Lu Xun. The True Story of Ah Q (1921)

"Ah Q Zhengchuan" (1921, The True Story of Ah Q) is Lu Xun's most celebrated story. It depicts an ignorant farm laborer, an everyman, who experiences, with an utter lack of self-awareness, a series of humiliations and finally is executed during the chaos of the Republican revolution of 1911. Ah Q is considered the personification of the negative traits of the Chinese national character. The term Ah Quism was coined to signify the Chinese penchant for naming defeat a "spiritual victory." While revealing Ah Q's weakness of will, the author also shows his deep sympathy for his character. In the allegory Lu Xun sees China unprepared to deal with the impact of Western culture and technology.

Lu Xun, who also wrote "Diary of a Madman" condemned the traditional Confucian culture that resulted in Ah Quism. In "Diary of a Madman" the narrator, who thinks he is held captive by cannibals, sees the oppressive nature of tradition as a "man-eating" society.

It is probably commonplace to read Ah Q as one stereotype of Chinese people in that age. The most interesting aspect of Ah Q's personalization is his peculiar way of making the sense of "victory" out of humiliation. Villagers sneer at him, becuase he is homeless, poor, illiterate, no relatives to protect him, ugly looking, stupid, et cetera. Nevertheless, Ah Q believes that he is the greatest person in the world. He believes that he used to be quite rich, and had great relatives. Once the idea of the revolution dwells on him, he starts to think that he is a member of the revolutionary army, a comrade of the strongest, richest force in China (so he believes). He even dreams of being the leader of the revolutionary army and to live like the emperor (the reader may notice that the revolution is against the imperial Qing dynasty). Ah Q's "victory" which seems to others like nothing but humiliation is exactly what produces the "servility" of Ah Q, or even of China.

Ah Q's complacent victory is supported by making up excuses of humiliating incidents, which gradually make him truly believe his excuses, and as a result, his victory is felt by himself totally separatly from the incidents themselves. His victory changes nothing in reality: it keeps him in the same servility, in satisfaction. China in this period was aiming for political independence, economic strength, and abolishment of old customs, none of which was realized by the revolution. Lu Xun intended to sarcastically illustrate the Chinese mentality in the figure of Ah Q. As such Ah Q Zhengchuan is a severe criticism of China, which is involved in discursive production of "victory" with such enthusiasm, while it does nothing to change economic/political reality and remains a servant of Japan and the West.