‘Call to Arms’ book is excellent collection of short stories, written by Chinese author Lu Xun. The author, through his stories, tries to describe the cruel realities of traditional Chinese society. ‘Call to Arms’ stories were originally written during 1920s by Lu Xun in Chinese language. All stories of ‘Call to Arms’ were translated by Y. Hasien-yi and G. Yang and were published in year 1960 for the first time. The stories introduce readers to social, health care and other problems, existing in the China. The author tries to act as a social critic by depicting social problems of China and describes how people used to suffer in Chinese society. The objective of this paper is to present an analysis of ‘Call to Arms’ along with presenting a brief introduction of the author’s life.
Lu Xun was born in the year 1881, during the pre modern era of China. Lu Xun is well known for his contributions to modern Chinese literature. Lu Xun has written various short stories that are influenced by classical and Vernacular Chinese. Lu Xun worked on different dimensions of writing and literature such as editing, writing, translation, critic, poet and novelist. Xun also obtained position of head of League of Left-Wing Writers, Shanghai in the year 1930. May Fourth Movement of 1916 significantly impacted the thinking of the Lu and the same gets reflected in different works of the author.
Lu Xun’s works emphasize on how traditional Chinese culture and old practices hinder the growth of the country. Traditional practices do not allow China to grow and restrict socio-economic development of the country. Lu Xun’s works describe why China was failed to maintain or improve its international position. Lu Xun describes how old traditional practices did not facilitate industrial development in China and kept it behind Japan and Western countries. For example, stories such as ‘Preface to Call to Arms’, ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Medicine’ describe the poor performance of traditional Chinese medicines that are unable to cure different illnesses.
All major works of Lu Xun are focused around Chinese society and social problems prevailing at that time. Lu Xun in his works criticized the political system, healthcare system, government, and legislative system of the country. His work has always been much-admired by the members of communist party. However, Lu Xun never entered into politics like other actors who played major role in ‘May Fourth Movement’. Lu Xun ideas were liberal, and he always wrote for betterment of the society; Lu’s works clearly reflect his inclination towards communist’s ideas.
Lu Xun has written several short stories that present his ideas to the readers. ‘A Madam’s Diary’ presents the phase of Lu’s personal transition when Lu shifted his focus from medicine field to literature, writing and psychology. The story presents self-destructiveness of Chinese society. ‘Kong Yiji’ story informs readers about cruel justice system of traditional Chinese society. ‘My Old Home’ informs readers about unnecessary divisions created in society by forming class. Some other popular works of Lu Xun are: ‘Tomorrow’, ‘An Incident’, ‘Strom in a Teacup’, ‘The True Story of AH Q’, ‘Divorce’, ‘Happy Family’, and ‘The Flight to the Moon’.
Lu Xun’s stories show that the author very closely watched Chinese society, and he was able to understand the pain and suffering of people. Lu Xun has seen his family struggling to maintain their social position during his early childhood. Lu Xun was born in a prosperous family, but the position of family started declining when Lu’s father attempted to bribe an educational officer. Lu’s grandfather was sentenced to be beheaded for the crime committed by his son.
However, Lu’s family tried to prevent the execution through expensive and regular bribes to officers till 1901 when Lu’s grandfather was released. This whole episode impacted Lu’s father and he started excessive drinking, which resulted in decline in his health. Lu was a small child when the family was going under stress and hardship. Illness of his father impacted him emotionally. All the stories of ‘Call to Arms’ are influenced by experiences faced by the author during his early childhood. He keeps talking about his fathers’ health and treatments.
Lu Xun’s father was receiving treatment from local Chinese health practitioners who tried to cure Lu’s father by giving expensive treatments. Despite of all expensive treatments, Lu’s father died in year 1896. Death of Lu’s father in absence of proper medical treatment made him to ponder over the usefulness of traditional Chinese medicines. Lu finds that not only medicine but various other traditional practices that are prevailing in Chinese society, are of no use.
“Call to Arms’ book presents collection of 15 stories, written by the author including the story ‘Preface to Call to Arms’. The story ‘Preface to Call to Arms’ describes Lu’s day to day feeling when he was a child and used to bring medicines for his ill father. Lu Xun starts story by talking about dreams that everyone has. The author says that dreams sometimes make you happy and sometimes lonely, and it does not make sense to stick up with loneliness.
Lu Xun says that I had several dreams in my childhood and it is difficult for me to forget them completely. The author recalls the time when he was regularly visiting pawnbroker and medicine shop. The author says that he does not remember his age when he started visiting medicine shop, but his height was same as height of the counter of medicine shop and pawnbroker’s height was double. This shows that author used to procure medicines for his father since his early childhood.
Lu Xun describes about the shift in his life from prosperity to poverty and said that such shift in his life taught him about the reality of the world. Lu Xun wanted to study foreign subjects but was forced to study medicines due to social pressure. The author after studying medicine realized about the fraudster practices of physicians and that how charlatan those physicians were who used to give false or ineffective medicines to his father. Lu Xun sympathizes towards families & Individuals who were receiving treatments from those fake physicians.
The story ‘Preface to Call to Arms’ describes how Lu Xun changed his mind and decided to study literature. Lu Xun felt that motivating people to do important things and changing their spirit is more important than curing people from illnesses. However, things did not go well as they were planned by the Xun. Lu Xun described about his situation and said "Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation do you think you are doing them a good turn?" (Xun).
The story brings readers closer to the real life and experiences of Lu Xun and informs them about how social conditions and other external factors shape the thought process of an individual. Other stories of the book are as effective as ‘Preface to Call to Arms’ and close to the real society of traditional China. Story ‘Tomorrow’ also revolved around traditional Chinese medicines, a sick child and his widow mother. In story, the child is suffering from tuberculosis. Mother is trying to cure her son by giving him traditional medicines and at the end child dies leaving her mother alone.
‘An Incident’ is another popular story by Xun wherein the author talks about a rickshaw puller who collides with an old woman on the road. The story informs readers about the negligence of common men towards other people. The story teaches readers to holds responsibility and care for others. People often focus on their own work and forget about others like the lead character of the story, but people like rickshaw puller helps other without thinking about their damages. Rickshaw puller helped old women because there was no one else to help her.
‘Strom in a Teacup’ describes about the political revolution and difficulties faced by the people who participate in meaningful politics in dispersed china. The story shows how people located in villages get impacted by the politics of life and death. The story talks about Qing dynasty, Taiping Rebellion, overthrown of Qing dynasty and its restoration. Revolution is required to bring changes in the society and it cannot be brought by few people. All people should stand up against the government and system in order to change it and bring something that is designed for welfare of people (Xun).
“My Old Home” is another short story in the collection “Call to Arms”. The story revolves around a man who visits his hometown and finds an invisible high wall that divide people. The story describes unnecessary class division created among people. The story informs readers about a sense of belongings that people have with their home town and pain that they face when the gap widened between past and present.
‘The True Story of AH Q’ is another excellent story from the book. The story revolves around a major them of material goodness and physical wellness. Through story writer presents a question to readers that what is more challenging wealth and material well being or physical processes. Other stories of the book such as ‘The Double Fifth Festival’, ‘The White Light’, and ‘The Rabbits and The Cat’ focus on social problems existing in traditional Chinese society and development of the Chinese society.
‘The Rabbits and The Cat’ story is about how a change in attitude can help in saving life of rabbits and facilitate equal distribution. The same concept is applicable to our society where authorities can ensure equal distribution of things by being more serious towards their responsibilities. Chinese government should change their attitude towards people and adopt modern practices like adopted by Third Missus in the story. Third Missus after losing her rabbits decided to bring new bunch of rabbits to inside her home. She herself took care of all rabbits in order to provide good health to them.
“Village Opera” is a short story in “Call to Arms” that describes difference of cities and villages. The author portrays the class, societal and economic differences between rural and urban areas. The story may not appear that fascinating but it is a realistic portrayal of traditions and courtesy that is very important part of rural society. The author describes in the short story how people of villages are deeply associated with each other and stand with each other in the time of need (Xun).
All fifteen stories cover in the book ‘Call to Arms’ in direct or indirect manner depicts the problems existing in traditional Chinese society. Some of the stories directly targeted traditional Chinese medicine practices that only made people poor and never improved health of the people. Some of the stories talked about social issues and negligence of the people. The author tries to inform reader that few steps by all people can improve the situation and help in changing complete scenario.
Xun’s book “Call to Arms” has received wide acclamations from readers. Readers find the book and all its stories close to their life. Poverty and sufferings, portrayed in stories are an integral part of the society. People see such things in their daily and practical life. People are also fed-up with fraudsters who exploit people and dupe their hard earned money in name of treatment. Xun’s portrayal of his life and sufferings is the reality of many people’s life.
Xun’s “Call to Arms” easily connects with readers and they find its stories entertaining, educating and close to their real life. Xun’s stories are very close to reality and at the same time they are full of emotions. The way, author describes his sufferings, touches emotional cords of readers and compels them to think over certain issues. author’s portrayal of human emotions in certain situations is exemplary.
It also reminds people of their social duty because the society also has a duty towards people who suffer in their life. If people start helping those who suffer, problems will become normal. Help from anyone in the need provides a support that empowers people to stand against odds. “Call to Arms” is close to readers because it is not a fiction, but a reality that a majority of people still face in the real life.
All stories, written by Lu Xun were released in different months but received wide acclamation from the readers. Readers through the stories can understand the inner feelings of the author who was trying to make the China a better place for all Chinese. The author used stories to explain readers about the changes that are desired to bring revolution in the traditional society. All the stories of Lu Xun inform readers about how the problems and solutions.
Lu Xun is considered one of the popular authors of Chinese literary world. His stories are interpreted by many in different ways. He wrote extensively on issues. his issue based writing also attracted anger from certain sections of the society whose interests were affected because of Xun’s writing. Xun is one of progressive writes who gave new directions to the society. He extensively talked about customs and also did never hesitate in criticising them on the basis of their irrelevance.
After going through Xun’s life and collection of his stories, “Call to Arms”, it can be concluded that his stories represent life of millions of people. These stories are so realistic that readers feel them in their daily life. These stories are not fictional but they describe the sufferings and pain of many people that they face in their daily life. Xun expressed his views on various issues without fearing. Xun’s sufferings have changed his personality in different ways and his inclination towards literature was for the betterment of the society and not for any materialistic gain. Xun’s “Call to Arms” easily connects with readers and educates them about various aspects of real life.
Xun, Lu. Call to Arms. USA: Simon and Schuster, 2014.