Lu Xun and the Zhao family

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Lu Xun (1881-1936) is generally regarded as the greatest Chinese writer of the twentieth century.  Despite his tremendous reputation and enormous influence through the 70s and into the 80s, in recent decades Lu Xun had fallen somewhat into disfavor as the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), which transformed itself into what I call the CCCCMMMMPPPP (Chinese Communist Christo-Confucian Marxist Maoist Militant Mercantilist Propagandistic Pugnacious Plutocratic Party), no longer took kindly his radical critique of corrupt, feudalistic society.

Although Lu Xun was the author of many memorable short stories, essays, and letters, the most famous of them all is about a hapless, illiterate peasant named Ah Q:  Ā Q Zhèngzhuàn 阿Q正传 ("The True Story of Ah Q").

Standing in sharp contrast to Ah Q in the village where he lives is the Zhao family — rich, powerful landlords whom he sometimes runs afoul of and at whose hands he is from time to time roundly thrashed.

A particularly poignant moment in the story is when uneducated Ah Q joins the Zhaos in cheering the success of a scion of the family on the imperial examinations and is slapped for his temerity in doing so.

It is significant that lately the expression "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member") has resurfaced as a coded reference to politically powerful and wealthy elites in contemporary society.

See Kiki Zhao's penetrating post on the NYT Sinosphere blog:

"Leveling Criticism at China’s Elite, Some Borrow Words From the Past" (1/4/16)

Especially recommended are these paragraphs quoting Qiao Mu, a dauntless associate professor of communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University:

"It is a rebellious deconstruction of official language in the Internet age….  In the past we called officials public servants, but in fact, it’s still a case of crony capitalism. In China, rich and powerful families are often the offspring of the Communist leaders. But it’s politically sensitive to say this out loud, so people are using 'Zhao family' instead, as a form of ridicule."

Mr. Qiao published three articles on a WeChat account he managed discussing the “Zhao family” and its members’ dominance in what some mockingly call “their country,” or China. The account has since been deleted, but the articles have been reposted elsewhere.

“‘Zhao family’ refers to rich and powerful families in China,” he wrote. “Their fathers seized political power, so their children are called ‘second-generation red,’ people who have used their connections to retain power or amass enormous wealth in business.”

I seriously wonder what is going to happen to Professor Qiao for having audaciously spoken these words which are very much on people's minds.

For details on the origins and usage of the expression "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member"), see Anne Henochowicz's insightful entry in China Digital Times' Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon "Word of the Week" column:

"Clan of the Week: Zhao" (11/12/15)

For more on the back story of the current episode, see:

"Ménkǒu de yěmán rén, bèihòu de Zhào jiārén 门口的野蛮人, 背后的赵家人" (“Barbarians at the Gate, Zhao Family Inside”) (12/18/15; in Chinese)

Incidentally, Ah Q's name is proof positive that the Roman alphabet is part of the Chinese writing system.  See especially the references to an important article by Mark Hansell and related publications in these posts:

"Zhao C: a Man Who Lost His Name " (2/27/09)

"Creeping Romanization in Chinese " (8/30/12)

"A New Morpheme in Mandarin " (4/26/11)


  1. Michael Watts said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 6:29 pm

    Incidentally, Ah Q's name is proof positive that the Roman alphabet is part of the Chinese writing system.

    Why? Do you think Le Xun, or any of his readers, didn't think of Q as a foreign glyph?

  2. Michael Watts said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 6:29 pm

    Sorry – Lu Xun

  3. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

    Read Mark Hansell's article and Liu Yongquan's books and articles. Think about all the learned articles in Chinese that have been written about 阿Q. Many other writers of the day wrote about things like "S村","W鎮", and so on.

  4. Michael Watts said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 7:35 pm

    I don't see why, when a Chinese novelist names a character in his Chinese work 阿Q, Chinese reviewers wouldn't refer to that character in their Chinese reviews as 阿Q. But I also don't see why, if the Q is known to be a foreign glyph, it would become less foreign thereby.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:26 pm

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9… 卍



  6. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

    "Zhaojiaren" ("people from the house of Zhao") is now under CCP / CCCCMMMMPPPP internet censorship, thanks to its metaphoric implications:

  7. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2016 @ 8:29 pm

    More from CDT (Chinese version):



    Has a very neat illustration at the end.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:25 am

    Still more details about the current situation concerning the Zhao family in China: (in Chinese)

  9. Eidolon said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

    @Michael Watts It is a foreign glyph, but it is still used regularly in Chinese writing, while no Chinese character is used regularly in English writing, as a counter example. This is simply another manifestation of the influence of Western culture in recent centuries, especially with respect to computer culture. It is also applicable to other writing systems outside of the Roman alphabet and its derivatives, despite efforts to ban/outlaw it, for example: Terms such as the WTO and many other "international" acronyms in English are frequently left as is. See for example this Iranian article:, which is entirely in the Persian alphabet but for a few English acronyms, which are in the Roman alphabet.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    January 6, 2016 @ 7:53 pm

    "‘The Zhaos’ — The Demarcation of a Divide"

    China Change

    By Song Zhibiao, Qiaoshi, and Mo Zhixu, published: January 6, 2016


    As the year 2015 was drawing to its end, a new expression was born on China’s social media: “the Zhaos.” New phrases pop up regularly online in China, but “the Zhaos” has been hailed as revolutionary. Never has an expression captured the essence of China’s politics and economy with such pithiness and precision—that a class of people thinks China belongs to them, and acts like its owner. Compared to the phrase “your country,” (an inversion of the official reference to China as “our country”) which has been in vogue for a while, “the Zhaos” brings into focus a critical divide that has never been encapsulated. It is, many believe, destined to permanently enter the Chinese lexicon. This article presents a compilation of explanations and uses of the expression, and its social and political interpretations. — The Editors

    The whole article is well worth reading.

  11. julie lee said,

    January 9, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

    Wonderful article explaining "the Zhaos". Thank you and also thank you for the post "Lu Xun and the Zhao Family ".

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