In “The Diary of a Madman” by Lu Xun, we see a character that is in a state of constant paranoia. He is considered to be a madman by his immediate society that is greatly influenced by old Chinese morals and traditions of imperialism and Confucianism. He believes that his social circle practices cannibalism and sooner or later he will be eaten. On numerous occasions he questions the reasons behind this immoral practice which he believes is real. Although his actual perceptions of his surroundings might be erroneous in reality, we notice a valid metaphoric meaning in his view; cannibalism as suppression of people.
He doesn’t understand why people are not willing to give up their old customs of cannibalism. He claims that some who used to practice cannibalism in the past realized its immorality and stopped, yet most continue to live by old traditions. He argues immorality of old traditions should be exemplifying the west as a By illustrating this inability of social change the character demonstrates the society as one of great tradition. The character’s desire for change illustrates the revolutionary times that China was undergoing at the time.
He wanted the Chinese society to abandon its traditional beliefs which were constraining their liberality. Order, discipline, and oppressive imperial traditions of their background influenced by Confucianism strongly shaped their beliefs and habits, making it difficult to accept new modern principles. The character feels helpless while observing his society’s challenge to change. Although we see the character’s distress, his connection and love towards China is illustrated in his last words of the diary. Declaring to “Save the Children”, the character conveys his patriotic beliefs in times of agony.
We see that regardless of social resistance to change the characters’ hope of a better future for China persists, illustrating the great patriotism that is integrated in Chinese society and culture. In Ding Ling’s story “A Day,” we also see a character whose emotional state correlates to her surrounding society. In the story, a young woman lives in a poor part of a metropolis city, “under the jurisdiction of a few imperialist nations”(12). She despises this split society, which is made of “fat bellied” capitalists and the filthy poor working class that labors for the former.
Observing the miserable working class routinely occupied in their “back-breaking” tasks makes her feel depressed. She pities them and wishes she could help them realize that they deserve a better living. She thinks that if only she could influence those people, to open their eyes to a better future, she would improve their lives. She makes an attempt to improve her maid’s way of thinking, trying to melt her gloom, but soon feels anguished herself. When she considers people’s “ignorant ways of thinking and their purely selfish desires” she hopelessly gives up. The lives of those people are wretched and their minds are numbed, they are stripped of all hope and ideas as they eke out a living from one day to the next”. She sees her society suffering in this “meaningless existence” and not being able to change. This resistance to change irritates her greatly. She realizes that the mentality of these people is degraded by imperialistic domination for many years and is difficult to abandon. Those similar self degrading traits can also be detected in the character.
Her immediate company that visits her daily takes advantage of her humbleness and overwhelms her with their sentiments regarding the ills of China. Her submissiveness restrains her desire to argue her position and take any measures. Depressed, she wants to isolate herself from everybody and sink in her daydream; the only delight of her day. We see a reflecting relationship between society and the character. Society makes her depressed and she is hopeless of change. Dreaming about a better life, she is still not able to take any actions that would help her break through this cycle of misery.
While in the past two stories, we see characters that were disturbed by difficulties of change in their societies, in “Sinking” by Yu Dafu the main character is troubled by his personal complexities. Various emotional problems such as loneliness, hatred, fear, sexual frustration, paranoia, and other self degrading traits lead him to a suicide. A Chinese native and a patriot, he is influenced by Chinese traditional morals and beliefs that suffocate his desire to acquaint to a new environment in Japan, where he attends school as a foreign student.
Discipline and order induced in him by Confucianism of imperialistic China restrain his adaptation in this new liberal setting. We see that his relationship with his new society is hurting because of his long-established morality. He feels that his schoolmates reject him, but his paranoiac attitude and reserved appearance prevent him from making any friends. Failing to make an attempt to connect with the Japanese students, whom he considers his enemies, he loathes them even more. He is resentful that his beloved China is in time of chaos while Japan is thriving and that distances him from his surroundings even more.
He is sexually frustrated and unable to connect with girls. He tries to physically ease his frustration but feels sickened and considers it to be immoral. Having been influenced by Confucian tradition, he constantly tries to discipline and improve himself, yet his attempts are always overwhelmed by new desires and beliefs. Influenced by western literature, he finds peace when he recites poetry written by romantic writers and spends his sole time appreciating nature. This aspiration of western culture and liberal thinking constantly competes with the previous morality of the character.
His personal conditions and experiences represent, and are the effects of, the undergoing struggles of Chinese society during the time of political chaos. After the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, China did not have a real government. The society feels rejected, because other countries are not willing to step in and help establish a new administration. Although people anticipate a new liberal government, soon another Emperor takes office. Moral and traditional philosophy infiltrated by Confucianism made the Chinese culture humble and fearful just like the character’s personality.
While manifesting many strong feelings of hate, sorrow, and frustration, the character is unable to take any measures to change his perceptions. In the end of the story the character commits suicide, stating; “O China, My China, you are the cause of my death! I wish you could become rich and strong soon!... Many, many of your children are still suffering. ” We can see that regardless of all the struggles he went through, the character is a great patriot of his country, and while he does not see any hope for his own healing, his sorrow and death symbolizes his hope for his Country and future generations.
Contradiction We see that the characters in all three stories have various emotional and psychological traits that reflect China in its time of turmoil. We also see that all characters ultimately demonstrated great patriotism towards their country. In order to understand the reasons behind those qualities we have to observe a number of factors from authors’ perspective. Lu Xun, Yu Dafu, and Ding Ling were all authors that were greatly influenced by the revolutionary times in China and their stories illustrate, in part, their own feelings towards their society.
The overthrow of the emperor, in the beginning of twenties century brought a new wind of change. People started to believe that new times are about to form. Western culture and political approach started to inspire people to believe that a better future is around the corner. The characters in our stories help us better to understand the circumstances and the condition of Chinese society in those crucial times. At first we observe Lu Xun’s “A Diary of a Madman” in which we see a man that is perceived as a madman by his society.
Although in the story it might be so, we can identify a certain metaphor that symbolizes the character’s wisdom. While cannibalism was actually practiced in some instances in Imperial China, Lu Xun drew a picture that resembled the old imperialistic China that suppressed its society, “eating” their liberty. Imperialism vanished by the time all three stories have been written, yet society is still unable to change their old mentality. This resistance to change because of old settled-in traditions can also be seen in both “A Day” and “Sinking.
And yet Ding Ling, similar to Lu Xun, in her story portrays mainly the difficulties of social change, Yu Dafu illustrates them on an individual that is also infected with old traditions overpowering his wish for change. Society formulates individuals that in turn makeup the former. The relationship between them is inevitable. It appears that all authors conveyed their personal outlook of their society through their stories. Resistance to change might have been the most difficult obstacle China had to overcome for a better tomorrow, and the offered stories showed us the disturbances of individuals in relation to their society.