By Paul B. Foster
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 16, no. 2 (Fall 2004), pp.184-234
This paper analyzes five little known derivative novels that demonstrate the sustained relevance of Lu Xun’s national character critique in the second half of the twentieth century: Lan Xin’s Modeng Xiaojie: A Q xiaojie zhuan (Miss Modern: The biography of Miss Ah Q; 1950); Bi Shui’s A Q waizhuan (The unofficial biography of Ah Q; 1969); Ding Yi’s A O waizhuan (The unofficial biography of [Ah Q’s son] Ah O; 1971); Chen Guokai’s Modeng A Q (Modern Ah Q; 1988); and Lin Liming’s A Q houzhuan (Sequel to the true story of Ah Q; 1994). Miss Ah Q expands the Ah Q discourse to issues of gender and modernity in the 1940s. Unofficial Ah Q and Son of Ah Q demonstrate the continuity of Lu Xun’s national character critique during the Cultural Revolution and the connection that diaspora authors made between contemporary social turmoil and the Ah Q discourse. Modern Ah Q’s humorous and brutal satire of the Chinese literary world extends Ah Q’s defects to modernizing society. Lin Liming’s Sequel extrapolates Ah Q’s life and Lu Xun’s critique of national character in minute detail. Sequel asserts a genetic relationship between the national character, sick relations spawned by Ah Q’s defects, and political currents from Lu Xun’s time up to the Cultural Revolution. Unofficial Ah Q and Sequel are savage satires of Chairman Mao and the CCP. These five works expound on a national character vocabulary drawn directly from Lu Xun’s characterization of Ah Q and develop, within the constraints of their particular historical and narrative logic, the extrapolation of the Ah Q character and Ah Q linguistic morphology. Obsession with sex in these works suggests that despite massive social, political, and economic changes, the sense of propriety in sexual relations remains unchanged. Furthermore, each author goes to great lengths to legitimize their reading of Ah Q by consciously referencing Lu Xun’s Ah Q, Lu Xun’s national character critique, and/or important literary and cultural authorities such as Lu Xun’s brother and son.
Ah Q progeny show that the national character critique extends well beyond social-psychological analysis of the Chinese national psyche in the early twentieth century to become an important means of dissecting contemporary Chinese sexual and political mores. Ah Q’s creative progeny thus provide clues as to how Ah Q was interpreted and how Lu Xun’s national character critique was embraced during the last half of the twentieth century. These works furthermore demonstrate that Ah Q increasingly occupies a place in the popular imagination and is not merely an academic or intellectual topic but also is key to sustained self- and sociopolitical critiques.