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Meng Lelan

孔乙己 - Short Story for 2014

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Meng Lelan

Time for you Intermediates to strut your stuff.

 

 孔乙己 (鲁迅)This is a MUST read for the intermediate level. Every Chinese is required to read something by Lu Xun in school. Kevin Nadolny included this story in his book Short Stories from Lu Xun’s Nahan so if you need pinyin support and glossaries, look there. Otherwise you Intermediates surely know by now how to find any Lu Xun story on the internet, but if you have problems then post here and someone will come by to help you out. 

 

This story requires a good knowledge of how the exam system operated in China. When you read this story, compare and contrast the exam system in the time in which this story was written with the present. Also think about why do people look down on him? Either before or after or during your reading of this short story,  I would recommend also reading a chapter from 余华 China in Ten Words that describes how the stories of 鲁迅 are mandatory reading in China like Ibsen is mandatory reading in his home country. 

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ouyangjun

I will be reading this once I get some time.  Below are two links for online versions:

 

Link 1:  The story is located on the 作品原文 section.  In addition the story there is a lot more info on this page about the the author and story including an analysis.  http://baike.baidu.com/link?url=zW4qy9uZWXQ4wkyi17S0V6Q0KepKha2Gn7j_tpZJzbWp7ggdKHP-il22UWO6NpWy#2

 

Link 2:  http://www.tianyabook.com/luxun/lh/006.htm

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OneEye

It's also in Richard Chang's Advanced Chinese Reader, which I'd recommend to anyone at an upper-intermediate or advanced levelDon't buy it from Amazon though, order it from Taiwan. Much cheaper here (~500NT new, or about US$15), and shipping shouldn't be too bad if you're not here.

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Meng Lelan

Heh. Richard Chang was the first Chinese teacher I ever had. Well, this is coming to full circle, isn't it. 

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ouyangjun

I just got done reading 孔乙己.  This was my first story by 鲁迅, I've never really read any Chinese literature of historical significance, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  To comment on some of the questions to think about in Meng Lelan's original post (be easy on me, my background in engineering and business, so i don't have the literary toolkit of some of the advanced users here):

 

 

 

When you read this story, compare and contrast the exam system in the time in which this story was written with the present.

I can't claim to have a deep understanding of the imperial exam system, but here is my initial take.  The examination system of today still seems to have deep roots that trace back to the imperial system.  The GaoKao is a multi-day exam that students prepare their whole education for.  Students go through great lengths to get high scores on the GaoKao, because it will be such a large determination of their future from an educational perspective.  Every year in China there are horror stories of the GaoKao.  In short, similar to the imperial examination system, the students can study their whole educational career for this test, and then by not getting a high score they feel they may feel they wasted a part of their academic career… similar to 孔乙己 and not passing his examination and not being able to move forward.

 

I could be way off on the above.  I only have a high level understanding of both of the systems.

 

 

 

Also think about why do people look down on him?

Seems he was a bit of the laugh of the town.  He was not much respected by anybody and taken as a joke… somewhat of the town drunkard.  Firstly he didn't pass the exam, and after not being able to pass the exam he couldn't seem to move on.  He still talked in "classical" language and wore a "scholarly" outfit, but his actions were just the opposite with stealing and all…  Therefore people looked down on him because he couldn't be respected for anything he did…   

 

I'm not sure if this is how the short story club is supposed to be going, with commenting on what we read.  If this is not the intent and it's meant to be though of internally and not written down above, let me know.

 

Cheers!

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Meng Lelan
Firstly he didn't pass the exam, and after not being able to pass the exam he couldn't seem to move on.  He still talked in "classical" language and wore a "scholarly" outfit, but his actions were just the opposite with stealing and all…  Therefore people looked down on him because he couldn't be respected for anything he did…   

 

Excellent observations. Yes, the short story club is meant to be like this...get all of you reading for fun AND thinking about what you are reading. Moving beyond the vocabulary, basically!

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Lu

It was a bit harder than I had expected, it helped that I already knew the story or I would have missed a few things.

 

Kong Yiji doesn't fit in with either class, not with the long sleeves because he hasn't passed any exam, but also not with the short sleeves because he considers himself above them, even though he is in fact below them (he steals while they work).

 

And then I was thinking that Kong Yiji is in fact the traditional intellectual classes: he thinks he's all that, but he is lazy and stupid, he steals from others instead of getting an honest job. He tries to remain relevant by talking pretty, but his words are meaningless to the lower classes and they just look down on him. He breaks his leg (May Fourth?) and then is never seen again, presumed dead: the intellectuals and mandarins of the empire will disappear, their time has passed. All this told by a child, who doesn't want to have anything to do with Kong Yiji/book learning.

 

Does that make sense?

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Meng Lelan

It does make sense. Even the child doesn't seem very impressed with Kong Yiji, which I guess the message is that future generations would do well not to follow the slavish example set by the rigid class structure of memorizing tons of classics in order to pass the rigorous exams. 

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Lu

Yes, especially sad after the 'save the children' in 狂人日記: the children aren't interested.

 

But I think it's perhaps even broader than the exam system, it's the whole structure of literary elites vs the common man (be they worker or farmer, in this story workers) that is implied has past its time. When I thought about it that way, it was a very communist story. And then the children not being interested in that system is actually a good thing: the child will just work for his money, not sit back and exploit the common people.

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Meng Lelan

Are you all ready for another Lu Xun story to tackle or are you all wanting something different for the Intermediate level? After the Chuntacular I will check back in here to see what you all think. However I am going to keep this thread open throughout 2014 in case newcomers want to read and discuss in here. 

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Mengmengda

This was also the first 鲁迅 piece I read! For any of those reading out of China or travelling to the middle kingdom in the future, there is a 孔乙己 themed restaurant in Beijing. I haven't been yet myself but hope to stop off next time I get a chance!

 

http://www.thebeijinger.com/directory/kong-yiji

 

Enjoy =)

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roddy

I remember going there YEARS ago. Think it was the first place I had 醉虾。 

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