Storm In A Teacup by Lu Xun, 1920
The magic trick:
Coyly setting up the story’s push and pull with a seemingly throwaway scene at the outset
We’re off to China this week. Seems reasonable to start then with the man who is said to have invented the modern Chinese short story – Lu Xun.
This is such a good story. It’s certainly very specific to Chinese history and the context of its contemporary Chinese society. But no matter. The themes of classicism and power transcend just fine.
I think the story shows its hand early. The omniscient narration introduces us without apparent bias to a peasant village scene. Next, we’re told some “scholars” pass by the scene in a “pleasure boat.” That unbiased tone is changing on us. The scholars, we are told, “waxed quite lyrical at the sight,” saying “So free from care! Here’s real idyllic happiness.”
The scholars do not reappear in the story, but the point has been made. The rest of the story will now serve to contradict, if not outright mock, their words.
And that’s quite a trick on Xun’s part.
Though Old Mrs. Ninepounder had lived to a great age, she was by no means deaf; she did nor, however, hear what the child said, and went on muttering to herself, “Yes, indeed! Each generation is worse than the last!”
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