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Lu Xun, Ruo Shi & Kathe Kollwitz

Posted: May 14th, 2019 | No Comments »

In my recently published collection of essays on old Shanghai, Destination Shanghai (Blacksmith Books, 2018), I mention the Zeitgeist Bookstore, a small left-wing establishment run by the German communist Irene Weitermeyer in the late 1920s. It was on the North Soochow Road (now Suzhou Bei Lu). Lu Xun was a regular visitor, as was Agnes Smedley, as well as the Cominetern agents Richard Sorge & Hotsumi Ozaki. I’m convinced Roger Hollis was recruited there by the Soviets in the late 1920s and later became Britain’s “Fifth Man”. You’ll have to read the essay ‘Red Sojourners at the Zeitgeist Bookstore’ for the whole argument.

Anyway, Lu Xun, himself of course a man of generally left wing opinions, also spoke German and enjoyed the conversation there. He recalled in his memoirs being introduced, in 1932, by Agnes Smedley, and Ursula Hamburger (another Comintern spy in Shanghai), to the woodcuts by the Berlin artist Kathe Kollwitz. Kollwitz was a friend of Smedley’s from her Berlin sojourn between 1921 and 1928. However, I think either the exhibition was a year earlier, or Lu Xun already knew Kollwitz’s woodcuts.

This woodcut from Kollewitz appeared in Beidou (Big Dipper)

The fascinating new collection of various pieces of journalism by Lu Xun, Jottings Under Lamplight (edited by Eileen J Cheng & Kirk A Denton – Harvard University Press) shows his thinking when he selected a Kollwitz woodcut – The Sacrifice (1923) – to commemorate his friend Rou Shi (who had been devoted to his mother), a left wing writer executed by the KMT for his communist beliefs in 1931. Lu Xun was an admirer of Kollwitz’s and German expressionism; Rou Shi apparently introduced him to woodcuts in general as an art form.

The image appeared in the inaugural issue of Beidou (Big Dipper)

[1] Elizabeth Emrich, Modernity Through Experimentation: Lu Xun and the Modern Chinese Woodcut Movement, (Leiden: Brill, 2014).

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