We’re reading A Q Zheng Zhuan, “The True Story of Ah Q” by Lu Xun, in my Modern Chinese Literature class, and while it is a wonderful story and undoubtedly one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century, it is fucking hard.
“Modern” is something of a misnomer; it’s not written in classical Chinese, sure, but it’s still written in a very old-fashioned style, and Lu was fond of dropping in little references to and jokes based on Confucian classics and the like.
So even though it’s a literature course, and not a language course, we’ve still got to spend some time going over vocabulary. I mean, yes, we all knew that when Lu Xun said li yan – “to acheive immortality through one’s words” – in the preface, it was totally a reference the san buxiu – the Three Imperishables – which comes from the Confucian classic Zuo Zhuan and specifically its instructions on the three ways to make one’s reputation immortal*, and I’m sure that you did too, but, you know, sometimes you need to be reminded of these things, like when you, uh, forget.
One of the chapter headings near the end of “The True Story of Ah Q” is “Cong Zhongxing Dao Molu” – something like “From Rise to Fall” – and we were wondering exactly what zhongxing meant.
Our professor – an enthusiastic 30-ish guy from Jiangxi Province – drew a wavy line on the whiteboard. “Zhongxing is like when you’re here” – he pointed to the bottom of one of the curves – “and you start moving up. A resurgence, a rise.”
“Oh,” we all said, and made a note of it. He wasn’t done:
“Some people are saying that China is in a resurgence now – you know, with shooting the guy into space and all of that. I, um, I’m not so optimistic. I, uh, I think they should go to the subway stations and see the people sleeping on the sidewalks. Or go to the countryside, better still. I mean, what do I know – I study literature, not aviation. But I don’t know why they had to do that, why they didn’t just spend the money where it would have done some good.”