Kong Yiji was my first short story to read in Chinese and gave me the passion to pursue the Capturing Chinese series. After reading Kong Yiji, I wanted to dive into more of Lu Xun's literature. The story ranks as one of my all time favorites. If you missed the introduction to Lu Xun, then follow this link to An Introduction to Lu Xun.
Kǒng Yǐjǐ孔乙己 was first published in April 1919 in New Youth (新青年 Xīn Qīnnián). Kong Yiji is about a Chinese intellectual, named Kǒng Yǐjǐ, who never passed the civil service examinations and as a result struggles to make a living. While Kǒng Yǐjǐ can recite obscure texts and can write a character in its many alternate forms, he doesn't have any concrete skills that he can use to support himself. Since he never passed the exams, all his studying becomes irrelevant and his pride keeps him from doing tasks deemed unfit for a gentlemen. He copies old texts to get by but usually resorts to stealing. People treat him like dirt and laugh at him every time he visits his favorite local bar, the Xián Hēng Jiǔdiàn (咸亨酒店). Due to this disrespect, Kǒng Yǐjǐ enjoys talking to children by either teaching them the characters, reciting old phrases for them, or just sharing his bar treats with them. Kǒng Yǐjǐ doesn't have much money, but he always pays off his tab at the local bar. After not seeing him for a few days, the bartender and his assistant wonder what has happened to Kǒng Yǐjǐ. They find out he was caught stealing from a Selectman (举人 jǔrén – someone who did pass the exams). The Selectman had tied him up and had given him an all night beating, leaving both his legs broken. Surely, a beating such as this would keep him from stealing, but it also robbed him of his only livelihood. Justice is achieved by reducing Kǒng Yǐjǐ to dragging himself around by his two hands. Kǒng Yǐjǐ drags himself into the local bar for one last bowl of wine. While the people at the bar still laugh and make fun of him, he enjoys his wine and leaves, never to come back. Kǒng Yǐjǐ surely died shortly after. This story is based on one of Lǔ Xùn's uncles, Zhōu Zǐjīng (周子京) who lived in the family compound in Shàoxīng and helped teach Lǔ Xùn the classics in Lǔ Xùn's younger years. He spent years studying for the civil service exam, yet repeatedly failed to pass. He was something of a nuisance in the family compound and did not contribute much except to teach the children the classics. Lǔ Xùn's uncle and Kǒng Yǐjǐ highlight one of the flaws in the civil service exam in feudal China. While the system prepared people very well in the classics of China, it also produced many people who never passed the exams, but yet had spent years and years in preparation. After their failure they lacked any other skills to support themselves and their families. Lǔ Xùn's uncle eventually committed suicide by lighting himself on fire and jumping off a bridge into the water below. He died a few days later. Kong Yiji 孔已己
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