This article situates Lu Xun at the intersection of late‐Qing folkloric discourse and medical science by studying his 1925 essay “Lun zhaoxiang zhilei” (“On Photography”). “On Photography” is a rich yet enigmatic piece of writing that has yet to receive critical attention on its own terms in the scholarship of either Lu Xun or Chinese visual culture. Lu Xun's essay includes a folklore account of “foreign devils” plucking out locals’ eyes and pickling them in a jar. Bracketing the magic lantern incident held by many as the primal scene of modern Chinese literature, this article suggests that Lu Xun's account of the eyeball offers a no less significant example of how an alternate optical device can be employed to reflect China's encounter with colonial modernity. Adopting the method of media archaeology, this article argues that Lu Xun's essay holds the key to tracing a genealogy of the eyeball from its embedment in feudal superstition to its embodiment of antimissionary sentiments, from figurative representation in Chinese medical classics to physiological simulation in anatomical treatises, and from anatomical visualization to optical abstraction and modulation. This genealogy constructs the eye as a historically valid subject that morphs from the eye to the eyeball and then to the eye again, a genealogy that is revealing of how China grappled through a crucial period of political, cultural, and scientific sea changes.

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