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It was after that I felt a boredom I had never before experienced. At first I didn’t know why; later I thought it’s always such that when a person’s convictions receive praise it spurs their progress; receive opposition and it spurs their struggle. Only when screaming among strangers, when those strangers do not react—at once no praise, and no opposition—as if finding oneself placed on and endless wasteland, with no recourse at all: what sadness is this! Thus I assumed what I was felt was loneliness.
– Lu Xun, Preface to Nahan [Outcry/A Call to Arms] (1922)
I always come back to reading Lu Xun. He was too influential to overlook and too good to want to. His writing is clear and straightforward and sometimes I get the illusion he is writing in the present day, like I do reading Natsume Soseki. Lu Xun reminds me of Soseki in his mix of earnestness and satire; there I times I laugh out loud reading The True Story of Ah-Q or I Am a Cat. Another interesting connection I’ve noted is the number of Japanese words in Lu Xun’s writing, such as 便當 ‘convenient’ and 卒業 ‘to graduate.’ I don’t know whether these words were common in some register of Chinese and later fell out of use, or if Lu Xun borrowed them from Japanese, or both.
In any case, Lu Xun presents himself in the self-written preface to Nahan as a lonely idealist hoping to change minds but feeling lost. He tries to lose himself in copying ancient engravings until a friend persuades him to write a little something for a magazine called The New Youth. What he wrote became A Madman’s Diary and the rest is history.
NB: The translation above is mine.