Written: April 1, 1926
Source: Selected Works of Lu Hsun Volume II, pp. 267-272 Foreign Languages Press, 1980
Online Version: Lu Xun Reference Archive, December 2005
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Mike B.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
On March 25 in the fifteenth year of the Republic, the National Beijing Women's Normal College held a memorial service for two girls, Liu Hezhen and Yang Dequn, who were killed on the 18th in front of Duan Qirui's Government House. I was pacing alone outside the hall, when Miss Cheng came up to me.
"Have you written anything, sir, for Liu Hezhen?" she asked.
I answered, "No."
"I think you should, sir," she urged. "Liu Hezhen always liked to read your essays."
I was aware of this. All the magazines I edit have a very poor circulation, quite likely because they often cease publication suddenly. Yet in spite of financial difficulties, she was one of those who ordered The Wilderness quite generously for a whole year. And I have felt for some days that I should write something, for though this has no effect on the dead, it seems to be all the living can do. Of course, if I could believe that "the spirit lives on after death," that would give me greater comfort — but, as it is, this seems to be all I can do.
I really have nothing to say, though. I just feel that we are not living in the world of men. In a welter of more than forty young people's blood I can barely see, hear or breathe, so what can I say? We can make no long lament till after our pain is dulled. And the insidious talk of some so-called scholars since this incident has added to my sense of desolation. I am beyond indignation. I shall sup deeply of the dark desolation which is not of the world of men, and present my deepest grief to this world which is not of men, letting it delight in my pain. This shall be the poor offering of one still living before the shrine of the dead.
True fighters dare face the sorrows of humanity, and look unflinchingly at bloodshed. What sorrow and joy are theirs! But the Creator's common device for ordinary people is to let the passage of time wash away old traces, leaving only pale-red bloodstains and a vague pain; and he lets men live on ignobly amid these, to keep this quasi-human world going. When will such a state of affairs come to an end?
We are still living in such a world, and some time ago I felt I must write something. A fortnight has passed since March 18 and soon the forgotten Saviour will be descending. I must write something now.
Miss Liu Hezhen, one of the more than forty young people killed, was my pupil. So I used to call her, and so I thought of her. But now I hesitate to call her my pupil, for now I should present to her my sorrow and my respect. She is no pupil now of one dragging on an ignoble existence like myself. She is a Chinese girl who has died for China.
I first saw her name early last summer, when Miss Yang Yinyu as president of the Women's Normal College dismissed six members of the students' union. She was one of the six, but I did not know her. Only later — it may have been after Liu Baizhao1 led his men and women lieutenants to drag the students out of the college — did someone point out one of the students to me and tell me that was Liu Hezhen. When I knew who she was, I secretly marvelled. I had always imagined that any student who could stand up to the authorities and oppose a powerful president and her accomplices must be rather bold and intractable; but she nearly always had a smile on her face, and her manner was very gentle. After we found temporary lodgings at Zongmao Hutong and started classes again, she began attending my lectures, and so I saw more of her. She still always had a smile on her face, and her manner was very gentle. When the college was recovered, and the former members of the staff who felt they had now done their duty prepared to resign, I first noticed her in tears through concern for the college's future. After that, I believe, I never saw her again. At least, as far as I remember, that was our last meeting.
On the morning of the 18th I knew there was a mass petition before Government House; and that afternoon I heard the fearful news that the guards had actually opened fire, that there had been several hundred casualties, and that Liu Hezhen was one of the dead. I was rather sceptical, though, about these reports. I am always ready to think the worst of my fellow-countrymen, but I could neither conceive nor believe that we could stoop to such despicable barbarism. Besides, how could smiling, gentle Liu Hezhen have been slaughtered for no reason in front of Government House?
Yet on that same day it proved to be true — the evidence was her body. There was another body, Yang Dequn's. Moreover these made clear that this was not only murder but brutal murder, for their bodies bore the marks of clubs also.
The Duan government, however, issued a decree declaring them "rioters."
But this was followed by a rumour that they were the tools of other people.
I could not bear to look at this cruel sight. Even more, I could not bear to hear these rumours. What else is there I can say? I understand why a dying race remains silent. Silence, silence! Unless we burst out, we shall perish in this silence!
But I have more to say.
I did not see this, but I hear that she — Liu Hezhen — went forward gaily. Of course, it was only a petition, and no one with any conscience could imagine such a trap. But then she was shot before Government House, shot from behind, and the bullet pierced her lung and heart. A mortal wound, but she did not die immediately. When Miss Zhang Jingshu who was with her tried to lift her up, she was pierced by four shots, one from a pistol, and fell. And when Miss Yang Dequn who was with them tried to lift her up, she was shot too: the bullet entered her left shoulder and came out to the right of her heart, and she also fell. She was able to sit up, but a soldier clubbed her savagely over her head and her breast, and so she died.
So gentle Liu Hezhen who was always smiling has really died. It is true: her body is the evidence. Yang Dequn, a brave and true friend, has also died; her body is the evidence. Only Zhang Jingshu, just as brave and true a friend, is still groaning in hospital. How magnificent of these three girls to fall so calmly, pierced by the bullets invented by civilized men! The valour shown by Chinese soldiers in butchering women and children and the martial prowess of the Allied troops2 in teaching students a lesson have unfortunately been eclipsed by these few streaks of blood.
But Chinese and foreign murderers are still holding their heads high, unaware of the bloodstains on their faces…
Time flows eternally on: the streets are peaceful again, for a few lives count for nothing in China. At most, they give good-natured idlers something to talk about, or provide malicious idlers with material for "rumours." As for any deeper significance, I think there is very little; for this was only a peaceful petition. The history of mankind's battle forward through bloodshed is like the formation of coal, where a great deal of wood is needed to produce a small amount of coal. But petitions do not serve any purpose, especially peaceful ones.
Since blood was shed, however, the affair will naturally make itself more felt. At least it will permeate the hearts of the kinsmen, teachers, friends and lovers of the dead. And even if with the flight of time the bloodstains fade, the image of a gentle girl who was always smiling will live on forever amid the vague sorrow. The poet Tao Qian wrote:
My kinsmen may still be grieving,
While others have started singing.
I am dead and gone — what more is there to say?
My body is buried in the mountains.
And this is quite enough.
As I have said before, I am always willing to think the worst of my fellow-countrymen. Still, quite a few things have surprised me this time. One is that the authorities could act so barbarously, another that the rumour-mongers could sink so low, yet another that Chinese girls could face death so bravely.
Only last year did I begin to notice how Chinese women manage public affairs. Though they are few, I have often been impressed by their ability, determination and indomitable spirit. The attempt of these girls to rescue each other amid a hail of bullets, regardless of their own safety, is a clearer indication of the courage of Chinese women which has persisted through the thousands of years of conspiracies against them and suppression. If we are looking for the significance of this casualty for the future, it probably lies here.
Those who drag on an ignoble existence will catch a vague glimpse of hope amid the pale bloodstains, while true fighters will advance with greater resolution.
Alas, I can say no more. But I have written this in memory of Miss Liu Hezhen.
1. In 1925 the Minister of Education, Zhang Shizao, disbanded the Women's Normal College and set up a new Women's University in the same premises under Liu Baizhao. Liu used strongarm methods to take over.
2. The joined forces of the eight imperialist powers, which attacked China in 1900.