In Favor of Children and the Vernacular

Haley Jung

"But I was too young then to understand such things." Lu Xun's essay titled The Picture-Book of Twenty-Four Acts of Filial Piety states that popular children's books in China may be a little too discreet with their messages, causing children to fail to see the important morals of the stories. He also feels that those who try to stop the use of the vernacular in writing should be cursed with the "blackest, blackest curse." If authors are using language hard for children to comprehend, and not have photos to help them understand the story, children will get the wrong idea and often get scared of what might happen to them if they don��t do what the story says to.
Children take things too literally and they need things to be spelt out word for word for them. For example, Lu Xun recalls reading the story by Liu Hsiang, Lives of Filial Sons. This story is about a poor family who has a new born baby and no food for them to feed the entire family - including the father's mother. The father - wanting to be a filial son, does all that he can to keep his mother happy and alive, even if it means killing his own baby to have one less mouth to feed.
The moral of this story is to teach children to be filial and loyal to their parents at any cause. After reading this story Lu Xun is terrified at the thought be being buried, and hopes that ironically his father wouldn't be a filial son. He trembled overhearing his parents talking about where the next meal would come from and where they would get the money, and he now saw his gentle "white-haired grandmother" as a threat to his life.
As Lu Xun looks back at his childhood and the way he interpreted things, he feels like a "simpleton." I don't see how he would have expected differently, though. He was only a small child and very gullible and naive. If a child reads a story about lying on the ice to wait for fish to swim under him to grab, he sees it as a story about lying on the ice to wait for fish to swim under him - not a story teaching you to be patient and wait for things to come your way. At such a young age, one can not expect a child to see the deeper meaning of stories and see the morals of the story behind the extravagant language used while writing these stories - hence Lu Xun's strong support of the vernacular. "Even if men's spirits live on after death and I am sent to Hell for such viciousness, I shall certainly not repent but never cease to curse all those who oppose and sabotage the vernacular."
Being filial was a very important factor to the Chinese culture and children would do all they could to be a filial child. Elders want their children and grandchildren to understand this as soon as they can, giving them books and telling them stories that entail these morals. Though they might not see how important it is for the children to actually see that the story is a lesson - rather than something to pass the time with reading, they just want them to grow up with the right morals.

Pictures Please?

Emily Swoveland

The Picture-Book of Twenty-Four Acts of Filial Piety by Lu Xun is a blatant attack on traditional Chinese culture. Believing that revolution comes from literature, Lu Xun is highly disappointed that the May Fourth Revolution has yet to trickle down into children's literature. Not until every aspect of literature has been affected will the revolution become successful.

The degree to which children's literature promotes Confucian values bothers Lu Xun, as he sees these values as outdated, hindering the progress of Chinese society from reaching modernity. Lu Xun understands that change is solidified with each new generation, and if literature is not affected at the children's level, new, more modern ideas and values will be harder to instill into the future generation and therefore, modern China.

However, Lu Xun does notice some change in children's literature. From his childhood to the time in which he wrote The Picture-Book of Twenty-Four Acts of Filial Piety shows notable change within the genre of children's literature. However, compared to other modern or modernizing nations, he finds China to be quite far behind.

Beyond children's literature, Lu Xun is criticizing the Chinese literati. He believes that literature should show what society will become and that it should represent the people, average citizens. Prior to the May Fourth Movement, Chinese literature was aimed primarily at Chinese aristocrats and focused on solely aestheticism, shying away from pertinent issues in society. Lu Xun's The Picture-Book of Twenty-Four Acts of Filial Piety is his attempt to promote his viewpoints, a perfect example of what he hopes others will do. He writes about what matters to him and he refuses to shy away from things just because they are unpleasing.

In his mocking of Confucian children's tales he is showing the flaws in Confucianism and the problems it brings to Chinese society. He recounts his reaction to what Confucian values deem necessary to reach filial piety and describes them in the most literal of senses. By taking these Confucian values portrayed in children's books and making them literal, he devalues the intended message and therefore traditional China and its literature.

Although Lu Xun continues on and acknowledges the fact that he took these children's books on filial piety too literally, he is still knocking down Confucian values. Through his critique of these values and children's literature he is promoting radical changes to traditional society. He states that "it is simply that times have changed." Because times have changed so dramatically in the world as a whole, Lu Xun believes that China needs to follow suit. China should adapt to the times and to do so, Confucian values must be first be modified. Once these values have been updated to embrace equality between the genders and intellectual individuality, Chinese society will be all the better. Through the May Fourth Revolution, a literary movement, Lu Xun hopes to be able to make these changes. From Confucian values to Chinese literature, he believes the culture can change��for the better.

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