Lu Xun (Lu Hsun) was the pen name of Zhou Shuren. Lu is widely regarded as one of modern China’s most prominent and influential writers. His work promoted radical change through criticism of antiquated cultural values and repressive social customs.
Zhou was born into a poor family. His father was unable to provide for the family and he died during Zhou’s teenage years. Zhou’s mother was well-educated and she encouraged in his studies. Zhou demonstrated a keen intellect early in life. He studied at the Jiangnan Naval Academy, the School of Railways and Mines in Nanjing and the Medical College at Sendai in Japan. During the course of his studies, he became acquainted with social movements aimed at reforming and reshaping Chinese society.
During the course of Zhou’s political and intellectual development, he concluded that a “literary movement” was needed to build awareness and incite action amongst the oppressed. As early as 1906, he decided to publish a literary magazine, but his early attempts at organizing such an endeavor were unsuccessful. In 1908, he joined the anti-Qing revolutionary party, Guang Fu Hui, and he remained involved with this group up to the Revolution of 1911 which resulted in the removal of the Qing Dynasty. Zhou was ultimately disenchanted with the results of the Revolution, for although the Qing Dynasty was unseated, the people of China languished amidst imperialist intervention and oppressive semi-colonial conditions.
Zhou Shuren struggled with uncertainty as to how he could best utilize his political awareness while he immersed himself in the study of Chinese culture. He adopted the pen name of “Lu Xun,” partially in tribute to his mother, whose surname was Lu. With some encouragement from peers, Lu ultimately wrote and published his first story, “A Madman’s Diary,” in 1918. The story was published in the May Fourth movement’s magazine “New Youth” Lu’s work was well received and he followed up with a number of other short stories, including his celebrated tale of the Revolution of 1911, “The True Story of Ah-Q.” In 1923, Lu published “A Call to Arms,” which was an anthology of his most acclaimed works.
Lu Xun quickly gained notoriety as a stirring, insightful, and prolific writer. In addition to writing, Lu worked as an editor, professor and dean of studies. He began studying Marxism-Leninism in 1928 and shortly thereafter, he undertook the translation of works concerning Marxist literary theory. Although Lu never joined the Chinese Communist Party, he was widely regarded as a Marxist in the later years of his life and he worked closely with communists in many anti-imperialist and anti-fascist campaigns. Lu advocated a united front by the CCP and the Kuomintang against the forces of Japanese imperialism. While afflicted with tuberculosis, Lu continued to write passionately about the struggle against Japanese aggression until his death in 1936.