In Xu Zhuodai’s 1923 satirical short story ‘The Vain Lunatic’ (), meanwhile, an arrogant, spoiled schoolgirl is unwilling to confront her unfounded feelings of superiority, and subsequently descends into madness.
In all three cases, madness appears less as pathology than as a metaphorical signifier of a stultifying and supercilious tradition.
It was also not by chance that Lu Xun chose to offer such a scathing critique through the character of the madman.
Similar to the allegorical uses of madness in Western literature, the insane in modern Chinese fiction – by dint of their marginality – laid bare the social order even as they renounced it.
By ‘anger’ he meant the desire for vengeance against an enemy that has inflicted injury on one’s people: ‘No entire people has ever burned with love for a woman, no whole state has set its hope on money or gain; ambition seizes individuals one by one; only fury plagues whole communities at once.’ We do not need to endorse this claim (grief is an obvious rival) to appreciate that anger and revenge are back in the news today, precisely in connection with whole communities at war with each other.
Not only in the potential war against Iraq, but also on both sides of the conflict in Israel, territory of the Roman province of Palestine.‘Anger’ is the first word of Western literature.‘Justice, not revenge,’ the Roman Catholic bishops warned that same day.They were not given time to explain the difference, nor was the young man asked to name a country or two for flattening. It would be going too far to say that 11 September undid centuries of Christian teaching and made revenge respectable again, just as William Harris is over the top when he opines: ‘In the United States, views about revenge seem to have sunk to a level appropriate to a neolithic village.’ But it is troubling how much public talk of revenge there is at present.As intellectuals wrestled with the need to be both Chinese modern, the madman’s expository role as “monster yet mirror” – to borrow a phrase from the late historian Roy Porter – became a crucial articulation of what it meant to be Chinese in an era of tumultuous change.), published in 1935, a haughty Chinese intellectual, holding utter disdain for those around him, is eventually fired from his work and divorced by his wife.Unwilling to face the source of his personal and professional misfortunes, the protagonist ultimately goes mad and is institutionalized.Harris is known for ground-breaking books on Roman imperialism and on literacy in the ancient world.His new book, a vastly ambitious attempt to cover nearly every aspect of anger in antiquity from Homer to early Christianity, breaks fresh ground again.Convinced that his parents are engaging in cannibalism – and are grooming him to be cannibalized in the near future – the madman progressively loses his grip on reality. Indeed, the brilliance of the story is that the protagonist, though ostensibly insane, is actually the only character to see the inhumanity of his “man-eat-man” society with an unimpeded view.Cannibalism does, in fact, appear with disturbing frequency in the literature of Chinese antiquity: aside from the expected cases of survival cannibalism during times of famine, filial children were praised for (often perpetrated by rebels against state magistrates) occurred during periods of instability.But it was Lu Xun’s madman, more than any other, who ultimately became the emblem of the modern era.While the protagonists in Lao She’s and Xu Zhuodai’s stories offer no hope for future redemption, Lu Xun’s madman at least extends its possibility.