Happy Family by Lu Hsun
After the style of Hsu Chin-wen
". . . One writes simply as one feels: such a work is
like sunlight, radiating from a source of infinite brightness, not
like a spark from a flint struck on iron or stone. This alone is true
art. And such a writer alone is a true artist. . . . But I . . . what
do I rank as?"
Having thought so far he suddenly jumped out of bed. It occurred to
him that he must make some money by writing to support his family, and
he had already decided to send his manuscripts to the Happy Monthly
publishers, because the remuneration appeared to be comparatively
generous. But in that case the choice of subjects would be limited,
otherwise the work would probably not be accepted. All right let it be
limited. What were the chief problems occupying the minds of the
younger generation? . . . Undoubtedly there must be not a few, perhaps
a great many, concerning love, marriage, the family. . . . Yes, there
were certainly many people perplexed by such questions, even now
discussing them. In that case, write about the family! But how to
write? . . . Otherwise it would probably not be accepted. Why predict
anything unlucky? Still. . . .
Jumping out of bed, in four or five steps he reached the desk, sat
down, took out a piece of paper with green lines, and promptly yet
with resignation wrote the title: A Happy Family.
His pen immediately came to a standstill. He raised his head, fixed
his two eyes on the ceiling, and tried to decide on an environment for
this Happy Family.
"Peking?" he thought. "That won't do; it's too dead, even the
atmosphere is dead. Even if a high wall were built round this family,
still the air could scarcely be kept separate. No, that would never
do! Kiangsu and Chekiang may start fighting any day, and Fukien is
even more out of the question. Szechuan? Kwangtung? They are in the
midst of fighting. What about Shantung or Honan? . . . No, one of them
might be kidnapped, and if that happened the happy family would become
an unhappy one. The rents in the foreign concessions in Shanghai and
Tientsin are too high. . . . Somewhere abroad? Ridiculous. I don't
know what Yunnan and Kweichow are like, but communications are too
poor. . . ."
He racked his brains but, unable to think of a good place, decided
tentatively to fix on A——. Then, however, he thought: "Nowadays many
people object to the use of the Western alphabet to represent the
names of people and places, saying it lessens the readers' interest.
Probably, to be on the safe side, I had better not use it in my story
this time. In that case what would be a good place? There is fighting
in Hunan too; the rents in Dairen have gone up again. In Chahar, Kirin
and Heilungkiang I have heard there are brigands, so they won't do
either! . . ."
Again he racked his brains to think of a good place, but in vain;
so finally he made up his mind tentatively to fix A—— as the name of
the place where his Happy Family should be.
"After all this Happy Family will have to be at A——. There can't
be any question about that. The family naturally consists of a husband
and wife—the master and mistress—who married for love. Their
marriage contract contains over forty terms going into great detail,
so that they have extraordinary equality and absolute freedom.
Moreover they have both had a higher education and belong to the
cultured élite . . . . Japanese-returned students are no longer the
fashion, so let them be Western-returned students. The master of the
house always wears a foreign suit, his collar is always snowy white.
His wife's hair is always curled up like a sparrow's nest in front,
her pearly white teeth are always peeping out, but she wears Chinese
dress. . . . "
"That won't do, that won't do! Twenty-five catties!"
Hearing a man's voice outside the window he involuntarily turned
his head to look. The sun shone through the curtains hanging by the
window, dazzling his eyes, while he heard a sound like small bundles
of wood being thrown down. "It doesn't matter," he thought, turning
back again. "'Twenty-five catties' of what? . . . They are the
cultured élite, devoted to the arts. But because they have both grown
up in happy surroundings, they don't like Russian novels. Most Russian
novels describe the lower classes, so they are really quite out of
keeping with such a family. 'Twenty-five catties'? Never mind. In that
case, what books do they read? . . . Byron's poetry? Keats? That won't
do, neither of them are safe. . . . Ah, I have it: they both like
reading An Ideal Husband. Although I haven't read the book
myself, even university professors praise it so highly that I am sure
this couple must enjoy it too. You read it, I read it—they each have
a copy, two copies altogether in the family. . . ."
Becoming aware of a hollow feeling in his stomach, he put down the
pen and rested his head on his hands, like a globe supported by two
". . . The two of them are just having lunch," he thought. "The
table is spread with a snowy white table cloth, and the cook brings in
the dishes—Chinese food. 'Twenty-five catties.' Of what? Never mind.
Why should it be Chinese food? Westerners say Chinese cooking is the
most progressive, the best to eat, the most hygienic; so they eat
Chinese food. The first dish is brought in, but what is this first
dish? . . ."
"Firewood. . . ."
He turned his head with a start, to see the mistress of his own
family standing on his left, her two gloomy eyes fastened on his face.
"What?" He spoke rather indignantly, feeling that her coming
disturbed his work.
"The firewood is all used up, so today I have bought some more.
Last time it was still two hundred and forty cash for ten catties, but
today he wants two hundred and sixty. Suppose I give him two hundred
"All right, two hundred and fifty, let it be."
"He has weighed it very unfairly. He insists that there are
twenty-four and a half catties, but suppose I count it as twentythree
and a half?"
"All right. Count it as twenty-three and a half catties."
"Then, five fives are twenty-five, three fives are fifteen. . . . ."
"Oh, five fives are twenty-five, three fives are fifteen. . . ." He
could get no further either, but after stopping for a moment suddenly
took up his pen and started working out a sum on the lined paper on
which he had written "A Happy Family." After working at it for some
time he raised his head to say:
"Five hundred and eighty cash."
"In that case I haven't enough here; I am still eighty or ninety
short. . . . ."
He pulled open the drawer of the desk, took out all the money in
it—somewhere between twenty and thirty coppers—and put it in her
outstretched hand. Then he watched her go out, and finally turned
back to the desk. His head seemed to be bursting as if filled to the
brim with sharp faggots. Five fives are twenty-five—scattered Arabic
numerals were still imprinted on his brain. He gave a long sigh and
breathed out again deeply, as if by this means he might expel the
firewood, the "five fives are twenty-five," and the Arabic numerals
which had stuck in his head. Sure enough after breathing out his heart
seemed much lighter, whereupon he started thinking vaguely again:
"What dish? It doesn't matter, so long as it is something out of
the way. Fried pork or prawns' roe and sea-slugs are really too
common. I must have them eating 'Dragon and Tiger.' But what is that
exactly? Some people say it's made of snakes and cats, and is an
upper-class Cantonese dish, only eaten at big feasts. I've seen the
name on the menu in a Kiangsu restaurant; still, Kiangsu people aren't
supposed to eat snakes or cats, so it must be made, as someone else
said, of frogs and eels. Now what part of the country shall this
couple he from? Never mind. After all, people from any part of the
country can eat a dish of snake and car (or frog and eel), without
injuring their Happy Family. At any rate, this first dish is to be
'Dragon and Tiger'; there can be no question about that.
"Now that this bowl of 'Dragon and Tiger' is placed in the middle
of the table, they take up their chopsticks simultaneously, point to
the dish, smile sweetly at each other and say, in a foreign tongue:
"'Chérie, s'il vous plait!'
"'Voulez-vous commencer, chéri!'
"'Mais non, après vous!'
"Then they lift their chopsticks simultaneously, and simultaneously
take a morsel of snake—no, no, snake's flesh really sounds too
peculiar; it would be better after all to say a morsel of eel. It is
settled then that 'Dragon and Tiger' is made of frogs and eels. They
pick out two morsels of eel simultaneously, exactly the same size.
Five fives are twenty-five, three fives. . . . Never mind. And
simultaneously put them in their mouths. . . . Against his will he
wanted to turn round, because he was conscious of a good deal of
excitement behind him, and considerable coming and going. Nevertheless
he persevered, and pursued his train of thought distractedly:
"This seems rather sentimental; no family would behave like this.
Whatever makes me so woolly-minded? I'm afraid this good subject will
never be written up. . . . Or perhaps there is no need for them to be
returned students; people who have received higher education in China
would do just as well. They are both university graduates, the
cultured élite, the élite . . . . The man is a writer; the woman is
also a writer, or else a lover of literature. Or else the woman is a
poetess; the man is a lover of poetry, a respecter of womanhood. Or
Finally he could contain himself no longer, and turned round.
Beside the bookcase behind him appeared a mound of cabbages, three
at the bottom, two above, and one at the top, confronting him like a
large letter A.
"Oh!" He started and gave a sigh, feeling his cheeks burn, while
prickles ran up and down his spine. "Ah!" He took a very deep breath
to get rid of the prickly feeling in his spine, then went on thinking:
"The house of the Happy Family must have plenty of rooms. There is a
store-room where things like cabbages are put. The master's study is
apart, its walls lined with bookshelves; there are naturally no
cabbages there. The shelves are filled with Chinese books and foreign
books, including of course An Ideal Husband—two copies
altogether. There is a separate bedroom, a brass bedstead, or
something simpler like one of the elmwood beds made by the convicts of
Number One Prison would do equally well. It is very clean beneath the
bed. . . ." He glanced beneath his own bed. The firewood had all been
used up, and there was only a piece of straw rope left, still coiled
there like a dead snake.
"Twenty-three and a half catties. . . ." He felt that the firewood
was just about to pour in a never-ending stream under his bed. His
head ached again. He got up and went quickly to the door to close it.
But he had scarcely put his hand on the door when he felt that this
was overhasty and let it go instead, dropping the door curtain that
was thick with dust. At the same time he thought: "This method avoids
the severity of shutting oneself in, as well as the discomfort of
keeping the door open; it is quite in keeping with the Doctrine of
". . . So the master's study door is always closed." He walked
back, sat down and thought, "Anyone with business must first knock at
the door, and have his permission to come in; that is really the only
thing to be done. Now suppose the master is sitting in his study and
the mistress comes to discuss literature, she knocks too. . . . Of
this at least one can be assured—she will nor bring in any cabbages.
"'Entrez, chérie, s'il vous plait.'
"But what happens when the master has no time to discuss
literature? Hearing her stand outside tapping gently on the door,
does he ignore her? That probably wouldn't do. Maybe it is all
described in An Ideal Husband—that must really be an
excellent novel. If I get paid for this article I must buy a copy to
His back stiffened, because he knew from experience that this
slapping sound was made by his wife's hand striking their
three-year-old daughter's head.
"In a Happy Family . . ." he thought, his back still rigid, hearing
the child sob, "children are born late, yes, born late. Or perhaps it
would be better to have none at all, just two people without any ties.
. . . Or it might be better to stay in a hotel and let them look after
everything, a single man without. . . ." Hearing the sobs increase in
volume, he stood up and brushed past the curtain, thinking, "Karl Marx
wrote his Das Kapital while his children were crying around
him. He must really have been a great man. . . ." He walked out,
opened the outer door, and was assailed by a strong smell of paraffin.
The child was lying to the right of the door, face downwards. As soon
as she saw him she started crying aloud.
"There, there, all right! Don't cry, don't cry! There's a good
girl." He bent down to pick her up. Having done so he turned round to
see his wife standing furiously to the left of the door, also with a
rigid back, her hands on her hips as if she were preparing to start
"Even you have to come and bully me! You can't help, you only make
trouble—even the paraffin lamp had to turn over. What shall we light
this evening? . . ."
"There, there, all right! Don't cry, don't cry!" Ignoring his
wife's trembling voice, he carried the child into the house, and
stroked her head. "There's a good girl," he repeated. Then he put her
down, pulled out a chair and sat down. Setting her between his knees,
he raised his hand. "Don't cry, there's a good girl," he said. "Daddy
will do 'Pussy Washing' for you. At the same time he craned his neck,
licked his palms from a distance twice, then with them traced circles
towards his face.
"Aha! Pussy!" She started laughing.
"That's right, that's right. Pussy." He traced several more
circles, and then stopped, seeing her smiling at him with tears still
in her eyes. It struck him suddenly that her sweet, innocent face was
just like her mother's had been five years ago, especially her bright
red lips, although the general outline was smaller. That had been
another bright winter's day when she heard his decision to overcome
all obstacles and sacrifice everything for her; when she too looked at
him in the same way, smiling, with tears in her eyes. He sat down
disconsolately, as if a little drunk.
"Ah, sweet lips," he thought.
The door curtain was suddenly fastened back and the firewood
Suddenly coming to himself again, he saw that the child, still with
tears in her eyes, was looking at him with her bright red lips parted.
"Lips. . . ." He glanced sidewards to where the firewood was being
brought in. ". . . Probably it will be nothing but five fives are
twenty-five, nine nines are eighty-one, all over again! . . . And two
gloomy eyes. . . ." So thinking he snatched up the green-lined paper
with the heading and the figures written on it, crumpled it up and
then unfolded it again to wipe the child's eyes and nose. "Good girl,
run along and play by yourself." He pushed her away as he spoke, at
the same time throwing the ball of paper into the waste-paper basket.
But at once he felt rather sorry for the child, and, turning his
head, followed her with his eyes as she walked forlornly away, while
his ears were filled with the sound of firewood. Determined to
concentrate, he turned back again and closed his eyes to put a stop to
all distracting thoughts, sitting there quietly and peacefully.
He saw passing before him a flat, round, black-freckled flower with
an orange centre, which floated from the left of his left eye right
over to the opposite side where it disappeared; then a bright green
flower, with a dark green centre; and finally a pile of six cabbages
which formed themselves before him into an enormous letter A.