A revolutionary work for its time, Lu Xun’s short story, “A Madman’s Diary”, appears to be an allegory for the problems of China’s culture and how they came to exist. Lu Xun uses cannibalism in his work to represent old values and customs, such as traditional Chinese views of how to cure the physically and mentally sick. Mores that to modern generations seem barbaric and absurd; for instance ideas of skin eating and blood drinking to cure the ill. Lu Xun suggests that the tradition of cannibalism is a learned value, “I know.
They must have learned this from their parents” (Xun 132). Xun presents the narrator of the story, the old friend of the brother of the madman, as a bystander looking in at the situation through nonjudgmental eyes. I believe that Xun uses this technique so that you cannot be completely sure if the main character, the “madman”, is crazy or sane, right or wrong. At the time this story was written, China was a place of harsh laws and strict Confucius lifestyles. Little to no persons stepped forward in protest about the ways in which the government was blinding leading it’s people.
We see this demonstrated in Xun’s “iron house” parabola, in which he makes us question: is naiveness bliss or is it an iron tomb leading us blindly to death? I’m convinced that “The Diary of a Madman” portrayed very clearly the idea of paranoia one would feel of being a traitor to your nation or culture in China in the late 1800s. In his “Preface to A Call to Arms”, Lu Xun relives, rather vividly, when he witnessed the Russo-Japanese War for the first time through a slide where “the one[Chinese soldier] with his hands bound was a spy working for the Russians who was to be beheaded by the Japanese military as a warning to others” (129).
Xun openly explains to us it is because of this event that he drastically changed his occupation. I believe that it is because of this incident that Xun gives rise to the younger, probably more rebellious brother to become mad with the idea that everyone, even his own family, is plotting to eat him. Fearing for his life from the cannibals that he finds replacing the people once knew. The “cannibalism” the mad man fears is the refusal from all to evolve from the old world values to a new way of life. He begins to notice the suspicious looks growing on every face, especially towards himself.
I can see how the idea of having everyone in a village becoming increasingly mistrustful of their neighbors and friends could potentially drive you crazy to a point of hysteria that the younger brother reaches as the story progresses. Yelling wildly into a crowd of people that “if you don’t change, you may all be eaten by each other” (137). Just like the irrational accusations, convictions, and hangings of the Salem Witch Trials and the illogical panic of Communist plotting in America, gossip and false allegation, can lead to pitting family against family, friends against friends, creating an atmosphere of distrust and unnecessary hatred.
Lu Xun died before the Chinese revolution amongst the insubordinate youth began, but thanks to the literature he produced Xun began the impregnation of the minds; debatably producing what was to come some 31 years later, (Gabriel, Aug. 1998). “A Madman’s Diary”, brought forth the idea that when in times of struggle and extreme rebellion and backlash, no one can be trusted because no one trusts each other. We strongly saw this in the case of the “madman’s” continuous suspicion of his brother and neighbors.
When it is everyone against the government and surrounding you are spies and traitors, everyone becomes crazy to a scenes. The madman continues to think that everyone, even their animals and children, are against him and preparing to eat him to get rid of him. In times of anarchy people will easily turn against their families, neighbors, and loved one to save themselves. Which is exactly what happened with China around the mid 1900s. The idea of socioeconomy where no one thinks outside of the hierarchy of the system.
In some way or another you are being made a slave to a system that drains your life. The quote, “Wanting to eat men, at the same time afraid of being eaten themselves, they all eye each other with the deepest suspicion”(Lu 136), demonstrates the deterioration of a society fighting within. Leading people to question whose ideals are being followed their own or the ones implanted in your traditions, culture, and lifestyle due to your government. In the end I believe that Xun’s number one argument for this short story is the idea of passing on these injustices to our children.
Like most racism in America, we carry on these demeaning and dehumanizing traditions because of the way that we teach our children to be and act just like us. Do as we do because we are right. But what are we teaching; hatred or tradition? “Save the children” (138). Xun gives the simple yet hidden solution to grow, learning, change, and expand, but it truly is easier said than done, in this case. That if we take a stand it is greater danger to the people in power if we acknowledge the fact that we are all to blame.
Because as soon as we take responsible for the things that are wrong with our society we can slowly begin to change. And if we start questioning the way of our government they are powerless to stop change. After much class discussion and rereading of this literature, I began to see that even though this story was written many, many years ago it is still prevalent and useful for our generation to read and be aware of. Too often do I see people of my age group caring very little about what goes on in our government here in the United States.
It’s easy to be able to criticize the flaws of a whole government and how they help run its people but if you take little to no care of how these decisions are made then you have no say in defense against it. We are a people of rights and freedoms in which our government was founded on but in reality we are still a product of what our government says and makes us do. We as a people are very nonchalant about the decisions made for us, whole heartedly believing that the people in power have our best interests in mind. But how are we to really know?
They have all the power and we are merely cattle being dragged along. In the end we must always question and wonder and never just fall suit to the ways of culture and the traditions we have created for ourselves. There is always room for change and improvement if one is not happy with their current way of life. Xun’s story, A Madman’s Diary, is a work that stands the test of time and is a reminder that we need not sleep through the injustices of the world and forget that we ultimately can do anything and change anything if we really care to do so.