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The Dialectics of Hope and Despair

Twisting the Biblical Message in Lu Xun’s “Medicine”

Mario De Grandis    University College Dublin    



Lu Xun’s oeuvre includes numerous explicit references to the Christian message, the books of the Bible, Jesus and other biblical characters, which all prove the author’s intellectual familiarity with Christianity. Previous studies have also pointed out that in the short story “Medicine”, Lu Xun surreptitiously embedded characters and allusions – as well as adopted a narrative structure – inspired by the Gospel accounts of the Passion. Such Christian references have been interpreted as a literary strategy to reflect on the Chinese national character. What has gone unnoticed is that, despite several parallels, “Medicine” also deviates from accounts of the Passion in three significant ways: the martyr is not the protagonist; the conclusion is deliberately ambiguous; and the story is stripped of, and yet longing for, the salvific message pervading the Gospels. In this article, I argue that the twisted, allegorical references to the Passion express one of Lu Xun’s paramount preoccupations, namely whether it is worth to sacrifice oneself in the attempt to awaken the masses. In this way, the transfigured figure of Jesus becomes the narrative locus on which Lu Xun expresses his interior vacillation between hope and despair.

Aug. 29, 2023
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Keywords: Christianity in Chinese literatureLu XunHope and despairShort story “Medicine”Jesus in Chinese literatureRepublican Era literature

Copyright: © 2023 Mario De Grandis. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.