In Diary of a Madman by Lu remains a famous work marking the transition from traditional to modern Chinese literature. The position provides a clear message regarding the high levels of corruption and immorality that existed within the Chinese government. Through the novel, Lu Xun criticizes traditional values and, at the same time, encourages both social change and revolution. The story’s setting is the rural village sealed off from the world, and through this, the diary depicts modern China. On the other hand, Xiaoxiao is a story written by Shen Congwen about a child’s life in rural west Hunan. This is structured around the traditional values of the society when an 11 years old girl is betrothed. It was a Chinese tradition, but although other girls cried during these times, Xiaoxiao does not weep on her wedding day. She is a carefree orphan, and because her uncle raised her, she does not have any filial attachments. The competition of this book was influenced by the May Fourth tradition, which emphasized cultural modernization and restructuring of China as a whole through promoting liberal education and democracy. Through these novels, China’s cultural values and practices are well presented during traditional times. The books depict a modernized China that promotes education, democracy, and development through these traditional values.
For Xiaoxiao, Shen sets the text in the Western Hunan, a rural region full of peasant farmers and minorities. The texts describe the mountainous countryside and the people’s traditional practices in the area. Through this regional description, the author manages to bring out the village image favoring the rural life and at the same time critiquing it( Shen pg.158). As the writer during the May Fourth Movement, Shen manages to suggest give his view on modern China without forcing the social and political agenda. Child marriage was a common practice during traditional China; hence the case of Xiao Xiao was not a new case. Shen first visions modern China as a society that is not guided by Confucianism law which is believed to be rigid and prevents the country from gaining modernization. The May Fourth movement constantly penetrated the rural areas, and Xiaoxiao was amazed by these changes (Sheng pg.101). The Confucian laws had impacted the peasants’ practices and choices, for instance, handling Xiaoxiao’s offense against her husband and the in-laws. As much as the grandfather understands what the laws state, he avoids drowning Xiaoxiao and decides to call her uncle, who does not know the law. Through this, Shen has managed to depict modern China, where the society is no longer guided by Confucian law but ensures the family honor is maintained(Shen pg.109). The most important thing is modern China should be a free society where the girl child is free and can access education.
In traditional China, women were not allowed to participate in essential roles or even get an education. However, the role of women was to take care of the family and do the house chores. In the novel, however, Sheng brings the aspect of coeds, the female students from the city under the May Fourth Movement. These were individuals who had rejected the traditional position of women within the Chinese society, and instead, they were seeking to attain Western-inspired freedom(Shen pg.99). The use of coeds helps Shen to provide his view on modern China. In his explanation, modern China should have educated women, know how to interact with men, and understand their rights in society. Society should also have improved modes of transportation that allow people in completing their daily activities as was set by Sheng. In his explanation. Sheng explains the coeds from the farmer’s perspective, especially his grandfather, who finds these individuals ridiculous. Through this, Sheng can present the picture of a modernized China where urban intellectuals would help create employment for the peasant farmers. For instance, they hire servants to take care of their children and complete their work responsibilities. Thus, from the historical context, rural China was a society that was not exposed in any way and was not ready for any change. The society accepted to be guided by the Confucian laws, which failed to honor the family names(Shen pg.101). The village was sealed from reality, which is why they were; the urban people were weird and questioned their way of living, which was ridiculous to them.
Traditional China was full of gender-based prejudice, and one example is when Xiaoxiao was spared from being killed after she gave birth to a baby boy. Most women during this time committed suicide after giving birth to girls due to the prejudice they faced in society. The boys were overvalued, and the women chose to commit suicide rather than wait to be lynched by the mob. With Sheng bringing in the Coeds’ aspect and empowering women, he depicts a modern China with equality where men and women have equal positions in society. The traditional values do not guide a society that allows every child to live regardless of gender. Sexiest in the conventional Chinese affected the social practices of the people, as men denied women to take part in any significant activity within the society.
While Sheng presents the rural Chinese as the society that is engulfed with values and modernization in terms of empowered women, freedom, and development. On the other hand, Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman” has his views. Lu Xun describes traditional China as corrupt and underdeveloped. The character is always scared and does not trust anyone reveals a lot about society’s intentions. The use of cannibalism by Lu Xun symbolizes Confucian traditionalism, just like in XiaoXioa (Tang pg.1221). Therefore, it is evident that society was also guided by the law, which hinders people from embracing modernization. For Lu Xun, traditional China is cemented by the values and practices that set the direction for people to follow, and through these values, it has turned out to be a corrupt society that does not allow people to develop. Cannibalism represents how individuals consume in society which is all about oppression. For the madman, he understands the truth about society, which is why he is cautious of everything that takes place around him. The nature of the society does not allow him to trust anyone due to individuality and greediness among the individuals in the society. Therefore, Lu Xun believes that traditional China is human and depicts modern China that is humanistic in nature (Xun pg. 23). A society that does not suppress people for the benefits of the view in the higher ranks of the government.
The story’s setting is in Saint Petersburg, Russia, during the early 19th century, which was full of corrupt provincials with big houses. Like any corrupt society, the few hold significant resources while the rest suffer in poverty (Tang pg. 1230). It is the same thing that Lu Xun criticizes in the story and condemns the traditional Chinese practices. Lu Xun condemns the poor health facilities in China due to the backwardness in the mad man treatment. In the process, he predicts modern China with a stable healthcare system, which is why he becomes a Western-style physician.
Further, criticizing the vicious nature of the Chinese men, Lu Xun hopes for more humanism in the modern Chinese, One in which the madness will be exposed and treated hence giving hope to the society (Xun pg. 30). Therefore, through Lu Xun, we can see a modern China that emphasizes equality and does not allow corruption. With a free corruption society, Lu Xun gives a view of a developed country and enough resources. Through madness, Lu Xun also criticizes the Chinese delusion of national and moral superiority. The Chinese tradition does not embrace morals, which is why inhuman activities have emerged. It is the society that does not understand the values morals play on society (Xun pg. 21).
A corrupt government does not practice democracy at all levels. This is based on the fact that the government practices are against the citizens’ wishes. As a result, Lu Xun uses madness to depict a society that does not practice democracy hence oppression of the citizens (Tang 1230). For Lu Xun, we need a democratic modern China that allows people to practice their democratic rights without infringement. This is also a platform of freedom, as cited by Sheng in the life of Xiaoxio, who represented the oppression of young girls under traditional values. For the young girls like Xiaoxiao, they found the laws that dictated their lives, and hence they did not have much choice rather than accept what had been set. This is precisely what Lu Xun presents in that people are used to cannibalism; hence, only a few can realize what is happening.
In conclusion, In Diary of a Madman and Xiao Xiao reveals much about the Chinese tradition and how the values have undermined the development. The existence of the Confucian law limits the Chinese people’s ability and has also hindered development. However, the two novels manage to criticize the traditions and provide a clear image of how the modern Chinese should be molded to fit every citizen.
Congwen, Shen. “Xiaoxioa.” Congwen (1988): 99-140.
Tang, Xiaobing. “Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman” and a Chinese Modernism.” JSTOR (1992): 1220-1234.
Xun, Lu. Diary of a Madman . Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.