How often does one read a book whose genre is roughly equal parts philosophy, biology, Chinese history and literature? Not very.
Caveat lector. This book is not an ordinary monograph in Chinese intellectual history. It is not just about China. It is not just about Lu Xun. It is certainly not an introduction to Lu Xun, or to his works. It is not an intellectual biography. It is not “an appreciation.” It is not a study of Lu Xun’s genius or his art (although both will shine through). It is a philosophical critique of Lu Xun’s thought and a philosophical and political critique of what Chinese in the People’s Republic have done, and may yet do, with Lu Xun’s thought, and it is a reflection on philosophy and biology.
Some non-fiction books barely scratch the surface of a whole discipline, explaining the same terms and repeating the same well-trodden foundational anecdotes. It’s refreshing, once in a while, to read something truly niche.
Also refreshing is the author’s use of language play. For a serious book, it sure has a lot of jokes. Frequently, the same word is used in two senses in the same sentence. It’s self-indulgent and self-referential, but I find it charming. Any stupid old book could be distant, detached, and dry; this one feels like it was written by a real live human being who really, really likes to write, and who cares deeply about the topic at hand.
The topic at hand is an analysis of Lu Xun’s understanding of the implications of evolutionary theory for his country. Do ideas about evolution suggest that the Chinese have an inevitable destiny, good or bad? Do those ideas suggest that they are the makers of their own destiny, and should strive to evolve, individually or as a whole country? What ideas about evolution did people have in Lu Xun’s time, and which did he encounter, and how did he interpret them and incorporate them into his work throughout his writing career? How have his writings since been used, reused, and reinterpreted?
See below for scattered notes on the content and style of this treatise.