Cultural Capital and the Tale of Two Lu Xuns

Yang Ke


Historically, Lu Xun’s canonical status in China had been used for purposes other than strictly or specifically “literary,” although the aesthetic merits of his works remain indisputable even from the broader perspective of World Literature today. Nonetheless, such uses, which this study refers to as “cultural capital,” have brought about certain inconsistencies and contradictions in the evaluation of his works. In order to survey the complex and shifting history of reception to Lu Xun’s works, this paper attempts to explain the contextual determinations of his canonicity from the rise of vernacular literature in 1917 in China and his use of sophisticated techniques of the short story from the modern aesthetics learned when he studied abroad. Both developments earned Lu Xun a fairly wide readership among the Chinese, and the respect of Chinese intellectuals and the literati from the very beginning of his career; later, his essays on revolutionary literature and proletarian literature appear to have contributed to his full recognition even by the Communist Party since the 1930s. The positive reception of these different sectors resulted in a “cultural capital” that would be at the core of the changes in the history of the reception to his works in China. Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization and John Guillory’s elaboration in terms of literary evaluation and in order to show how Lu Xun’s works were used as cultural capital, this paper discusses the changes in representation of Lu Xun’s works in Middle School and High School Chinese textbooks, as well as the related historical movements and social activities after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The discussion also tries to show how he was later aligned with the political struggle and propaganda demands to convince the masses to follow the government’s policy and practice. In this regard, the study attempts to describe how his works were chosen in accordance with the mechanisms by which political preferences and cultural values are historically inculcated and normalized in literature in China. All these developments resulted in the production of “Lu Xun” whose hybrid identity was anchored on the differing and contradictory uses as cultural capital.


cultural capital; literary canon; Lu Xun; uses of Lu Xun’s works

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