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.”

Comments (8)

  1. John B wrote::

    China sent its first man into space for the same reason that the US and Soviets did in the 1960s, and for the same reason a dog licks its balls — because it can.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2003 at 5:49 am #
  2. wayne wrote::

    Wow. Getting through Ah Q must be a bitch. I remember it taking long enough to get through Medicine or Kong Yiji, and those stories are way shorter.

    You should drop some Chinese characters in your post, instead of this pinyin, so I can actually figure out what you’re talking about.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2003 at 1:22 am #
  3. lu t wrote::

    what a cool teacher

    Wednesday, October 22, 2003 at 2:41 am #
  4. matt wrote::

    Nice job man. I remember reading that in English.
    I think it will be a few years before I read it in chinese.

    hey I learnt a chengyu ‘nongzhuangyanmo'(2,1,4,3)
    and another ‘pucaixiangzai'(4,2,1,1)

    btw, I really like the new look, is it the same as what you shoed me in the cafe in wudaokou?
    Maybe it is but my memory is kind of hazy due the certain activities that took place later.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2003 at 8:36 am #
  5. trevelyan wrote::

    After two years of basic language study (“Hello comrade!”), my University dumped us into Lu Xun. So goodbye it was to conversational Chinese, and hello to words like “magua” (the name of a classical Chinese riding jacket if said properly). Very useful in daily conversation:

    Ni xianzai chuan de magua feichang hao kan! (你现在穿的马褂非常好看!)

    Qingwen, wo zai nar madeliao yige magua? (请问,我在那儿买得了一的马褂?)

    Shei ba wode magua tou le? (谁把我的马寡头了?)

    Thursday, October 23, 2003 at 10:10 am #
  6. hnjjz wrote::

    Your teacher sounds cool, but I wonder how many people in China think like him. At least in the bay area, a lot of Chinese people sound quite excited.

    Saturday, October 25, 2003 at 5:53 am #
  7. Mike wrote::

    Do you have your email posted anywhere on your site ? I would love to chat with you about studying Chinese at Beijing University as I applied there for this coming fall. I also applied to BFSU, Tsinghua and Fudan U. I would be very grateful for your opinion about the Chinese language program at Beijing University or any other opinions you have heard about the other universities. You or anyone else can reach me at Thanks

    Tuesday, March 23, 2004 at 11:14 am #
  8. Kevin Nadolny wrote::

    I like your post. I have had similar problems when reading Lu Xun myself and thought there had to be a better way for students to read his stories. In response to my own frustration, I wrote a book to help people like us read his stories. Check it out at if you like.

    Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (2)

  1. Brainysmurf on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 at 8:41 am

    Bokane posts a professor’s thoughts

    on China’s space shot. A lesson on the meaning of a word leads to a good summary of many people’s opinion. BTW: The above post comes after a site redesign for Bokane, employing a gorgeous picture layer deal….

  2. Living In China on Friday, October 24, 2003 at 2:38 am

    Local Reactions to First Chinese Man In Space

    “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…