An Analysis of Lu Xun’s Old Tales Retold

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Copyright: Xia, Jing
This thesis examines Lu Xun’s last short story collection, Old Tales Retold, from the perspective of influence from the translations Lu Xun’s made from foreign languages on the composition and content of his own short stories and essay. Examples include Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s “Rashōmon”; Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Kuriyagawa Hakuson’s literary theory, Symbols of Anguish; as well as Tsurumi Yūsuke’s cultural critique, Thought, Landscape and Characters. Chinese mythology, the works of Wang Chong, Sima Qian and Zhuangzi are also sources and materials Lu Xun draws on in Old Tales Retold. Inspired by literary techniques and ideas from these sources, Lu Xun creates a brand new style of modern story whose satire targets both antiquity and the present, serving his ultimate purpose of criticising of the Chinese national character. The first chapter is a detailed analysis of the first story “Mending Heaven”, focusing on techniques and images Lu Xun borrows from Akutagawa Ryūnosuke and Nietzsche, and an ongoing theme throughout the collection of failed communication. The second chapter interprets the stories, “The Flight to the Moon” and “Forging the Swords”, in terms of symbolism in Kuriyagawa Hakuson’s Symbols of Anguish. The two stories, based on Lu Xun’s own experience, reveals the writer’s anxiety over his family life and reflection on the spiritual revolution he personally engages in. An analysis of the remaining five stories is included in the last chapter, detailing Lu Xun’s criticism of certain characteristic traits of the Chinese intelligentsia and his covet criticism of China’s dictatorship in two political allegories, “Gathering Vetch” and “Curbing the Flood”. The cruelty inherent in wangdao 王道 (the Kingly Way) and the truth behind shanrang 禅让 (abdication in favour of the worthy) are the focal points of these two allegories respectively. In addition, Lu Xun’s endeavour to promote a language for the masses (dazhong yu 大众语) and put it into practise it in the last story “Resurrecting the Dead”, is also discussed. In conclusion, Old Tales Retold can be deemed as Lu Xun’s criticism of the Chinese national character in a story form. The epitomisation of characters of various social classes, briefly and ingeniously depicted through their conversations and actions in this collection, highlights positive characteristic traits of sincerity, faithfulness, rationality and sacrifice, as opposed to negative ones such as glibness, self-aggrandisement, withdrawal and vulgarity in the Chinese. Tsurumi Yūsuke’s view that liberalism must be based on individuality, contributes to Lu Xun’s unique perspective on reforming the national character through language as a significant pathway towards a liberal society.
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