Lu Xun's 魯迅 (1881–1936) early classical-style essays are concerned with issues in the history and philosophy of science, as well as literature, philosophy, politics, and aesthetics during an era in which China went through profound cultural changes. Part of their significance also lies in the way they provide us with an unabashed glimpse at what Lu Xun, who was to become China's most important writer of the twentieth century, set out to accomplish with his intended literary career. They first appeared in the Chinese expatriate journal Henan 河南 (Ho-nan, 1907–8). Although they are products of his last student years in Japan, the fact that he chose to include the two longest of them at the very front of his 1926 anthology Fen 墳 (The Grave) indicates that he considered the views expressed therein neither too immature nor too dated to reprint at the height of his career as a creative writer. In fact, he suggests in his preface to Fen that one of his reasons for doing so was that the poets and causes treated there had, ironically, taken on an increased relevance for China in the years “after the founding of the republic.” Over the years since they were written, the content and style of these essays have been the subject of considerable scholarly scrutiny, but this has drawn out divergent views. Scholars in Japan have done an admirable job of tracing down the sources of some of the essays, although their interpretation was not without controversy there. Chinese scholars have first discounted, then eschewed, then annotated, and finally extolled them as harbingers of a new poetics or a profound meditation on unresolved issues still facing China. Westerners, by and large, give them a degree of primacy, but from different perspectives and to different degrees. This article examines the reception of these essays internationally, recontextualizing it within the historical factors that contributed to and molded it.

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