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Japanese Visions of Lu Xun in the Light of the Magic Lantern Incident

February 2, 2007
Volume 5 | Issue 2
Article ID 2344

Japanese Visions of Lu Xun in the Light of the Magic Lantern Incident

By Christopher Robins

Abandoning Medicine to Minister to the Chinese Spirit through Literature

In January of 1906 in the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai, China’s most famous modern writer, Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren 1881-1936), claimed to have experienced a life-changing epiphany that led him to abandon his medical studies and “devote himself to the creation of a literature that would minister to the ailing Chinese psyche.” [1] The now famous “magic lantern (slide) incident” allegedly took place at the end of Lu Xun’s bacteriology class at the Sendai Medical School. The lesson had ended early and the instructor used the slide projector to show various images to students from the recently concluded Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Lu Xun later recounted that the Japanese medical students were roused into a patriotic frenzy by scenes of the war, culminating in reverberating chants of “banzai!” One scene showed a Chinese prisoner about to be executed in Manchuria by a Japanese soldier and the caption described this man as a Russian spy (see image 1). Lu Xun reported that rather than the sight of a fellow Chinese facing death, it was the expression on the faces of the Chinese bystanders that troubled him deeply. Although they appeared to be physically sound, he felt that spiritually they were close to death.

Image 1: Portrait of the “magic lantern incident”

Through the lens of Chinese nationalism after World War II and the victory of the communists in 1949, the slide incident came to represent Lu Xun’s prescient decision to reject Japan’s bellicose nationalism and Western-style science in favor of a politically-motivated literature. Lu Xun’s “conversion” to a life of literature suggests a quasi-religious renunciation of his past life and the beginning of a process of spiritual and political purification following his extensive contact with China’s longstanding national nemesis.

As an intellectual who was both sharply critical of traditional Chinese social institutions and active in socialist literary and political circles until his death in 1936, Lu Xun’s apotheosis as a national icon within the Chinese Communist Party was swift and enduring. On the first anniversary of Lu Xun’s death, Mao spoke to an assembly at the North Shaanxi Public School in Yan’an and assessed Lu Xun’s influence on China as comparable to Confucius: “The value of Lu Xun in China is that he should be regarded as the number one sage of China. Confucius was the sage of the feudal society; Lu Xun is the sage of the New China.” [2] In 1940 Mao showered Lu Xun with praise for his role in the May Fourth New Culture movement and paved the way for his elevation to the status of national hero and party stalwart:

Lu Xun was the greatest and most courageous standard-bearer of this cultural force. The chief commander of China’s cultural revolution, he was not only a great man of unyielding integrity, free from all syncophancy . . . he was also the bravest and most correct, the firmest, the most loyal and the most ardent national hero, a hero without parallel in our history. The road he took was the very road of China’s new national culture. [3]

Thanks to the adoption of many of Lu Xun’s stories as part of the official People’s Republic of China public school curriculum, the details of his early life and his identity as a national hero became firmly enshrined in the memories of millions of Chinese citizens. A number of Lu Xun’s short stories and essays, including the story “Mr. Fujino,” also became familiar to Japanese students after they were included in the public school curriculum after the Pacific War in the 1950s. [4]

The Canonization of Fujino-sensei

The story of Lu Xun’s life in Japan has long fascinated Japanese readers as a means of understanding his transformation into China’s greatest modern writer. Lu Xun’s descriptions of his time in Japan appeal to Japanese readers not only because of his famous epiphany following the slide incident, but also because of the countervailing narrative of Lu Xun’s relationship with his former anatomy teacher and mentor at medical school, Professor Fujino Genkuro (1874-1945).

Fujino is recalled fondly in several of Lu Xun’s works, including a vignette based on his relationship with the professor entitled “Mr. Fujino,” written in 1926. Lu Xun was the first Chinese student to study at the Sendai Medical School, and during his first semester of study, Professor Fujino offered to review and correct his lecture notes for him on a weekly basis. The description of Fujino’s appearance in Lu Xun’s account of the same name created an endearing portrait of a somewhat absent-minded and rumpled professor devoted to distraction in his work.

Professor Fujino was in charge of anatomy. His skin was dark and he wore an arching moustache and nearsighted glasses on his gaunt face. He spoke very slowly with a lilting cadence in his voice and his unkempt western-style clothes were carelessly attired. He was the kind of person who would sometimes forget to put on his tie. [5]

Image 2: Photograph of Professor Fujino

Before Lu Xun withdrew from the medical school in Sendai and moved to Tokyo to enroll in German language classes, Fujino gave Lu Xun a photograph of himself and wrote the Chinese characters sekibetsu (regrettable parting) on the back (see image 2). The story of their relationship was not widely known until after Lu Xun’s death when his works began to be introduced to Japanese readers. At that point Fujino was discovered living in relative obscurity in his hometown in Fukui Prefecture. After Fujino died in 1945, his heretofore modest life became so intertwined with the fame of his former student that his house in Awara City became a museum, and a memorial in Fukui City was dedicated to the memory of their relationship inscribed with the word sekibetsu.

For Japanese fans of Lu Xun, Professor Fujino’s photograph that hung over Lu Xun’s writing desk encapsulates the legacy of his experience in Japan. The photograph suggests Lu Xun’s lifelong devotion to his former teacher and a lingering awareness of an unsettled debt. This theme is expressed in the following excerpt from “Mr. Fujino,” where Lu Xun describes his reaction to receiving the photograph from Fujino.

At the end of the second semester, I visited Fujino-sensei and notified him that I wanted to quit medical studies and planned to leave Sendai. A look of sadness seemed to come over his face. Two or three days before leaving I was invited to his house and he gave me a photograph. The two Chinese characters, “sekibetsu,” were written on the back. Although I said that I would give him my photograph, unfortunately, I couldn’t afford it at that time. He eagerly requested that I send him a photo if I had one taken, and he asked me to send him letters periodically to keep him abreast of my situation from that point on. Yet, as time passed, it became harder to write and make amends; I just couldn’t take up my brush. The situation is still the same up to the present—I didn’t send one single letter or photograph. I don’t know why, but even today I reminisce about him frequently. Of all of the teachers whom I revere, he was the one person who gave me the greatest encouragement and inspiration. His picture alone hangs on the east wall facing my desk in my home in Beijing. In the middle of the night when I’m bored with my work and I feel like quitting, I look up at his dark and gaunt face in the lamplight. Even now, when I gaze upon that face that looks like it is about to hold forth in that harsh tone of voice, it pricks my conscience and gives me courage. At that point I light up a cigarette, and once again, continue writing literature deeply detested by “saints and virtuous scholars.” [6]

For many Japanese readers, and undoubtedly Chinese readers as well, Fujino’s photograph stands as a kind of devotional icon, an undying symbol of the teacher’s lasting influence upon his student. Lu Xun’s inability to reciprocate Fujino’s kindness and maintain contact over the years seems to fuel a lingering sense of guilt and inadequacy that spurs him to work harder. The inscription on the photograph conveys a special intimacy that transcends the strictly formal relationship between teacher and student.

The first translations of Lu Xun’s work into Japanese appeared in Beijing in the 1920s, and these works were then collected into a book published in Japan in 1924 with an introductory essay written by the progressive political thinker Yoshino Sakuzo (1878-1933). [7] Lu Xun’s association with the progressive political movement during the relative freedom of the late 1920s and early 1930s seems to have enhanced the reception of his works in Japan.

When Lu Xun died from tuberculosis in 1936, newspapers in Japan published extensive coverage and featured essays on his life and work by a number of Japanese writers and critics. By this time, the proletarian literary movement in Japan had been thoroughly suppressed by the government and nearly all of the Japanese writers with socialist sympathies had publicly renounced socialism (tenko). Lu Xun enjoyed tremendous popularity among these proletarian writers, including the famous writer, poet, and critic Nakano Shigeharu (1902-1979), who wrote a biography of Lu Xun in 1939. [8]

Another writer drawn to Lu Xun’s life and work was Dazai Osamu (Tsushima Shuji, 1909-1948). Like Nakano, Dazai ran afoul of the Japanese authorities for his left-wing political activities in the early 1930s. By the end of 1932, Dazai joined the long list of Japanese writers with socialist agendas who had publicly disavowed participation in the movement. [9]

Lu Xun as a Mouthpiece for Wartime Japanese Propaganda

Ironically, it was Dazai—a fellow writer who professed respect for Lu Xun’s work and progressive modernizing agenda—who wrote a novel about Lu Xun’s time as a medical student in Japan, depicting his decision to give up medicine as rooted in personal humiliation and inspired by the models of modern Japanese political philosophy and literature. Dazai betrayed and distorted the spirit of Lu Xun’s political viewpoints in his propaganda novel entitled Sekibetsu, published in 1945. This novel was one of a small number of novels commissioned by the wartime Japanese government to express the ideals of the Greater East Asia Joint Declaration, an outcome of the Greater East Asia Conference of November 5-6, 1943. Originally Dazai was chosen to write on the theme of “Independence and Amity.” [10]

The first-person narrator of Sekibetsu is a doctor in his sixties from a small country castle town in the North Country of Tohoku (northeastern Japan). It has been forty years since the narrator was a fellow medical student with the young Zhou Shuren (Lu Xun) studying at the Sendai Medical School. The narrator, whose name is Tanaka, recounts how he was inspired to write his own reminiscence of Lu Xun’s time in Sendai after being interviewed by a newspaper reporter about his acquaintance with the late distinguished author. The narrator—an alter ego for Dazai—disingenuously distances himself from the propagandistic tone of the reporter’s article, which was entitled “Pioneers in Amity.” Tanaka describes his own motivation in writing about Lu Xun as pure and politically unbiased.

That sort of piece with a social and political purpose cannot help but be written in that way. It’s inevitably different from the portrait that I have in my heart; you could say that since I’m writing this as a decrepit old country doctor who longs for a long-lost friend, more than for a social or political purpose, it is my fervent prayer to carefully record for posterity the image of that person. [11]

Tanaka first meets Zhou (Lu Xun) aboard a boat headed for the famous sightseeing spot of Matsushima along the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Tanaka notices Zhou wearing the same school uniform; they exchange greetings, and end up sharing a room together in a seaside inn. During their long discussions through the night, Zhou laments the plight of contemporary China. He claims that China is drunk with meaningless self-praise as a country with a long-gone glorious past, while blind to the present and destined for the same fate as neighboring India. Zhou asserts that the rulers of the current Qing Dynasty are lazy. As part of his effort to shake China out of its malaise, he states his wish to become the next Sugita Genpaku (1733-1817). Genpaku was a scholar of Dutch language during the Edo Period who translated texts on medicine into Japanese and helped physicians keep abreast of Western learning during Japan’s long era of isolation. Genpaku represents a figure who helped to lay the groundwork for Japan’s modernization process that would come later. [12]

Over the course of this one evening Zhou outlines his worldview and discusses the history of China’s colonization during the nineteenth century by an array of Western powers including England, France, Russia, and Germany. He also mentions America's growing imperialist ambitions in the Pacific, with the recent annexation of Hawaii and the acquisition of the Philippines from Spain. He does not mention Japan’s colonization of Taiwan or the contemporary battle with Russia in Northeast Asia. Zhou does describe the rising tide of political activism among Chinese intellectuals, many of whom enjoyed political sanctuary in Japan; he refers to intellectuals and political activists such as Liang Qichao (1873-1929), Kang Youwei (1858-1927), and Sun Yatsen (1866-1925). Both Liang and Kang fled to Japan from China after the failed Hundred Days Reform in 1898, a reform effort modeled on the Meiji Restoration and aimed at establishing a constitution, a parliament, and a reformed educational system.

Zhou’s recollection of how he felt when he first came to Japan in 1902 underscores his impression of Japan’s superiority in contrast to contemporary China. Zhou first went to Japan to study Japanese language at Kobun College in Tokyo on a Qing government-funded scholarship.

I rode a train headed for Shinbashi and when I took a look out the window, I sensed that Japan had a unique feeling of purity that was not to be found anywhere else in the world. The rice paddies and farming fields, perhaps unconsciously, were beautifully and perfectly arranged. Then there were the rows of factories with their black smoke filling the sky. It felt like there was a refreshing breeze blowing through each and every one of the factory buildings. I had never seen this brand new order and air of vitality in China. After this, whenever I went for a walk in downtown Tokyo early in the morning, I saw the figure of a woman in every house with a new towel covering her head and a sash holding up her sleeves, busily taking a duster to the shoji. Indeed, when I saw this intent and appealing figure bathed in the morning light, I began to think of this as a symbol of Japan; I felt like I had understood a glimpse of the true nature of a sacred nation. I easily experienced a similar admirable feeling of purity like that one, based on a quick glance at the area between Yokohama and Shinbashi. In other words, just a little was enough. The dark shadow of ennui wasn’t malingering anywhere. I was happy that I came to Japan and my chest thumped with joy. I was so excited that I couldn’t sit down, even though there were plenty of seats, during the one hour ride from Yokohama to Shinbashi I stood up nearly the whole time. [13]

In contrast to his breathless admiration for the industrious Japanese people and their land brimming with productive fields and factories, Zhou speaks disparagingly of his fellow Chinese in Japan. His disdain for other Chinese also manifests itself as a kind of self-loathing. Zhou explains how ashamed he was of his queue. The Manchu-led Qing government required all males to wear the queue and shave the front of their pates. He describes how he and his fellow students would coil up their braids and put them inside their school caps, but they couldn’t help being embarrassed when they were forced to remove those caps.

When Zhou went to Sendai in 1904, as the only Chinese and first foreign student to attend the medical school, he encountered both a warm reception from school officials and locals, and condescension and mistrust from some of his fellow students. In Dazai’s novel, Tanaka supports Zhou through his friendship, but as time passes, Zhou faces hostility and skepticism from many classmates and even Fujino himself. The hostility comes for two reasons: many students distrust and disdain Zhou because he is Chinese, and they also come to believe that he has received preferential treatment from Professor Fujino. In the highly competitive environment of medical school this is no small matter.

A number of issues threaten to divide the friendship between Tanaka and Zhou. One arrogant classmate from Tokyo named Tsuda Kenji remarks to Tanaka that Zhou, who was sent to study in Japan on a government-funded scholarship, could very well be a Chinese spy. He also asserts that, considering the fact that nearly every one of the Chinese students in Japan were political activists, they might be tempted to spy for Russia to gain political or military influence in an attempt to overthrow the Qing government. Tsuda, who is one of the class officers, emphasizes that this is Fujino’s view and that he expressed his concerns about Zhou during a class meeting. Tsuda says that “we need to be on guard; friendly on the one hand and watchful on the other. That’s why I take that foreign student into my boarding house and help him out, while at the same time, I try to do things in accordance with Japanese foreign relations.” [14] Tanaka and Tsuda argue, and finally Tsuda angrily accuses Tanaka of being a traitor and a juvenile delinquent.

The next day Tanaka asks Fujino about this and the professor admits that he did discuss the presence of Zhou during one of the class meetings, but that he had emphasized the need for all of the students to help him so that he can return to China and improve medical science there. Tanaka presses him further and Fujino is vague, but he points to an article in the newspaper about a chrysanthemum viewing party held at the Akasaka Detached Palace. With a grave expression, Fujino asks, “Doesn’t it give you confidence to see the light of the nation shining brightly from such a distance?” He adds obliquely, “I don’t know if I should speak of the superior benevolence of the kokutai (body politic), but I feel this even more deeply during times of war.” [15] Tanaka seems to interpret Fujino’s cryptic comments as a firm affirmation of the Japanese emperor-centered ideology.

Fujino asks Tanaka if he and Zhou are friends. Tanaka replies quickly, “No, we’re not particularly good friends, but I’m thinking I’d like to become closer to him.” Tanaka mentions how he and Zhou had discussed politics and philosophy. At that, Fujino mumbles almost to himself, “Revolutionary ideas . . .” Fujino then ruminates about his own family and his often tumultuous relationship with his brother. Then, in a statement that echoes the rhetoric of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, he states his belief that all of the Orient is one family. Here Fujino’s political stance is made clear and he cannot be construed as having a naive attitude toward a potentially dangerous ideologue such as Zhou.

Rewriting the Magic Lantern Incident: From Resolution to Humiliation

In Sekibetsu, the magic lantern incident is largely discounted as the actual motivation for Lu Xun’s decision to quit his medical studies. In the afterword to Sekibetsu, Dazai explains that he relied on Oda Takeo’s biography of Lu Xun (Ro Jin-den) published in 1941 as well as Takeuchi Yoshimi’s definitive biography (Ro Jin) which came out in 1944. Takeuchi was the first to question the authenticity of Lu Xun’s claim that he abandoned his medical studies to write literature after seeing the slide of the Chinese prisoner being executed. This was a popular anecdote conveyed in Oda’s biography as well as others, but Takeuchi dismissed this as lacking in historical evidence:

Lu Xun did not leave Sendai armed with the great ambition that he would salvage the spiritual poverty of his fellow countrymen through literature. It was more likely that he took leave of the city smitten by a feeling of humiliation and indignation. He must not have had the luxury to think, “Although medical science has failed me, I will do much better in literature.”. . . In any case I am inclined to conclude that the slide incident had no direct bearing upon his transfer to literature. [16]

It seems that Dazai was persuaded by Takeuchi’s view since Sekibetsu’s narrator, Tanaka, expresses similar skepticism about the role of the magic lantern incident in shaping Lu Xun’s future ambitions. Tanaka says of the incident:

I think that the explanation that everyone has been talking about recently is not exactly correct; that due to the so-called “magic lantern incident,” doubts (about Western science) suddenly arose in Zhou’s heart. According to some, Lu Xun wrote his recollections of Sendai in his later years and it did seem that, indeed, he resolved to make the transition from medicine to literature due to this magic lantern incident. Yet I think that, for his own reasons, he was writing these things as a way of dealing with his past in a shorthand fashion. It seems that often people have to communicate the main points of their history after it has been thoroughly reconstructed in this way. [17]

Tanaka offers a number of alternative explanations for Zhou’s sudden change of heart, including the suggestion that Zhou became dazzled by the glory of contemporary Japanese literature. Tanaka assigns the greatest influence on Zhou to an anonymous letter that was sent to him during the fall semester of his second year in Sendai. On the first page of the letter was scrawled the admonition: “Repent your evil ways!” The letter accused Zhou of receiving the answers to the tests from Fujino when he corrected his lecture notes. Tanaka interprets this situation as infinitely more serious than the slide incident; he even speculates that this could spark an international scandal if thousands of Zhou’s outraged fellow Chinese students in Japan were to come to his aid and question the integrity of the Sendai Medical School. [18] Not only does this have the potential to impugn the honor of the Japanese medical students, but just as significantly, Tanaka sees this as the source of great humiliation for Zhou and the primary impetus behind his decision to abandon medical studies. In contrast to the slide incident in which his moral conscience is pricked, the insulting and accusatory letter ostensibly sows the seeds of shame and alienation.

Dazai’s rewriting of Lu Xun’s famous narrative of dramatic epiphany deflates the original tone of firm resolution and moral indignation and emphasizes instead resignation in the face of adversity. As a wartime propaganda novel, this seems to achieve the desired effect in suggesting that Lu Xun—an icon of Chinese modernity and progressive political consciousness—is incapable of rational, principled, independent agency, but rather, must be more concerned with “saving face” when threatened with humiliation. Near the end of the novel, Zhou discusses the magic lantern incident and credits it with kindling a new personal commitment to changing China’s national character, yet his prescriptions for China’s ailments could never be accepted by contemporary Chinese nationalists. In recalling the famous slide incident, he contrasts the Chinese bystanders with the Japanese soldiers and expresses his pessimism for China’s political future.

When I saw this I couldn’t just stand there and watch. The people of my country are still in a degenerate state. Our ally Japan has united its nation and is fighting bravely and I don’t understand what’s behind the fellow who became a military spy for the enemy—he was probably paid a lot of money—yet to me, more than that traitor, I really couldn’t stand the idiotic faces of those people gathered around watching in a daze. Those are the faces of the Chinese people today. It’s a problem of the spirit. The important thing for China today is not physical strength; didn’t all of those onlookers have perfectly good bodies? My conviction has deepened that for those people, the most important thing is not medicine at all: it’s a spiritual revolution. It’s the improvement of the national character. If things continue as they are now, China will not be able to establish the honor of becoming a real, permanently independent country. Even if they expel the Qing, restore the Han, and establish a constitution, since the source of the product is still the same, isn’t it hopeless? [19]

Rejecting the West and China, Embracing Japanese-Style Modernity

Zhou’s speech suggests that China’s problems are endemic and intractable. Although Zhou diagnoses China’s problem as spiritual, he concludes that the remedy lies neither in Western religion nor the Chinese Confucian tradition. After visiting a Methodist church with a fellow classmate named Yashima, Zhou finds that he cannot stomach listening to a sermon about Moses leading his people out of Egypt, and he concludes that even though Moses was able to lead his people to the promised land, they were forced to endure forty long years of suffering and cursed him when it was all over. Zhou is skeptical that the common people can be saved in this way; that this can alleviate their deep suffering and slave-like mentality. He also voices his view that Confucianism is useless as a socio-political philosophy, since it all comes down to the rites which “the Confucian scholars teach as the final mode of behavior, but instead, princes insult the retainers and fathers bind sons in hypocritical customs and force them into degeneracy.” [20]

After rejecting Western Christianity and Chinese orthodox Confucianism, Zhou decides that he can find inspiration for helping China modernize from the Japanese National Learning (kokugaku) scholars who paved the way for the Meiji Restoration: scholars such as Keichu (1640-1701), Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769), Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), and Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843). He tells the narrator that it was not scientific knowledge that enabled the reforms of the Meiji era, but rather, the spiritual enlightenment of those writers as well as Confucian historians like Rai San’yo (1780-1832). He asserts that they provided the fuel for the miracle of the Meiji Restoration. Zhou praises the spiritual values of the Edo intellectuals while condemning the Western emphasis on science as lacking an ethical consciousness: “It was extremely dangerous to utilize the hedonism of science to save one’s own citizens. With aggressive intent, this was the approach taken by Westerners to subjugate the people of other countries. The most important thing in cultivating civilization in one’s own country is to first enlighten the spirits of the people.” [21]

In this way, Dazai presents Lu Xun as an anti-Western polemicist after the model of Japanese nationalists from the 1930s to the end of the Pacific War. This ideological position generally promoted the Japanese spirit (yamato-damashii) as superior to the cold rationalism of Western science and enlightenment. The abstract goal of disentangling the nature of Japan’s modern national identity from Western influences culminated in the famous symposium on “Overcoming Modernity” in July 1942. This wartime gathering of Japanese intellectuals produced an array of opinions concerning the problem of Japanese modernity. General consensus viewed the West as synonymous with modernization, and its powerful influence was generally viewed as merely an importation of form with little spiritual or cultural relevance to Japan. In this sense, Western modernity was viewed as a hindrance to the development of Japanese spiritual purity. The following statement from the symposium by the literary critic Nakamura Mitsuo reflects this view:

How badly have the heartless demands of the times twisted the spirits of those who had no choice but to accommodate themselves to it! Surely this is the most serious question our country’s modernity puts to us. [22]

The emphasis on spiritual cultivation as a means of inoculating the Japanese people against the dangers of Western rational materialism was also extended as a higher ideological goal for all of Asia in the vaunted Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The root of the morality of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere lies in passing on to each people the moralische Energie of Japan, raising their spiritual level to a height where they can cooperate with Japan, and in this way setting up a moral relationship among different ethnic peoples that can support the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. [23]

Contrary to Dazai’s portrayal, Lu Xun was not a jingoistic nationalist who embraced the binarism of East versus West, spiritualism versus materialism. After leaving medical school in Sendai in March of 1906, he returned to Tokyo to enroll in the German Institute, ostensibly to study German language. In July of the same year he returned briefly to Shaoxing to marry a woman named Zhu An who was chosen for him by his mother. He soon returned to Tokyo, leaving his bride behind, and during the next three years he and his brother Zuoren translated, mainly through the medium of Japanese, a wide range of stories into Chinese from Russia, England, America, France, Finland, Poland, Serbia, Bosnia, Hungary and other European and Eastern European countries. [24] Lu Xun had intended to go to Germany to study, but he had to abandon this plan and return to China in August of 1909 in order to support his mother and brother back in Shaoxing. [25]

Dazai’s propagandistic agenda in Sekibetsu provides a window on the idealized view of the Sino-Japanese relationship from the wartime Japanese perspective of the 1940s. In this imagined world order, Japan serves as a bulwark against Western imperialism in Asia and presents itself to China as a role model for modernization, integrating Western knowledge without jettisoning some vaguely conceived notion of pan-Asian cultural values guided by Japanese spiritual principles.

In Sekibetsu, Lu Xun’s break with his former teacher is presented as a source of future regret and the dynamics of that relationship suggests symbolic parallels with the historical relationship between China and Japan in the modern period as construed from the Japanese side: China as the student to Japan the teacher. Lu Xun acknowledges that he “betrayed the kindness of that teacher (Fujino),” [26] suggesting that he felt later in life that it was impossible to make amends or reciprocate for the debt incurred. As the embodiment of a progressive political consciousness in China, Lu Xun is a figure who represents—from the Japanese historical perspective—a vital bridge for modern ideas between the two countries.

Dazai’s portrayal of Lu Xun’s regretful attitude towards his relationship with Fujino and Japan suggests an allegorical mea culpa regarding China’s awkward steps toward modernity seen in retrospect, that is, implying that had China followed the Japanese nationalist model, she may have avoided the rocky path toward political independence in the twentieth century, from the founding of the Republic in 1912 to the political chaos that may have enticed Japan’s militarists to exploit the situation to their advantage.

Lu Xun’s Eternal Debt to the Japanese People: The Twilight Years in Shanghai

Nearly fifty years after Sekibetsu was written, the contemporary Japanese author Inoue Hiashi (b. 1934) presented his own fictionalized version of Lu Xun in the play Shanghai Moon, performed in January of 1991. [27] Inoue, a prolific playwright, director, novelist, and public intellectual, is perhaps best known in Japan for his bestselling satirical novel The Kirikirians (1981) that skewered the Japanese state, and for his popular children’s puppet show on NHK daily television, Popping-up-Gourd Island (Hyokkori hyotan-jima [1964-69]). Among a wide range of topics—he has published roughly 185 books as of 2006—Inoue has a penchant for writing plays and novels about modern Japanese canonical authors, some of whom shared his own progressive political leanings. These include Natsume Soseki (1867-1916); Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896); Ishikawa Takuboku (1886-1912); Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933); Dazai Osamu; Yoshino Sakuzo, and Hayashi Fumiko (1903-1951). [28]

From the early 1990s to the present, most of Inoue’s plays have portrayed individuals struggling to maintain their humanity in the face of the overwhelming material and ideological forces during the time from the early 1930s to the end of the Pacific War. Inoue’s interest in this tumultuous period seems rooted in his own early childhood growing up in a small farming community in southern Yamagata.

Inoue’s father, Shukichi, who died when young Hisashi was only five years old, was an aspiring writer and local political activist. When Shukichi returned to his hometown in Yamagata after studying in Tokyo in the early 1930s, he began to run a general store while supervising tenant farmers as the eldest son of a local landowner. After marrying and settling with his wife Masu from Tokyo, Shukichi began producing socialist propaganda billets on three mimeograph machines hidden in various places on the property.

In a newspaper article from the Yamagata Shinbun dated May 21, 1931, Shukichi’s name is mentioned as one of the leaders of a group of 83 individuals who were arrested for communist insurgency. Shukichi was a founder of a theatre troupe called the Reimei-za (named after the Reimei-kai [The Illumination Society], a pro-democracy group founded by Yoshino Sakuzo and Fukuda Tokuzo [1874-1930] in 1918). [29]

Shukichi’s activities earned him cold stares and rebukes from the defenders of the status quo in the town. After his death, Inoue’s mother would come to be ostracized from the Inoue family and the community for her own outspoken political views and unconventional demeanor. Just before the beginning of the Pacific War in November of 1941, the literary critic and Sinologist Ozaki Hotsumi (1901-1944) was invited by the town mayor to give a lecture. Ozaki was an outspoken critic of the war in China, and when he addressed the audience, Masu Inoue was one of the few who nodded in agreement while most muttered their disapproval. Six months after the speech, Ozaki was arrested with the German Richard Sorge (1895-1944) on the suspicion of sending classified Japanese information to the Soviets. In spite of the fact that Ozaki was arrested as a traitor and a spy, Masu sent a series of letters to him in prison.

On the night after the Pearl Harbor attack, Inoue’s small town of Komatsu held a pro-war rally during which Masu publicly expressed her skepticism about the feasibility of winning a war against the U.S. Many in the community subsequently labeled her an “anti-national (hikokumin).” Once the Sorge Incident became public, her persona non grata status was elevated to “woman spy.” [30]

Although Inoue Hisashi’s plays and novels tend not to have overt political messages, many of his semi-fictionalized portraits of recent historical figures suggest a mischievous iconoclasm designed to subvert the foundations of Japanese conservative political ideology. In the case of his play Shanghai Moon, however, Inoue seems less interested in elucidating Lu Xun’s own political philosophy and more intent on producing a portrait of Lu Xun’s Japanese friends and supporters that reflects a forgotten facet of Japan’s involvement in China during the war. Inoue said in a newspaper interview that when he wrote Shanghai Moon, “Japan was performing very poorly in the international community and getting lambasted for being able to think only about money. Still, I thought that the people of a given country were not all the same and I felt that it was wrong to make generalizations about all Japanese people.” For this reason, he wanted to present a positive example of Japanese people from history showing compassion toward Lu Xun right up to the very end of his life. [31]

Inoue’s portrait of Lu Xun focuses on the year 1934 in Shanghai when Lu Xun and his common-law wife, Xu Guangping (see image 3), took refuge at the famous Uchiyama Bookstore to avoid persecution as by the Nationalists (Guomindang) led by Chiang Kai-shek.

Image 3: 1926 photograph
of Xu Guangping (1898-1968)

Following Chiang Kai-shek’s April 1927 coup in Shanghai and the massacre of Communist sympathizers that followed, Lu Xun lived in constant fear of political assassination or capture by the Nationalists until his death. Although Inoue’s play ostensibly takes place from August 23 to September 16, 1934, he integrates and conflates events that occurred in the years 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1934. [32]

Following the 1927 coup, Lu Xun’s immediate response was to drop out of sight, and he decided not to “speak, teach, or voice opinions.” [33] By 1929, Lu Xun began to return to writing and reemerge as a political voice for the socialist movement in China. He joined the League of Left-Wing Writers and became the titular head after its inauguration on March 2, 1930. The league was subsequently suppressed by the Chinese government, and the Zhejiang Provincial Government ordered Lu Xun’s arrest. During the spring of 1930, Lu Xun was compelled to cover his tracks, moving to various addresses, until finally seeking refuge with his wife on the third story of a building just opposite the Uchiyama Bookstore in May of the same year. [34] The setting of Inoue’s play is a storeroom on the second story of the Uchiyama Bookstore, run by Uchiyama Kanzo and his wife Miki. The bookstore was located in Shanghai on the north side of the International Settlement in Hongkou (known informally as the Japanese Concession) at the end of North Sichuan Road, a bustling commercial street.

Like the setting, the cast of characters is limited in Shanghai Moon: It consists of Lu Xun (age 53), Xu Guanping (36), Uchiyama Kanzo (age 49), Uchiyama Miki (age 41), Sudo Iozo (age 50) and Okuda Aizo (age 39). In Act One, Scene One, entitled “Irregular Heartbeat,” the actor playing Lu Xun reads from seven letters written by Lu Xun that help to introduce the historical setting and characters. The third letter describes his old friend, Uchiyama Kanzo, and his bookstore:

Many customers who come to gather here worship the personality of that person. Of course, I too am one of those fans. If you were to describe Kanzo’s character in a single word, it would probably be “simple.” Those who don’t know him might merely see him as a fool. You see, his business policy is basically, “Whether they’re Japanese or Chinese, people who read books can’t be bad.” For this reason, customers were allowed to not only read books while standing up, they were even offered chairs and treated to tea. There was never any policy about preventing shoplifting and customers who came in without money were given books on credit. Even when the charge account reached upwards of hundreds of yen, there was never a dour look. Considering this objectively, one couldn’t help but call him a fool. Yet, when customers are trusted to that extent, they also respond to that trust with deep devotion. They start by taking special care in turning the pages of the books, then they begin forgetting about trying to shoplift, and despite other temptations, when some money comes in, they try to pay off their debts on the charge account. This is how the Uchiyama Bookstore became one of the biggest bookstores in Shanghai. [35]

Kanzo moved to Shanghai with his wife shortly after they were married in March of 1916. He first established the bookstore in 1917 on North Sichuan Road at a different address from the one where the store would later prosper from 1929 to 1945. Kanzo and Lu Xun first met in the original bookstore in October of 1927, and their friendship continued until Lu Xun’s death nearly ten years later. [36] (See image 4.)

Image 4: Lu Xun and Uchiyama Kanzo

The presence of the other Japanese main characters, Sudo Iozo and Okuda Aizo, underscores the fundamental plot of Shanghai Moon: curing Lu Xun of his physical and spiritual afflictions. Sudo is a retired Japanese army doctor who opened his own clinic in Shanghai in 1932. In 1934 he was Lu Xun’s main physician, treating his numerous ailments, including incipient tuberculosis. [37] (See image 5.) Okuda is a dentist and he is there to assist in treating Lu Xun’s various dental problems. However, according to one source, Lu Xun’s dental difficulties at this time were that he didn’t have any: his ill-fitting false teeth were allegedly causing him to lose weight. [38]

Image 5: Sudo Iozo (1876-1956)

Japanese Intervention to Heal the Chinese Literary Icon’s Body and Soul

Inoue takes many liberties with the facts of Lu Xun’s life in an effort to expose Lu Xun’s many psychological and physical afflictions. In contrast to Dazai’s novel, Inoue's play cleverly exploits the irony that while Lu Xun was attempting to cure the ills of the Chinese spirit and raise political consciousness through literature, his physical health was deteriorating to the extent that it was negatively affecting his writing and threatened to put him out of commission permanently. Inoue exaggerates Lu Xun’s vehement rejection of medicine and science when he portrays him as having uncontrollable phobias toward all doctors and dentists. This is played to comic effect, but Inoue also uses this as an opportunity for Lu Xun to divulge his deepest emotions from the past, when Sudo and Okuda secretly anaesthetize him with nitrous oxide in an effort to treat his illnesses.

Just as in Dazai’s novel, Lu Xun’s “regrettable parting” from Fujino-sensei is presented as a major source of psychological angst. In Dazai’s novel, Lu Xun praises the superiority of Japanese-style modernization and political thought. In Shanghai Moon, Lu Xun begins to lose his literary voice and must be resuscitated through the intervention of modern Japanese science and technology, as well as something akin to group therapy.

When Doctor Sudo first appears in Scene One, Uchiyama’s wife Miki mentions the fact that Lu Xun detests doctors. Sudo finds it hard to believe that Lu Xun hates doctors, considering his previous aspiration to become one himself when he was a medical student in Sendai. Kanzo then remarks to Sudo that Lu Xun had stopped frequenting his favorite crab restaurant in the French Concession since the fall of the previous year, when a medical clinic had opened up next door. Kanzo reports that Lu Xun’s latrophobia (fear of doctors) is so sever that he has never once stood in front of the medical section in the bookstore. Kanzo adds that doctors are on the top of Lu Xun’s list of most detestable things, followed by dentists and then Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang in descending order. [39] Miki and Kanzo concoct a plan to make Lu Xun believe that Sudo is simply a fan of his literature, and they hope to have him visit frequently in the future and become a regular member of their literary salon as a pretext to check Lu Xun’s health.

After Sudo is introduced to Lu Xun for the first time, Sudo immediately begins his covert examination of Lu Xun’s vital signs. For example, when they first shake hands, Sudo holds Lu Xun’s hands for an unusually long period of time. When the author asks why he is still holding his hand, Sudo replies that he is just overwhelmed at finally meeting him. Meanwhile, Sudo has secretly taken his pulse and determined that Lu Xun has an irregular heartbeat. Although Lu Xun remains unaware of Sudo’s ministrations, he begins to reminisce about his medical studies with Fujino-sensei and his earlier attraction to Western thought.

Lu Xun: It’s certainly true that the occidental way of thinking about things is wonderful. At one time I too was drawn to it.

Sudo: Do you mean to say that you think differently now?

Lu Xun: (nodding his head) I’ve come to realize that not all Western thought is so marvelous. For example, brutality—do you know what I mean?

Sudo: Do you mean cruelty?

Lu Xun: Yes, it could be that Westerners are no longer able to control this cruelty. Thanks to the great powers of Europe, China finds itself in this terrible semi-colonial state and this cruelty clearly rears its head as these powers try to make foreign countries into their own colonies. Of course, Orientals are cruel as well, but the nature of Western cruelty is different. It’s founded on ideas from evolutionary theory such as the survival of the fittest. This heartless and unforgiving cruelty is based on the idea that it is just and good if the stronger ones triumph and survive while the weaker ones are defeated and fade away.

Sudo: I see, I think I understand some of your ideas . . .

Lu Xun: (then with firmness) And Japan learned this cruelty from the West. [40]

Lu Xun is fully aware of the threat to Chinese sovereignty that the Japanese presence represents. He declares that he has been long arguing for the expulsion of the Japanese and that Shang Kai-shek and the Nationalists are annoyed with the Communists’ anti-Japanese position. Lu Xun asserts that the Nationalists are trying to appease the Japanese temporarily so that they can first eradicate the Communists before turning their attention to the foreign invaders. He then produces a photograph of Fujino-sensei from a handkerchief and muses that there is a part of him that trusts the Japanese. Looking at Kanzo and then Sudo, he says, “If there were one, two, or three Japanese people like this Fujino-sensei, then I could trust the Japanese.”[41]

In Scene Two, “Toothache,” it seems that Lu Xun’s trust has been misplaced because all of the Japanese characters, Uchiyama Kanzo and his wife, Sudo, and Okuda, the dentist, have been plotting to catch him off-guard and anaesthetize him so that the doctor and dentist can examine and treat him. In this scene, Okuda pretends to be an artist painting Lu Xun’s portrait. From casual conversation, Okuda learns that Lu Xun has a perennial sweet tooth and warns him that he will certainly get cavities if he continues eating so much sugar. Soon Sudo and Kanzo appear. Kanzo tells Lu Xun that his young son, Haiying, was sick to his stomach and that he had called a doctor for him. Lu Xun comments that he himself has no need for a doctor; that he understands his body perfectly well. Sudo observes Lu Xun carefully and asks him why he seems to be so afraid to get close to doctors: he wonders whether there isn’t some hidden reason for this deep anxiety associated with doctors. Lu Xun counters that he has explored every nook and cranny of his heart through his literature, and he doesn’t believe that there are any secrets lingering there.

Mr. Sudo, if I can, I’d like to show you what’s inside my heart. It’s a desolate scene: a desert in the moonlight with nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. I’ve written and written myself out to the extent that there’s only four or five useless blades of withered wild grass growing there that might make material for some odd sketches. Do you think that there might be any secrets rolling about in there somewhere? [42]

Image 6: Lu Xun, Xu
Guangping and Haiying

Lu Xun’s Innermost Soul is Bared through the Magic of Science

Stage direction: Okuda puts the gas mask over Lu Xun’s nose and signals to Kanzo. Responding to these signals as from a symphony conductor, Kanzo manipulates the knobs. Miki takes out a washbasin, pours hot water and takes out disinfectant. Guangping puts a kind of bib on Lu Xun and holds him firmly.

Once Lu Xun is incapacitated by the nitrous oxide, Okuda and Sudo examine him and argue with each other over about how to begin treatment. After being completely immobilized for a short while, Lu Xun suddenly becomes semi-conscious: he then attempts to get up and begins addressing Dr. Sudo as Fujino-sensei.

Lu Xun (speaking now in a groggy and distressed tone of voice): When I went to say words of farewell at your home, the home that you could see at the top of the hill among that sea of rooftops in Sendai, I told you a lie. Please forgive me (as if he is taking on all the sins of the world). At that time, I said, “I’m going to stop my medical studies at this point because I want to study biology.” That was a lie. In my heart, my ambition was to write literature. In your desire to bring new medical studies to China, you always encouraged me in a kindhearted way. I repaid your heartfelt compassion with lies. I feel terrible about that. [43]

Still in a drug-induced haze, Lu Xun then turns to Guangping and apologizes to her with a look of deep sorrow. Guangping is confused and Lu Xun says, “I completely thrust my mother on you. Zhu An, I made you into a worthless housekeeper for your whole life. . . I made you into a widow while you were still alive!” Here Lu Xun mistakes Guangping for his legal wife that he married in 1906. Three years his senior, Zhu An was a distant cousin of Lu Xun’s and his mother, Lu Rui, initiated the negotiations for their betrothal. It seems that they were formally betrothed in the spring of 1902 before Lu Xun first left for Japan. Lu Xun had resisted the union and he reportedly would not consent unless Zhu An unbound her feet and went to school. (See image 7.)

Image 7: Zhu An (1878-1947)

When Lu Xun moved to Tokyo from Sendai some four years later, he received a telegram from his hometown of Shaoxing with the message, “Mother ill, return with all speed.” Lu Xun promptly returned to find that his mother was fine; it was a ruse to lure him into his own wedding that had been prepared for the auspicious date of the sixth day of the sixth lunar month. Lu Xun dutifully complied with the ceremony, in spite of the fact that Zhu An had not met his preconditions. He slept with Zhu An only once on their wedding night and then reportedly moved into his mother’s room before hastily returning to Tokyo. Throughout his marriage to Zhu An, Lu Xun generally ignored and neglected her, although he did support her financially since she played an important domestic role and aided his aged mother over the years. Lu Xun’s attitude can be summed up in his dismissive comment about Zhu An made later in life: “She isn’t my wife, she is my mother’s.” [44]

Image 8: Lu Rui,
Lu Xun's mother

Inoue’s Lu Xun voices his regrets about his treatment of others in the past, but his deepest source of lingering guilt stems from his perceived betrayal of Fujino-sensei. The anesthesia triggers a psychological regression in which Lu Xun’s consciousness of the present is subsumed by emotion-laden memories of the past. In this delusional state, the only person Lu Xun recognizes is Kanzo; he doesn’t even remember his own nom de plume. Kanzo cannot reason with him enough to guide his way back to the present reality. In the final tableau of Scene Two, Kanzo says, “I’m Kanzo and you (sensei) are Lu Xun.” Lu Xun responds, “Who is he?” Then he points to a model of a human skeleton on the stage as the lights grow dim.

In Scene Three, entitled “Chronic Suicidal Longing,” Lu Xun disappears from the stage. Guangping emerges and reports on his condition to the other characters. She complains that he still thinks that she is Zhu An. Sudo and Okuda speculate about the root cause of his symptoms and conclude that he has suicidal tendencies. Beyond their assessment that Lu Xun’s “body is a nest for pernicious maladies, a veritable department store of diseases,” Sudo speculates that Lu Xun’s sense of guilt for betraying the trust of Fujino-sensei and living longer than others who have since died had manifested itself as a desire to “apologize through the act of dying.” Sudo asserts further that Lu Xun’s hatred of doctors is tantamount to a kind of “passive suicide.” He argues that “Lu Xun has been living with this in his head the whole time: ‘I’ll never receive any treatment for sickness whatsoever. If I can die without taking any, I can meet death honestly; in that way I can at least apologize for my. . .’” [45] After further discussion, both men decide that it is necessary to act out the roles of these key figures from Lu Xun’s life to facilitate a catharsis of his debilitating burden of guilt.

Sudo (as Fujino-sensei): Between you and me, I’m going to call you by your real name. Zhou Shuren, I understand that over your writing desk you always hung on the wall that picture of Fujino Genkuro that I gave you as farewell gift. Thank you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Lu Xun (in the midst of fear, a slight look of fond nostalgia emerges): Sensei . . .

Sudo: Zhou-kun, more than finding illnesses of the body and curing them, you thought that first you would uncover the maladies of the heart. Hmm, it’s probably good that you thought of this. I think I’ll give you a passing grade.

Lu Xun: A passing grade!

Sudo: If you came up with this idea during one of my lectures it makes me feel proud. You see, that means that I send a famous doctor of the heart out into the world.

Lu Xun: Does that mean that you’ll forgive me?

Sudo: Do you think that between you and me there’s a need for something like forgiveness? Zhou-kun, listen closely to a doctor’s order and become healthy. I pray that your literary fortunes will become ever greater. Why don’t you even come over to Japan for a visit?

Through this process of role playing and transference, Sudo and the others attempt to help Lu Xun unburden his conscience and return to the present. His recovery is not immediate, but in Scene Five (“Aphasia”) Lu Xun greets Kanzo, Sudo, and Okuda, and recounts how he suddenly recovered his senses while the three of them were traveling in Japan. Lu Xun explains that after his recovery, Guangping told him what had transpired during this regression and how Sudo and the others had made heroic efforts to cure him. Not only does Lu Xun recognize his wife and friends, he now has a fresh outlook on the world:

Lu Xun: The next morning, an unusual thing happened; my eyes opened at the same time as the sunrise. I casually opened the window (the one facing the street side) and was astonished. The rays of the sun beat down and seeped into my body. For the first time since I was born I thought that I wanted to embrace the sun. I wonder why this happened so suddenly; ever since I was little, I always liked the moon much more than the sun.

Sudo (to Okuda and Kanzo): Sensei wants to live! Those monsters and the chronic suicidal impulses have vanished from Sensei’s heart! . . . The debt on Sensei’s heart has been paid off! [46]

Now that Lu Xun has changed his perspective on the past, he is eager to follow the advice of his Japanese friends regarding his health and psychological well-being. Symbolically, Lu Xun’s relationship with Japan has also been restored to a harmonious state, and he no longer seems to harbor misgivings about the past. The revived reciprocal nature of this relationship is underscored when Sudo reports that he too witnessed a slide show of a Chinese prisoner being executed just after the Russo-Japanese War when he was in high school. In Sudo’s case, he viewed a similar slide in his German language class. It was not the sight of the apathetic Chinese bystanders that affected him; rather, it was the sight of the Japanese soldiers joking and drinking as the man was being put to death. In the background of the photograph, Sudo noticed the face of an older cousin, a cousin who would later die in battle. According to Sudo, it was this shocking incident that led him to abandon his plan to study German literature in college, and he resolved to study medicine instead: the obverse of Lu Xun’s career path.

At this point in Inoue’s play, Lu Xun undergoes another life-changing epiphany and is poised to flee the chaos and danger of Shanghai and take refuge in Kamakura, Japan, with his Japanese companions. He even expresses his ardent wish to finally write a novel entitled Shanghai Moon. This ambition is short-lived, however; Lu Xun is soon afflicted with an odd case of aphasia. Whenever he speaks, syllables of nouns and verbs become garbled in strange and often comic ways. For example, when he tries to call Kanzo by name, he repeatedly mispronounces the first syllable and calls him “Kidney (jinzo),” “Heart (shinzo),” “Lungs (haizo),” and “Innards (naizo).” [47] Near the end of the play Lu Xun overcomes this condition, and he concludes that both of his afflictions constituted a kind of self-punishment for his own lack of courage and revolutionary zeal.

Lu Xun: As for scrub brush (tawashi=watashi=me), that is, straw sandals (waraji=watashi=me), I have boiled (nitsuketa=mitsuketa=found) the root cause of my own illness (no longer upset by his chronic paraphasia). I think that straw sandal (I) have always tried to slip out (nugeta=nigeta=run away) at the most critical point. Before the revolution straw sandal (I) slipped out (ran away) from the scene of the pork cutlet (katsudon=katsudo=action). And straw sandal (I) also slipped out (ran away) when those people who had the same carelessness (soso=riso=ideals) as they shouted out and were just about to rush in. The young people go to their deaths (under the slogan of) “creating a better world!” But all I did was continue to run away. Indeed, it was for that reason that I was afflicted with the condition of mistaken identity and those other illnesses. So in spite of all of these failures, I am still trying to get out of Shanghai. That’s why I’ve gotten this case of aphasia. I think that both the mistaken identity syndrome and the aphasia were a kind of punishment that I gave myself . . . [48]

Although Lu Xun’s recovery was temporary, the play ends on an optimistic note and it seems that even if Lu Xun does not write his coveted novel, his remaining days will be productive ones. Although Lu Xun was never a member of the Chinese Communist Party, it is striking to see this literary giant within the Chinese socialist movement being nursed back to psychological and physical health by Japanese citizens during a period when the Japanese government’s official stance was so virulently anti-communist, not to mention arrogantly belligerent toward China in general.

Inoue’s play concludes in a way that seems designed to invite a reevaluation of Japanese influence on Chinese intellectual life and literature. A more richly nuanced portrait of Sino-Japanese historical relations seems long overdue; at the same time, Shanghai Moon represents yet another attempt to reclaim Lu Xun’s legacy as something that was nurtured not only by his experience in Japan, but also through his lifelong contact with Japanese friends and associates.

The longing of Lu Xun fans in Japan to feel their affection reciprocated seems satisfied near the conclusion of the play when Lu Xun makes his final speech expressing his gratitude toward his Japanese friends in Shanghai. Lu Xun agrees that he will receive X-rays and any other medical or dental treatment that might be necessary. Sudo is pleased to see this change of attitude and he conveys his appreciation: “Thank you, Lu Xun-san.” Okuda, Kanzo and Miki also express their admiration as they bow in unison toward Lu Xun.

Lu Xun : It is I who must bow my head in respect. Each and every one of you cured me through your ways of living, through the way the story of our lives have been woven together. All of you are exceptional doctors. (Looking at Guangping) You too, Guangping. [49]

Shanghai Moon is an attempt to consolidate Lu Xun’s status as a Japanese canonical author and it presents a reenactment of Lu Xun’s identity crisis that was allegedly sparked by the magic lantern incident. In Shanghai Moon, Lu Xun once again struggles to decide where he belongs: with his fellow Chinese who resist Japanese imperialism, or with his dear Japanese friends who counter totalitarian ideology with individual compassion. All four of his friends demonstrate selfless devotion and Christian-like charity that elevates them above the historical taint of their nationality.

Like Dazai’s Sekibetsu, Inoue’s portrait of Lu Xun serves a useful didactic role when it accurately reflects the historical record, yet it seems primarily designed to present a sympathetic portrait of these open-minded and admirable Japanese citizens rather than illuminate Lu Xun’s essential character. Likewise, the depiction of Lu Xun’s tortuous delusions, regressions, and aphasia suggests an external projection of traumatic symptoms from the repressed guilt of Japanese historical memory.

When the audience in Shanghai Moon identifies with the four Japanese friends whom Lu Xun refers to as “exceptional doctors,” by extension, they are also intended to feel a sense of solidarity with Fujino-sensei and vicarious satisfaction with the notion that this relationship has been symbolically restored to its previous state: the bond between the selfless, compassionate teacher and his grateful and obedient student.

Christopher Robins is currently teaching at Vassar College. He has translated a collection of short stories by Inoue Hisashi entitled A New Reading of the Tales of Tono under review for publication. Email at

This article was written for Japan Focus. Posted on February 4, 2007.


[1] Lu Xun: Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, translated by William A. Lyell (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), xi.

[2] David Holm, “Lu Xun in the Period 1936-1949: The Making of a Chinese Gorki,” in Lu Xun and His Legacy, ed., Leo Ou-fan Lee (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1985), 165.

[3] Op. cit., 166.

[4] Translations of “Mr. Fujino,” “A Small Incident,” “Storm in a Teacup,” and “My Old Home” were included in the Japanese junior high school kokugo (national language) curriculum after the 1950s. More than 20 million Japanese read “My Old Home” as part of their high school education. See Maruyama Noboru, “Lu Xun in Japan,” in Lu Xun and His Legacy, 240.

[5] Oda Takeo, Ro Jin den (Biography of Lu Xun) (Tokyo: Daiwa shobo, 1966), 40.

[6] Numano Seisuke, Ro Jin to Nihon (Lu Xun and Japan) (Bungeisha: 2004), 31-32.

[7] In Shimizu Yasuzo, Shina shinjin to reimei undo (Chinese new people and the enlightenment movement) (Osaka: Osakago shoten, 1924), cited in “Lu Xun in Japan,” 218.

[8] Nakano’s biography of Lu Xun (Ro Jin den) was less a comprehensive biography than an argument for the necessity of one. Nakano was imprisoned for two years between 1932-34 for leftist activities and was released after becoming a political “convert.” Cited in “Lu Xun in Japan,” 224-225.

[9] Phyllis I. Lyons, The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1985), 32.

[10] Donald Keene, “Japanese Writers and the Greater East Asia War,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 23:2 (Feb., 1964), 219-220.

[11] Daizai Osamu, Sekibetsu, in Dazai Osamu zenshu, vol. 7 (Chikuma shobo, 1989), 189.

[12] Sekibetsu, 210-212.

[13] Sekibetsu, 222-223.

[14] Sekibetsu, 247.

[15] Sekibetsu, 250.

[16] Takeuchi Yoshimi, Ro Jin (Lu Xun) (Tokyo: Nihon hyoronsha, 1944; rpt., Tokyo: Miraisha, 1961), 70. Cited in “Lu Xun in Japan,” 226-227.

[17] Sekibetsu, 302

[18] Sekibetsu, 277-278.

[19] Sekibetsu, 315.

[20] Sekibetsu, 295.

[21] Sekibetsu, 298-299.

[22] James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 216.

[23] Rude Awakenings, 309-310.

[24] Leo Ou-fan Lee, Voices from the Iron House: A Study of Lu Xun (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1987), 22-23.

[25] David E. Pollard, The True Story of Lu Xun (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2002), 37.

[26] Sekibetsu, 316.

[27] First performed January 9, 1991, at the Taira Municipal Hall (Iwaki City) in Fukushima Prefecture. Published serially in the magazine Subaru, beginning in March 1991, and in book form with Shueisha the same year.

[28] The titles of these Inoue Hisashi works are Wagahai wa Soseki de aru (I am Soseki [Natsume Soseki] (1982); Zutsu katakori Higuchi Ichiyo (Higuchi Ichiyo with a headache and stiff neck) (1984); Nakimushi namaiki Ishikawa Takuboku (The cheeky crybaby, Ishikawa Takuboku) (1986); Iihatobo no geki ressha (The Iwate theatre train [Miyazawa Kenji]) (1980); Ningen gokaku (Passing as human [Dazai Osamu]) (1990); Ani ototo (Older and younger brother [Yoshino Sakuzo]) (2003); and Taiko tataite fue fuite (Blow the flute and beat the drum [Hayashi Fumiko]) (2002).

[29] Inoue Hisashi, Hon no unmei (The fate of books) (Bungei shunju, 1997), 18-20.

[30] Inoue Hisashi, “Hahagimi no nokoshi tamaishi kotoba (Words bequeathed to me by my mother)” in Bungei Shunju, August 1991, 214.

[31] Inoue Hisashi, interview with the Yomiuri Shinbun, September 16, 1991.

[32] See brief introduction, Inoue Hisashi, Shanhai Mun (Shanghai Moon) (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1991), 5.

[33] Leo Ou-Fan Lee, “Literature on the Eve of Revolution: Reflections on Lu Xun’s Leftist Years, 1927-1936,” Modern China, Vol. 2 (July, 1976), 281.

[34] Oda Takeo, Ro Jin den, 143.

[35] Inoue Hisashi, Shanghai Moon, 19.

[36] Yoshida Hiroji, Ro Jin no tomo: Uchiyama Kanzo no shozo (Portrait of Uchiyama Kanzo, Lu Xun’s friend) (Tokyo Shinkyo shuppansha, 1994), 113.

[37] Koizumi Yuzuru, Hyoden: Ro Jin to Uchiyama Kanzo (Critical biography of Lu Xun and Uchiyama Kanzo) (Tokyo: Tosho shuppan, 1989), 263. Sudo, who was born in Okayama Prefecture in 1876 and died in 1959, was actually 58 years old when he was in Shanghai with Lu Xun in 1934. See Izumi Hyonosuke, “Rojin no shiin Nihonjin ishi hinan wa gimon,” (Doubts about accusations against a Japanese physician regarding the cause of Lu Xun’s death,” Asashi Shinbun, June 4, 1984.

[38] See Koizumi, 263.

[39] Shanghai Moon, 32.

[40] Shanghai Moon, 40-41.

[41] Shanghai Moon, 41.

[42] Shanghai Moon, 53.

[43] Shanghai Moon, 73-74.

[44] See David E. Pollard, The True Story of Lu Xun, 55-67.

[45] Shanghai Moon, 99-100.

[46] Shanghai Moon, 134-135.

[47] Shanghai Moon, 186.

[48] Shanghai Moon, 200-201.

[49] Shanghai Moon, 202.