When one thinks about the people that are portrayed by modern Chinese authors, one inevitably sees, foremost in the gallery, the image of Ah Q, the homeless farm hand who lives in a village temple, the tragic hero of a mock epic. The image, as one recent Chinese critic puts it, is similar to a caricature sketched by a cartoonist; the character is portrayed by strokes swift in movement, simple in outline, and suggestive in tone. One might first associate Ah Q with frolic pleasantry, but the lasting impression is awe and pity.
The True Story of Ah Q (1921), during the last few decades, has been regarded as the most penetrating satire of the spirit of compromise and rationalization that is prevalent in China. The name Ah Q has come to describe all that is false in reason, cowardly in action, and unstable in principle. The character of Ah Q, however, does not yield to a simple definition. The evasive spirit which hovers beyond the immediate satire engraves the image of Ah Q on the memory of the reader.