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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: May 2018

12 - Twentieth-century social revolutions, 1922–1939

from Part IV - 1914–1950: Wars and revolutions


Lu Xun (1881–1936), China’s most famous modern writer, was born in the small market town of Shaoxing, near Shanghai. In 1901 he went to Japan, intending to become a doctor. In his medical school class, he saw a slide of apathetic Chinese bystanders watching the execution of a Chinese man by Japanese soldiers during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. Shocked by their passivity, he concluded that China’s most deadly disease afflicted the spirit, not the body. He returned to China, resolving to become a writer to rouse his people from their deadly slumber. In “Call to Arms,” his first short story collection, he described with great sympathy and insight the foibles of ordinary Chinese folk following time-honored customs, nearly oblivious of the worldwide crisis that surrounded them. In “Diary of a Madman,” whose title is borrowed from the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, the writer suddenly realizes that the basic principle of China’s classic civilization is “eat people.” Ah Q, Lu Xun’s most famous character, blithely walks to his own execution without ever knowing why he joined the cause of revolutionary nationalism. Lu Xun and his colleagues particularly stressed the need to free women from the straitjacket of traditional morality so that they could participate actively in making the new nation. Lu Xun organized the League of Left Wing Writers to mobilize Chinese writers in the service of revolutionary nationalism. Lu Xun’s mood constantly oscillated between high hopes and black despair. He died in 1936, hoping for China’s national unification based on radical social revolution, defying his own repressive government and the imminent threat of Japanese invasion.

Suggested Reading
Allen, William Sheridan, Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1930–1935 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965). This is a classic account of how the Nazis took power in a German town.
Jackson, Julian, The Politics of Depression in France, 1932–1936 (Cambridge University Press, 1985).
The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934–1938 (Cambridge University Press, 1988). Jackson is a foremost student of interwar France, and a judicious historian in a field filled with controversy.
Kershaw, Ian, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, 4th edn. (Oxford University Press, 1995). This study discusses and critiques various interpretations of Nazism.
Kindleberger, Charles P., The World in Depression, 1929–1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013). This is the classic account of the primary factors that caused financial markets to crash in the 1930s: panic, contagions, and the lack of a stable international economic structure. It has important implications for the world after 2008.
Seidman, Michael, Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). Seidman's comparative study provides insight into the left in Spain and France. Today when the Popular Front is mentioned we think of France but contemporaries were just as likely to think of Spain.
Short, Philip, Mao: A Life (New York: Henry Holt, 1999). This is a useful biography of Mao's life, incorporating much new material.
Siegelbaum, Lewis H., Stakhanovism and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR, 1935–1941 (Cambridge University Press, 1988). Siegelbaum describes the promotion of intensive use of capital and labor in the Soviet Union, as represented by the cult of Sergei Stakhanov, a Russian miner who became famous for exceeding his allotted quota for coal production.
Thomas, Hugh, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). Thomas's book is a classic history of the Spanish Civil War.