Zhou Shuren (1881–1936,) penname Lu Xun, was the leading and influential figure in modern Chinese literature and the intellectual source of Mao Zedong‘s Chinese Revolution. A consummate scholar, translator, cultural critic, and classical poet, he was also a pioneer of modern literary forms such as the short story, the prose-poem, and the polemical essay.
Lu lived during a turbulent period. The Qing dynasty of his youth had been overthrown, and the Chinese had suffered humiliation and insults from foreign powers. Lu went to Japan to study medicine, believing that medicine could save China, but soon decided to become a writer to save the nation’s “soul.”
Lu’s writings are filled with despair over the social conditions and the political instability of his times, and paint a hopeless picture of modern China. Lu’s collected works include 16 volumes of essays, collections of personal memories, prose poetry, and historical tales, classical poems, and numerous volumes of scholarly examination on Chinese fiction, on top of translations of Russian, East European, and Japanese writers.
Lu’s Kuangren Riji (A Madman’s Diary; 1918) is commonly acknowledged as the first contemporary short story written in vernacular Chinese. His other notable writings include Kong Yiji (Call to Arms; 1919,) A Q Zhengzhuan (Wandering; 1924,) and the important history of Chinese fiction Zhongguo Xiaoshuo Shilüe (A Brief History of Chinese Fiction; 1925.)
Even if a scholar, translator, cultural critic, and classical poet, Lu Xun was canonized by the Chinese Communist Party as a model revolutionary hero. His name has been appropriated to entice support to various political views and social causes he would not have endorsed.