It takes a translator to transport you both ways. Lu Xun’s Jottings under Lamplight, edited by Eileen Cheng and Kirk Denton with a host of other translators, is an extraordinary portrait of an era that I knew almost nothing about… until now.
Lu Xun himself is an extraordinary writer; he has a highly engaging style that feels like he is just chatting to you in passing, often very humorously, but this scholarly edition is bristling with footnotes to show the context is far from a laughing matter. In the decades between the fall of the empire and the establishment of communism, Lu Xun was a very astute observer of the revolutionary changes around him, the violence this brought with it, and the impact on culture. He combined his own extensive learning with clear ideas about how China should be changing, and it makes for fascinating reading.
Here’s the preface to his short stories, which I will definitely be reading next (click on the images to enlarge):
Reading these essays, I felt I had got to know an extraordinary person who lived through extraordinary times. Lu Xun was a translator himself, and was thus in a position to take a highly critical view both of China’s view of foreigners and international views of China. If you would like to get to know him too, the book is available from Harvard University Press.