Lu Xun’s wild and poetic reimagining of the story Gan Jiang and Mo Ye appeared in In Search of the Supernatural, a 4th Century collection of anecdotes on spirits and immortals.
On the night Mei Chien Chih turned sixteen, he was imparted with the truth of his father’s death – he was murdered by the king and Mei Chien Chih must take the sword his late father forged and kill the king.
The narrative is driven by both a premodern spontaneity and a postmodern playfulness, filled with eerie, chilling and striking images. I always cry when Mei Chien Chih’s head, being boiled in a cauldron, suddenly opens its eyes and begins to sing an ancient tune:
The sovereign’s rule spreads far and wide, he conquers foes on every side. The world may end, but not his might. So here I come all gleaming bright…
It would be well-suited for the story to climax here, but it continues to ascend until the plotline surpasses the realm of absurdism and enters the territory of the sublime. And I still cannot figure out, after so many years, what exactly Lu Xun did to transform the former into the latter or if there was no transformation, that Lu Xun was simply showing us through the story that the more absurd, the more sublime.
Written in 1926. First published in English in Selected Stories of Lu Xun, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1960. Reprinted by W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. You can read it online here