Performing the Revolutionary:
Lu Xun and the Meiji Discourse on Masculinity

By Eileen J. Cheng

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 27, no.1  (Spring 2015), pp. 1-43

This essay unravels the story behind Lu Xun’s photograph and “poem self-inscribed on a portrait” taken in 1903. The immediate context for the emergence of the heroic image and verse, hailing the self as poet-revolutionary—Meiji Japan—has been largely overlooked. Through an intertextual reading of relevant historical, visual, and literary sources alongside Lu Xun’s autobiographical writings, the author examines how various images and ideas—from the frustrated scholar in classical poetry, English Romantic poets such as Byron, to Meiji views on race and gender—filtered through the lens of colonial discourse prevalent at the time, mediated and informed Lu Xun’s early conceptions of writing, masculinity, and what it meant to be a revolutionary. She also examines how Lu Xun came to uniformly repudiate his and others’ “revolutionary performances” and to question the efficacy of writing and revolution itself in his later writings.