Yan Lianke Illuminates Contemporary China
“Near the beginning of James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus famously compares history to a nightmare. It was also in 1922 that Lu Xun penned the preface to his first short-story collection, Call to Arms (published in 1923), in which he asks whether he should try to use his writing to wake up his fellow countrymen still trapped in the proverbial “iron house” of Chinese feudal values. In these almost simultaneous texts, two of the twentieth century’s leading modernist authors both equated history with sleep and dreams. Whereas Joyce’s Dedalus wants to awaken from the nightmare that is history, Lu Xun worries that his works might in fact succeed in rousing his blissfully oblivious readers, causing them to awaken to a state of historical awareness for which they would then have no easy remedy….