“China’s Orwell”: Jeffrey Wasserstrom on Lu Xun

UPDATE: Wasserstrom blogs about his printed essay, with a handful of great links, here.  This is the best possible use of the internet: explication of a fully-vetted print piece, weaving of the two worlds together.  Writing that exists only in the ether is often that, ephemeral.  Here’s to the union of papyrus and pixels!


This was a pleasant surprise:

England’s George Orwell is another essential writer, and one with whom Lu Xun shares important traits. Each introduced new terms into the political lexicon: Ah-Q-ism (a proclivity for self-delusion) is as readily understood in China as references to Big Brother are elsewhere. Each author spent most of his adult life as an independent thinker of the left, criticizing dogmatism and hypocrisy wherever it appeared on the political spectrum. Each championed plain forms of writing. And each penned an ironic novella about a revolution that claimed to be about changing everything, but ended up altering only the titles (in the Ah-Q tale) or the species (in Animal Farm) of the bullies in charge.

True to his namesake (Wasserstrom=water stream), the professor at UC Irvine is holding his own as an editor, writer, and public intellectual, pouring out a stream of new publications…

Lu Xun


  1. He is the first writer i read and i love in all the Chinese literature …

    I hear that the Chinese will delete his works in the teaching book .,don;t know it is true or not !

    1. Agreed — he is a real giant, toujours worth returning to.

      One of his poems:


      You might be referring to how textbooks in China have softened his edges some, which can be read about in Chinese here or in English here. Of course I learned about this particular textbook story from Danwei’s newsfeed (a feature of the Chinese internet I believe you introduced me to, in fact) from one of those nice weeks when they linked to one of my essays on Sinologistical Violoncellist. Lu Xun seems to have a wonderful balance of acidity and warmth, humor and spite — rarely a blend, but more a sort of interspersion of coherent elements.

    1. Jeff,

      Although it’s a belated response to be sure, it was a great pleasure to have found your remarks here at Sinologistical Violoncellist — I’m a serious fan of your work, and hope to keep close tabs on your China Beat blog as well as the very significant amount of ink you are causing to be spilled in the print world. — Adam

  2. Actually, Lu Xun was elder than George Orwell, and Orwell should be called English Lu Xun. Both of them used satire writing to reveal truth and inspire humane thinking.

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