By Eileen J. Cheng
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 18, no. 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 1-38
Perhaps no Chinese writer has been as keenly preoccupied with the impact of technology and representational forms on modern culture than Lu Xun. His essays reflect upon the proliferation of the written word as well as other forms of modern media and their effects on intellectuals, the literary field, and modern life in general. These meditations on the impact of technological modernity are accompanied by deep reflections upon the ethics and politics of representation, as well as the role of intellectuals and writers confronted with this awesome force of mass media.
Through reading his only “love story” “Regrets for the Past” (Shangshi, 1925) and other works, this essay will highlight Lu Xun’s reflections on mass culture. In so doing, I hope to underscore significant elements in Lu Xun’s thought that have often been overlooked: his preoccupation with the deleterious effects of the proliferation of representational forms, and reflections on modernity and mass culture in an age of consumerism that bear striking resemblances to those of Theodor Adorno (1903-1969). For, at the heart of Lu Xun’s reflection on mass culture is a daunting question similar to that posed by Adorno: is the enlightenment mission of new culture possible in an age of mechanical reproductions?