Essay 44: Towards a More Cosmopolitan Education

Harvard University Press published in 2017, Jottings under Lamplight, an anthology of Lu Xun‘s (died in 1936) essays.  Lu Xun was the father of modern Chinese literature.

One of them is “Lessons from the Movies” from 1933:

“But when I went to the movies in Shanghai, I found that I had become one of the ‘lowly Chinese.’  In the galleries above were the white people and the rich people, and downstairs sat rows of middle and lower-class ‘descendants of the Han,’ while on the screen white soldiers fought battles, white gentlemen made fortunes, white maidens got married and white heroes had adventures, all to the admiration, envy, and terror of the audience, who knew that they themselves could do none of these things.”

(“Lessons from the Movies” essay in Jottings under Lamplight, Lu Xun, edited by Eileen Cheng et al, 2017, page 271, Harvard University Press) [first published September 11, 1933].

Only white people seem to “do things” in the world and to have agency, plannable lives, rationality, historical roles, defined stories. This is of course unsustainable.

This Lu Xun essay reminds us of the classic work of the black leader and “prophet,” William E. B. Du Bois.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois:

W.E.B. Du Bois said, on the launch of his groundbreaking 1903 treatise The Souls of Black Folk, “for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line”—a prescient statement. Setting out to show to the reader “the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century,” Du Bois explains the meaning of the emancipation, and its effect, and his views on the role of “the leaders of his race.”

Thus, Lu Xun and Du Bois agree, seeing the “color-line” where non-white people seem marginalized “forever” as a global apartheid that is not sustainable.

This will give the student a more wide-angle view of world history.