat it”.  This example is representative of the cultural value and antidote of familism advanced by Liang Ch’I-ch’ao following the 1911 revolution .

It is important to note that, while Lu Xun and many of his contemporaries were largely opposed to the oppressive nature of Confucianism, the period was marked by the intervention of Western religious orders and principles.  However, these principles as they were offered through the Protestants, Catholics and Jesuits, were not prohibitive to the modernization of Chinese culture.  On the contrary, the Christian faiths were elemental in sponsoring education, language reform, agricultural advancement and gender equality .

The declaration made by Lu Xun’s madman, “Maybe there are some children around who still haven’t eaten human flesh…Save the children” can be interpreted as a call to both the enlightened Chinese citizen and these modernizing entities to intervene where traditional Chinese institutions had been unable or opposed.


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