Just learnt something new from dailyspecs.
The fictional character of Walter Mitty, from writer James Thurber’s newspaper short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, first published in The New Yorker, on March 18, 1939.
And a definition of a Walter Mitty is apparently:
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs”.
I can’t help but notice the striking similarity between Thurber’s fictional character (as well as the circumstances of how his story first saw publication), and one of the most beloved characters in modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun’s “Ah Q”.
Lu Xun first published “The True Story of Ah Q – 阿Q正传” in instalments between 1921 and 1922 in the Beijing newspaper 《晨報副刊》, and the stories were later collected and published in his famous book Call to Arms/呐喊 in 1923.
And wiki describes Lu Xun’s character of Ah Q as:
The story traces the “adventures” of Ah Q, a man from the peasant, rural class with little education and no definite work. Ah Q is famous for “spiritual victories”, Lu Xun’s euphemism for self-talk and self-deception even when faced with extreme defeat or humiliation. Ah Q is a bully of the less fortunate but fearful of those who are above him in rank, strength, or power. He persuades himself mentally that he is spiritually “superior” to his oppressors even as he succumbs to their tyranny and suppression. Lu Xun exposes Ah Q’s extreme faults as symptomatic of the Chinese national character of his time. The ending of the piece – when Ah Q is carted off to execution for a lowly crime – is equally poignant and satirical.
I really wonder if James Thurber had really not read and was influenced by Lu Xun’s “The True Story of Ah Q”, and had forgotten to include an attribution. Hmm…
Anyway, Lu Xun is probably the most influential modern Chinese writer in the post-dynastic, nationalist and later, socialist periods. Notwithstanding the later efforts by the chinese communists to appropriate his writings and his persona, as a ‘socialist writer’ of the first degree.
Lu Xun was one of Mum’s favourite writers, and the “The True Story of Ah Q” (and it’s film version) was the first of Lu Xun’s many writings which Mum shared with me.
The funny character of Ah Q and his hilarious but sad encounters, especially when told through comic strips, made it very palatable for a young boy. But it was Mum’s patient explanations of the story’s many cultural sociological and political backgrounds, allusions and significance, which really made Ah Q and his dusty-brown world come alive for me.
Growing up, I had difficulty reconciling the forceful, always razor-sharp, and sometimes militant writings of Lu Xun with the whimsical story of Ah Q I had so enjoyed as a kid. But gradually, I realized that with this one short story of the clueless Ah Q, Lu Xun poignantly captured in full, what was probably the most turbulent and uncertain period in China’s millenia-long history:
the end of more than two thousand years of dynastic feudalism coming on the heels of nearly 100 years of foreign militarist aggression and humiliation, and an uncertain future for a China torn apart by internal forces between the feuding warlords, nationalists and socialists.
While I do not particulary enjoy reading Lu Xun and his sometimes overly-combatant style*, Mum placed his writings firmly on my reading list so many years ago, and we have “The True Story of Ah Q” to thank for that.
[*Lu Xun had sometimes attracted from his critics the unfavourable diatribe, 绍兴师爷 – an advocate/solicitor/lobbyist from Shaoxing (his hometown); a province which gained some fame in the Qing dynasty era for producing many learned scholars and officials who attained positions in the imperial court; as well as for their strong argumentative, debating and persuasive skills.