Lu Xun (Traditional Chinese: 魯迅; Simplified Chinese: 鲁迅; pinyin: Lǔ Xùn) or Lu Hsün (Wade-Giles) (September 25, 1881 – October 19, 1936), the pen name of Zhou Shuren (Traditional Chinese: 周樹人; Simplified Chinese: 周树人; pinyin: Zhōu Shùrén), has been considered one of the most influential Chinese writers of the 20th century and the founder of modern baihua (白话 báihuà), or vernacular, literature. Highly influential in 20th century Chinese history, his literary works exerted a substantial influence after the May Fourth Movement. He was also a noted translator.
Born in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, Lu Xun was first named Zhou Zhangshu and later renamed Shuren, literally, "to nurture a person". His family was well-educated and of the gentry class, yet somehow the family ended up being poor by the time he was born. His father's chronic illness and death in his adolescence persuaded Zhou to take up medical science. Distrusting traditional Chinese medicine (which in his time was often practiced by charlatans), he set out to study Westernized medicine in Tohoku High Medical Institute (nowadays part of Tohoku University) in Sendai, Japan.
Lu Xun, in a widely known account, later explained why he consciously gave up the pursuit of a medical career. One day after class, one of his Japanese instructors screened a lantern slide which documented an imminent public execution of an alleged Chinese spy by Japanese soldiers. Lu Xun was shocked by the apathy of the Chinese at the execution and decided that it was more important to cure his compatriots of their spiritual ills rather than their physical diseases. Quitting his studies and returning to China in 1909, he became a lecturer in the Peking University and began writing.
In May 1918, he used his pen name for the first time and published the first major baihua short story, Kuangren Riji (狂人日记, A Madman's Diary), which was to become one of his two most famed works. With its criticism of many old Chinese traditions and family rules, it became a cornerstone of the May Fourth Movement. Another of his well-known longer stories, The True Story of Ah Q (A Q Zhengzhuan, 阿Q正传), was published in the 1920s. The latter became his most famous work. Both works were included in his short story collection Na Han (呐喊) or Call to Arms, published in 1923.
Between 1924 to 1926, Lu wrote his masterpiece of ironic reminiscences, Zhaohua Xishi (朝花夕拾, Dawn Dew-light Collected at Dusk, published 1928), as well as the prose poem collection Ye Cao (野草, Wild Grass, published 1927). Lu Xun also wrote some of the stories to be published in his second short story collection Pang Huang (彷徨, Wandering) in 1926. In 1930 Lu Xun published Zhongguo Xiaoshuo Lüeshi (中国小说略史, A Concise History of Chinese Fiction), a comprehensive overview of Chinese fiction and one of the landmark pieces of twentieth-century Chinese literary criticism.
His other important works include volumes of translations — notably from Russian (he particularly admired Nikolai Gogol and made a translation of Dead Souls, and his own first story's title is inspired by a work of Gogol) — discursive writings like Re Feng (热风, Hot Wind), and many other works such as prose essays, which number around 20 volumes or more. As a left-wing writer, Lu played an important role in the history of Chinese literature. His books were and remain highly influential and popular even today, particularly amongst youths. Lu Xun's works also appear in high school textbooks in Japan. He is known to Japanese by the name Rojin (ロジン in Katakana or 魯迅 in Kanji).
Lu Xun was also the editor of several left-wing magazines such as New Youth (新青年, Xin Qingnian) and Sprouts (萌芽, Meng Ya). He was the brother of another important Chinese political figure and essayist Zhou Zuoren (周作人). Though highly sympathetic of the Chinese Communist movement, Lu Xun never joined the Communist Party of China. Because of his leanings, and of the role his works played in the subsequent history of the People's Republic of China, Lu Xun's works were banned in Taiwan until late 1980s. He was among the early supporters of the Esperanto movement in China.
Lu Xun's style is wry, incisive and often sardonic in his societal commentary. His mastery of the vernacular language, coupled with his expertise with tone — often refusing to occupy any easy position — make some of his works (like A Q Zhengzhuan, 阿Q正传, The True Story of Ah Q) truly difficult to translate. Lu Xun's importance to modern Chinese literature lies in the fact that he contributed significantly to every modern literary genre except the novel during his lifetime.
Lu Xun, hailed as "commander of China's cultural revolution" by Mao Zedong, is typically regarded as the most influential Chinese writer who was associated with the May Fourth Movement. He produced harsh criticism of social problems in China, particularly in his analysis of the "Chinese national character." He has often been considered to have had leftist leanings. Called by some a "champion of common humanity," he helped bring many fellow writers to support communist thought, though he never took the step of actually joining the Communist Party. It should be remarked, however, that throughout his work the individual is given more emphasis over collectivistic concerns.