Sun Yu-shih

Reading Lu Hsun’s
“Literature of a Revolutionary Period”

Source:  Chinese Literature Number 9, 1977 pages 85-88
Online Version: Lu Xun Reference Archive, September 2005
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Mike B.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

On April 8, 1927, Lu Hsun was invited to give a talk at the Huangpu Military Academy in Kwangchow (Canton). It was raining that evening when he went there accompanied by Ying Hsiu-jen, a Communist. The small assembly hall was packed as he spoke on "Literature of a Revolutionary Period". Later Lu Hsun revised the notes of this speech and published it in his collection of essays And That's That.

Lu Hsun made this speech at a most critical period of the Northern Expedition. In January that year he had come from Amoy to Kwangchow because it was then the centre of the revolution. In March, Chairman Mao published his famous Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movernent in Hunan giving high praise to the peasant movement there which with the force of a hurricane had speeded up the development of the revolutionary struggle in south China. Owing to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the support given by the armed workers and peasants, the Northern Expeditionary Army which had set out from Kwangtung Province was sweeping forward from victory to victory. On March as, Shanghai workers led by Chou En-lai rose in arms and took Shanghai; then Nanking was captured too. These victories dealt a heavy blow to the rule of the feudal warlords arid foreign imperialists in China, but they struck dismay into the Kuomintang Right wing headed by Chiang Kai-shek which represented the interests of the imperialists, big landlords and capitalists. These diehards plotted to disarm the workers and suppress the peasant movement and began to massacre Communists and other progressives. Chen Tu-hsiu, then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, carried out a Rightist line of compromise and capitulation which played into the hands of Chiang Kai-shek. Thus the people's armed revolution was in danger of defeat.

Lu Hsun had acute powers of observation, and aftet his arrival in Kwangchow his communist friends helped him to perceive that counter-revolutionaries were still working away quietly in the dark and revolutionary armed force was needed to smash the plots of the Kuomintang Right wing. Lu Hsun also grasped the complex situation in literary and art circles in Kwangchow. Some reactionary Kuomintang writers had organized so-called revolutionary literary societies to promote revolutionary literature, when in fact they were trying to sabotage the revolution. Others, such as the Modern Critic Group which had worked for the Northern Warlords, had come in force from Peking to the south posing as "revolutionaries" too. Yet other petty-bourgeois writers who dared not face up to reality were also shouting empty slogans calling for "revolutionary literature". Should the revolutionary forces persist in armed struggle? Should revolutionary fighters take an active part in this struggle? What is the relationship between revolutionary literature and the revolution itself? Lu Hsun made this important speech on these questions at a crucial time when the forces of revolution were engaged in a mortal struggle against the forces of reaction.

Literature of a Revolutionary Period, one of Lu Hsun's most significant articles on the question of literature and the revolution, was written at a time when his outlook was changing from that of a revolutionary democrat to that of a Communist. In it, from his revolutionary stand he made a profound and succinct analysis of certain major questions of principle. Its profundity, clarity and sober foresight are typical of Lu Hsun's writing.

Lu Hsun had witnessed for himself the March 18th Incident a year before this, when the Northern Warlords massacred young patriots. Their "pale blood-stains" brought home to him the importance of armed struggle and the need for literature to serve the revolutionary armed struggle. So in this speech Lu Hsun first analysed the role of revolutionary literature in the social revolution and the need to take up arms to change the social system. He said: ". . . My experience in Peking in recent years has gradually undermined my faith in the old literary theories on which I was brought up." He refuted the bourgeois idea that literature has a great influence on revolution and can change the world. The blood of the massacred made him realize that the only way to do this was through revolutionary violence. Speaking to the cadets of the Huangpu Military Academy, Lu Hsun warmly acclaimed revolution and pointed out that only through revolution could society change and human beings make progress. He emphasized that "the present situation in China is such that only the actual revolutionary war counts. A poem could not have frightened away Sun Chuan-fang, but a cannon-shell scared him away".

However, in his speech Lu Hsun also affirmed the important role of revolutionary literature. He sharply criticized the "literature of complaint" of the petty-bourgeoisie before the revolution, saying, "These expressions of suffering and indignation have no influence on the revolution." Instead, such writing "gives the oppressors a sense of security". He hoped that "nations with inner strength which dare rebel" would wake up to the facts and change their lamentations into "roars of anger. When such literature appears it heralds revolt..." But bloody massacres had taught him this feature of class struggle: "Those who are strong do not talk, they kill. The oppressed have only to say or write a few words to be killed .... It is the same in the animal kingdom. When a hawk catches a sparrow, the hawk is silent, the sparrow is the one to cry out. When a cat catches a mouse, the cat is silent, the mouse is the one to cry out.

And the one that can only cry ends by being eaten by the one that is silent." With these simple, vivid similes Lu Hsun expounded a basic truth of historical materialism. The reactionary ruling class will always use counter-revolutionary armed force to suppress the people's revolt; therefore the revolutionary masses must use revolutionary violence to smash counter-revolutionary violence and win real liberation. "What use is literature to people then?" With this understanding, Lu Hsun told the cadets who carried rifles that they "had better not admire literature just yet". And he declared: "I myself would naturally rather hear the roar of guns, for it seems to me that the roar of guns is much sweeter to listen to than literature." These statements show Lu Hsun's profound understanding of the relationship between literature and revolution and his full support for the revolutionary war.

Lu Hsun said: "For revolution we need revolutionaries, but revolutionary literature can wait, for only when revolutionaries start writing can there be revolutionary literature." This is another most significant statement regarding the relationship between revolutionary writers and the revolutionary struggle.

The fiery life of revolutionary struggle is a mine of inspiration for revolutionary literature and the furnace in which revolutionary writers are steeled. Only by taking part in revolutionary struggles can a writer understand the revolution. Lu Hsun divided the revolution into three phases and analysed its relationship with literature, making it clear why anyone who wanted to write revolutionary literature must take part in the struggle and become a revolutionary himself. Before the coming of the revolution, only rebellious fighters who thirst to revolt and take vengeance can express the fury of their awakening people by writing "roars of anger". During the second phase, revolutionary writers must be swept up in the high tide of revolution and turn from shouting to action, taking part in the struggle to change society instead of simply shutting themselves up in their rooms to write.. . After the victory of the revolution, they should sing its praise. Without a revolutionary struggle, there will be no revolutionaries and hence no revolutionary literature.

Literature of a Revolutionary Period
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