Julia Lovell: China’s Conscience
In the Guardian, Julia Lovell, author of The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun (Penguin Classics), writes:
To no one’s great surprise, communist China’s 60th anniversary National Day celebrations last autumn passed in a fizz of self-congratulation: 200,000 soldiers, 100,000 civilians, 80,000 schoolchildren, 4,000 musicians and 60,000 doves and balloons were marshalled, after months of rigorous training, to hymn the greatness of the Motherland and the wisdom of its rulers. High-booted, mini-skirted PLA girls toted sub-machine guns, lorries promenaded nuclear-capable missiles, ethnic minorities waved red scarves in mass formation, thousands of hand-picked spectators went wild with joy. “Let me congratulate the People’s Republic of China,” gushed messages of felicitation to the state media, “for Your amazing achievement . . . We, the entire world, owe You gratitude . . . May China’s military deterrent grow bigger and bigger!” Say what you like about the Chinese Communist party – and in Britain you still can – it doesn’t do introspection.
All this patriotic bluster drowns out a far more interesting story of modern China: the angry complaints (generated by Chinese writers, thinkers and ordinary citizens) at the poverty, injustice and political violence that have scarred the country for much of the past 100 years. And anyone wanting to get a sense of the despair that gripped it for large parts of the 20th century and which still lurks behind the country’s resurgent façade should probably start with the short stories of one of the country’s founding modernist authors: Lu Xun.