This article attempts to bring a new perspective to the debate on Chinese modernism and, in so doing, to reflect on the idea of modernism itself. Rather than opposing European “high modernists” and an early twentieth-century Chinese literature defined by Enlightenment and nineteenth-century style literary realism, it proposes to consider Lu Xun as a modernist writer and uses a comparative perspective to underscore his commonalities with European modernism. Comparing “The True story of Ah Q” with Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan and Kafka's “Building the Great Wall of China,” the article argues that what brings these authors together is a unique understanding of democracy as the defining trait of modernity. This translates into a democratic pragmatics, in which moral norms and historical laws are fractured and questioned, leaving an “empty place” (Claude Lefort) at the center of the literary text, which echoes the empty center of modern democracy.

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