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A Savory Tale of Madness
Claire Marsden

u Xun’s short story “The Diary of a Madman” is a compelling and well-crafted tale which, as the title suggests, forms the diary of a madman. One other character, the narrator, appears in the opening paragraphs and tells of his happening upon this unfortunate man’s diary and of his diagnosis of his old friend’s suffering from a “form of persecution complex.” Madness can be both intriguing and repulsive, and this idea draws the reader into discovering what the ramblings of this madman will produce and wondering just how far he will go.

The diarist begins by displaying mild paranoia and a certain level of delicate beauty in his observations. However, after the whisperings and the stares of villagers, this soon descends into the terrifying fear that everyone wants to eat him. This notion, which begins with a mother shouting, “I am so angry I could eat you!” offers a shock. He believes his time has come to die or to eat. His insanity boils over and he hides away, unable to eat at all as he “could not tell whether the slippery morsels were fish or human flesh…”

Lu Xun is known as the godfather of modern Chinese literature. He was one of the first who began to use the written baihua language, a vernacular form of Chinese, and this was not his only revolutionary idea. Heavily influenced by the style of Russian short story master Nikolai Gogol, author of a novella with the same title, Xun’s “The Diary of a Madman” focuses on one man’s growing fear of cannibalism.

Yet is he really mad? Lu Xun could be referring to the documented cases of cannibalism during the Taiping Rebellion, when beef and pork were rare but human meat could be found in abundance instead.

It is easy to see this short story as a form of social commentary of the time and as Lu Xun’s desire to highlight the problems of his pre revolutionary “man-eating society,” but I believe it is an all-consuming read in its own right.

Find more literature by Lu Xun at

Taken from the collection Call to Arms Collection, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang.

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