Lu Xun New Year’s Sacrifice Essay Introduction
Many people feel like strangers in the world. They seek comfort, understanding, encouragement, or, at least, kindness, which in the aggregate help them live through the toughest times. If instead, they encounter coldness, rejection, and mockery, they naturally develop a sense of alienation from society. Lu Xun invites the readers to one woman’s private world, letting us savor the details of her tragedy and calling for empathy that resides deep in our hearts.
Sister Xianglin in “New Year’s Sacrifice”
Sister Xianglin in “New Year’s Sacrifice” is not just a victim of unfortunate circumstances, but she is rather a challenge to her society, demonstrating greater moral preponderance over her social surroundings. Lu Xun underscores the problem of moral decay and encourages modern readers to reconsider their core values and attitudes in order to warn us against turning our backs on people who act, look, and think differently.
The Problem of Moral Decay in “New Year’s Sacrifice”
Although the story was written in 1924, it has not lost its topicality with time. “New Year’s Sacrifice” vividly demonstrates that the author’s sympathy is with the less fortunate members of the society, who try to make ends meet and wish to subvert the outdated system. Lu Xun disapproved of traditional Chinese values and wanted to transform the aspects he did not like through complex and believable characters he portrayed in his stories. The criticism of traditional morals permeates every line of the narration. In fact, the target of criticism is the narrator in the first place, as he is afraid to cause disturbance by taking a particular moral stance and voice clearly his opinion. He evades giving a straight answer because it requires more inner strength to stick to what you believe in:
If you conclude everything you say with a can’t say for sure, you always remain comfortably free and clear no matter how things turn out. After meeting with Sister Xianglin on the street that day, I began to appreciate the necessity for some such formula.
The narrator experiences an inner dilemma, which is either to remain silent when he can definitely awaken some people to the truth or to assert his beliefs and even face risks of being persecuted as a consequence. He can practice his ideas in a vacuum, arguing with himself, but never resorting to any decisive steps to actualize them. The outdated system provides the narrator with comfort, and therefore, he is reluctant to depart from it, share and voice his opinions, and disturb the minds of people around him.
At the end of the story, the narrator suffers a defeat, as he clings to the image of pure fantasy and persuades himself that “the various gods of heaven and earth were enjoying the ritual offerings and all the incense that burned in their honor. Comfortably tipsy by now, they staggered through the sky and prepared to shower the people of Lu Town with infinite blessings”. The narrator is a kind of intellectual who subsists on lofty ideas, but when his hopes are shattered, he feels disoriented.
His guilt is undeniably great because he leaves the woman in total ignorance about matters that pertain to the spiritual realm. Some people may argue that the narrator is not a spiritual leader and his reaction is quite normal. However, the problem which the writer wants to emphasize is the lack of guidance and active position on part of the Chinese elite that is reluctant to change the established order of things and lead the compatriots out of the darkness towards enlightenment and truth.
Awakening People’s Moral Conscience in the Story ‘The New Year’s Sacrifice’
The Chinese value system at the beginning of the twentieth century turned out to be outdated, as it marginalized certain elements of society and relied on superstitions and prejudices more than on drawing conclusions from facts or evidence. The obedience to the cast system so deeply entrenched into the life of common people that it widened social, political, and cultural disparity. China’s modernization was hampered by the passive reformist attitude to traditional Chinese values. “New Year’s Sacrifice” like other Lu Xun’s works is aimed at awakening people’s moral conscience, persuading them that they are not passive onlookers whose fates have been sealed by those above them in the cast hierarchy system, and, most importantly, encouraging them to fight with the social ugliness.
Although the degree of the narrator’s culpability is a debatable issue, we should not forget that society’s guilt is also evident. It is revealed through the complacency and hypocrisy of the gentry, embodied by the narrator’s uncle; sometimes seen in the cruel attitude of other servants; in the relatives of the first husband, who sell Sister Xianglin to her second husband like a commodity without regard to her feelings and desires. Everyone involved in the story is equally guilty for the woman’s downfall and alienation from her society.
Feministic Reading of the Story by Lu Xun
Feministic reading of the story would emphasize women’s discrimination in Chinese society at the beginning of the twentieth century. In all probability, it would pinpoint that Sister Xianglin was twice “sacrificed” at the altar of arranged marriage and her rights were infringed. The traumatic events that took place early in her life evoke compassion at first, but later on, when the woman keeps repeating her story over and over again without adding the new details, people richly endow her with disrespectful comments, which trigger a sense of fear in her mind about what would happen to her in the afterlife.
Sister Xianglin or, as some people call her Xian Lin’s Wife, is introduced as a humble and hard-working woman with little ambition but with dignity. She is marginalized from the very beginning of the story, as we evidently see that a widow is treated as a secondary citizen in the eyes of her community and looked down upon by her masters. She is denied the right to make decisions for herself, and against her will and religious beliefs, she is sold by the relatives of her first husband to the second one. After traumatic, life-changing events, people who surround Sister Xianglin and who are supposed to care for her do not show compassion for her tragic circumstances.
While reading the story, one question was lingering in my mind, namely “Why are people so indifferent?” This is not a problem pertaining only to the flawed Chinese society in the early twentieth century, but to all humanity in general. It is a universal theme that is relevant to modern society as well. The question which Lu Xun raises is what society should do to address the condition of the depressed, traumatized, or, in other words, psychologically and spiritually broken individuals. He encourages us to look for our own answers, pointing out that a “safe” response and neutral attitude are not enough.
Women in Confucian China
Women in Confucian China were dominated by men since birth and they lived under their oppressive power, obeying father, husband, and son. Sister Xianglin was tormented by her inner convictions and religious beliefs. A virtuous woman in China could not serve two men. As a religious woman, Sister Xianglin feels shame and fear of being married to two men. According to Buddhist belief, she will be sawed in halves after death, because her dead husbands will be fighting over her.
The prospect of being an “apple of discord” between two husbands makes the woman restless and curious about the afterlife existence. In patriarchal Chinese society, a woman’s worth was measured by her devotion to a man. Paying tribute to the long-standing traditions and deceased husband, Sister Xianglin tries to kill herself at the second wedding, but she does not succeed in her efforts. The woman’s sacrifices are not appreciated by her society but are taken for granted.
Female Suffering in New Years Sacrifice
Chinese moral and religious system in the early twentieth century is definitely corrupted, as it reduces women to the powerless position in the first place, exploits them economically, and scares them with the prospects of spending the afterlife in hell, adding to female suffering in general. Morality, in Lu Xuns’ opinion, is a sacrificial ground where many women meet their end. We can make different comparisons between the old Chinese society and the modern one. The similarities are astounding, as we still tend to shun people who fall into social disgrace. I think it is never late to learn from past mistakes in order not to repeat them in the future.