Toward a National Literature: Lu Xun's Appropriation of Weltliteratur, 1906–1936

Project: Research

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This project will seek to transform our understanding of the origin of modern Chinese literature by conducting the first comprehensive study on Lu Xun's (1881-1936) appropriation of Weltliteratur sources (Weltliteratur is the German term for world literature). Acclaimed as the founder of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun has received sustained attention from academics around the world. As he spent his entire life searching for new voices from alien lands, generations of scholars have explored how he appropriated foreign literature and culture, particularly using Japanese sources. Nevertheless, although it is well known that Lu Xun also relied on German sources, his connection to them remains unclear.Benefiting from recent scholarly debates and historical surveys of world literature, this project will argue that a considerable number of German sources consulted by Lu Xun belonged to Weltliteratur, and played a no less pivotal role than Japanese sources in shaping his literary ideas and practice. In this project, "Weltliteratur" will refer not only to the contested discourses on this concept proposed by Goethe and later German theorists but also to the flourishing literary practice of translating foreign literature, especially minor European literatures, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Germany. Having learned German in Japan, Lu Xun was not only interested in theoretical inquiries but also immersed himself in reading and assimilating these translations throughout his literary career.This project will examine two key issues. First, it will focus on Lu Xun's literary critiques, translations, and compilation projects to explore how he created his distinctive discourse on world literature and national literature by reconciling the ideas of Goethe, Hegel, and Herder embodied in the histories and journals of world literature. Second, it will seek to examine how Lu Xun generated his own creative writings such as "The Diary of a Madman," "Hometown," and "Lament for the Deceased" by appropriating the themes and narrative structures of short stories translated into German from minor European languages.By highlighting Lu Xun's appropriation of Weltliteratur, this project will demonstrate that modern Chinese/national literature was to some extent generated by an encounter with world literature. By integrating modern Chinese literature studies and world literature studies, this project will not only develop a new dimension for understanding Lu Xun's work, ranging from essays, short stories, translations, and compilations, but will also contribute to the theorization of the dialectic between national literature and world literature. 


Project number9048230
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/07/23