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Lu Xun and James Joyce: To Heal the Spirit of a Nation

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Although James Joyce and Lu Xun were both writing at a time when a new nation was being created out of former empire, little has been written about the extraordinary synchronicities of their early careers or their common mission. Both understood a new nation must first be created in the hearts and minds of its people. Coming from a medical background, each regarded their countrymen as sick in spirit, paralyzed by slavish dependencies. Joyce saw such servility as fostered by Ireland’s long colonization under the British Crown, a subservience seconded by the “tyranny” of the Roman Catholic Church. For Lu Xun, this spiritual paralysis manifested itself as a legacy of the Confucianism of the late Qing dynasty. Working from a medical model, both writers present a detailed, precise, and cold account of the speech of their characters to reveal the true nature of their disease―while allowing the reader to reach his own diagnosis. By means of this new kind of narrative, both James Joyce and Lu Xun sought to liberate the “soul” or “spirit” of their people, granting them a voice of their own which itself clarified to what extent they had been conscripted by the words of others.

Affiliations: 1: School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin ; 2: Asian Studies Centre, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin ; 3: Irish Studies Centre, School of English and International Relations


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