Kong Yiji ("Confucius ABC"), another self-deprecating meme for young Chinese

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"Kong Yiji" is one of the most famous short stories by Lu Xun (1881-1936), the most celebrated Chinese author of the 20th century.

"Kong Yiji" (Chinese: 孔乙己; pinyin: Kǒng Yǐjǐ) is a short-story by Lu Xun, the founder of modern Chinese literature. The story was originally published in the journal New Youth (Chinese: 新青年) in April 1919 and was later included in Lu Xun's first collection of short stories, Call to Arms (Chinese: 吶喊). The story's narrator reminisces about Kong Yiji, a pedantic scholar who became the laughing-stock of the tavern where the narrator worked. In the end, Kong's legs were broken as punishment for stealing books. He is a ridiculous and pathetic character, a symbol for the indifference between people in the old days.


The narrator recalls the time twenty years earlier when Kong Yiji worked at a tavern in Luzhen (Chinese: 鲁镇), a fictional town where many of Lu Xun's stories are set.

Kong Yiji was a self-styled scholar who filled his speech with literary jargon. He was the only customer who wore a scholar's long gown and drank his wine while standing. He had often been laughed at contemptuously by other customers, who gave him the nickname "Kong Yiji". Kong Yiji was poor and sometimes stole books, but he never defaulted on payment of the tavern. He was willing to teach the narrator about writing and shared fennel peas with children. Later, Kong Yiji had been caught stealing and was beaten until his legs broke. He dragged himself to the tavern and ordered some wine. After that, he was not seen again and presumably died as a result of his injuries.

(Wikipedia) — with slight revisions

In recent months and years, netizens have been mocking themselves with terms like "'Lying flat' and 'Involution': passive-aggressive resistance" (6/4/21).  Now they're making fun of themselves for being uselessly overeducated like the antihero of Lu Xun's "Kong Yiji".

In this China Digital Times (3/29/23) article, "Word(s) of the Week: 'Kong Yiji Literature' (孔乙己文学, Kǒng Yǐjǐ Wénxué)", Cindy Carter details "some of the problems of today: youth unemployment, urban poverty, limited socioeconomic mobility, and a hyper-competitive educational system that may not prepare students for a career after graduation."  The resultant meme war and the government's effort to squash it are recorded in music, manga, and social media.


Selected readings

[h.t. Bryan Van Norden]


  1. Jerry Packard said,

    March 31, 2023 @ 1:54 pm

    That story represents my first contact with Zhi Hu Zhe Ye (之乎者也), the 4-character idiom meaning ‘pedantic.’

  2. Victor Mair said,

    March 31, 2023 @ 2:47 pm

    Good one, Jerry!

    Pronounced zhīhūzhěyě, 之乎者也 are the four common particles in Literary Sinitic (Classical Chinese) — possessive ('s), interrogative (?), nominalizer / relativizer (-ist, er, one / thing who / which does something), affirmative particle (indeed).

    Here's the sentence from Lu Xun's story of Kong Yiji:


    Tā duìrén shuōhuà, zǒngshì mǎnkǒu zhīhūzhěyě, jiào rén bàn dǒng bùdǒng de.



    "He used so many archaisms in his speech, it was impossible to understand half he said."



    The effect of using many such particles in a contemporary spoken Sinitic topolect would be something like filling one's modern English, French, or German speech with "quod hic ad ergo".

  3. JOHN S ROHSENOW said,

    March 31, 2023 @ 4:43 pm

    re: "…"…The piece pontificated against “lame jokes” as an “invasion of children’s
    spiritual world that imparts unhealthy values” and called for further “purification”
    of China’s already heavily censored internet…"
    China Digital Times (3/29/23) article, "Word(s) of the Week: 'Kong Yiji Literature' (孔乙己文学, Kǒng Yǐjǐ Wénxué)"
    iS IN THE ORIGINAL CHINESE? IS IT duanzi (段子)? I need this for a piece I'm revising
    on the use of XIEHOUYU in contemporary social media. Thanks!

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 31, 2023 @ 5:25 pm

    @ John S Rohsenow
    in http://opinion.people.com.cn/n1/2023/0307/c1003-32638939.html
    the term is
    烂梗 lan4geng3
    for geng3 梗 as 'shtick' see many past LL posts…

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