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Between Human and Animal: A Study of New Year’s Sacrifice, Kong Yiji, and Diary of a Madman

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

A subtle aspect of Lu Xun’s writing, running through several of his works of fiction, is his animalistic portrayal of some of his most well-known characters. Scraping away their humanity as he writes, Lu Xun depicts Kong Yiji, Xianglin Sao, and the infamous Madman crawling on their hands and knees, working like draught animals, and abandoning all rational thought. In short, all three end up occupying an ambiguous space between the realms of human and animal. This paper attempts to examine how Lu Xun’s description and situation of these characters suggests, aside from the standard agendas of May Fourth writing in general, a certain, shared metaphysical conundrum. Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben to take the hiatus between human and animal as an occasion for ontological possibility, I will investigate how the dehumanized portrayal of these characters situates them at the threshold of a new becoming: one which has not yet been realized, but which is also rendered impossible either through the character’s death or return to health. Examining Lu Xun’s works in this way not only recognizes his major emphasis on social critique, but suggests both that his thought on Chinese society pierces through to the level of metaphysical inquiry, and that the relationship between human and animal marks a productive entry point for this sort of questioning.


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