Daggers and Spears: Lu Xun and Nietzsche on Cultural Revolution
O my brothers, not long will it be until new peoples will arise and new fountains rush down into new depths.
For the earthquake—it chokes up many wells, it causes much languishing: but it brings also to light inner powers and secrets.
The earthquake discloses new fountains. In the earthquake of old peoples, new fountains burst forth.
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘On the Old and New Law Tablets’, 25.
Lu Xun – On ‘China’s Nietzsche’
Lu Xun was nineteen when Nietzsche died in 1900. He had already begun to write poetry, in classical Chinese style, and came into contact with Western literature in Nanking, where he attended a mining school. It was not until the following year however that he, with a government stipend to study mining in Japan, intensified his relationship with the available threads of world literature, European, British, and Russian – and Nietzsche. The work of which he had the most access was Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Japanese renditions of his thought, including the Untimely Meditations. Lu Xun travelled to Japan at the right time – amid the chaos of the post- war years, the reformation toward modernity, Japan sought to become an industrial and military power with the aid of Western, i.e. ‘Modern,’ science, including Western medicine and literature.
Lu Xun immediately recognized the political and cultural significance of literature, especially that of the English Romantics, Byron and Shelley (to the exclusion of the more introspective poets Wordsworth and Keats) in their individuality and defiance of a corrupt and oppressive cultural and political order. He found a similar though deeper message in Nietzsche, one simultaneously of a poetic and philosophical order. Yet, it is the meaning of this influence, and of Nietzsche’s message, that has remained controversial.
This current writing will be an attempt to dissolve this controversy through the exposure of the intellectual and artistic affinities of Lu Xun and Nietzsche upon their own respective and overlapping topoi. It could be argued that Nietzsche had his most immediate impact in Japan, which already by 1903 (at a time which Lu Xun was already in Japan) had a ‘Nietzsche Dispute’, and had experienced ‘Nietzsche fever.’ Such an intellectual event could hardly have been missed by Lu Xun, and his first essays of 1907 and 1908 mention Nietzsche, echo Nietzsche, yet, from the perspective of a Chinese radical democratic ‘Mara’ poet.
Lu Xun is not served well by the name of ‘China’s Nietzsche’ – unless, that is, it is clear what we mean by ‘Nietzsche’. Such clarity seems to have been lacking in many of the early receptions of Nietzsche, especially in regards to the notion of the Übermensch, which in the context of the early Japanese reception resembles more closely Zarathustra’s ape, a caricature of Zarathustra, of which Nietzsche had already anticipated, and which he warned would be due to poor reading, in his own prophesy of widespread mis-understanding of his philosophy. In this light, I will cast into the light the caricature of Nietzsche in order to exorcise it from our subsequent discussions.
To read the rest of the essay, please visit Daggers and Spears: Lu Xun and Nietzsche on Cultural Revolution.