Lu Xun on Self-confidence

by Gloria Davies

‘Confidence’ 自信, understood as national self-confidence, has long been part of Chinese public discourse. In September 1934, Lu Xun wrote an article titled ‘Have the Chinese lost their self-confidence?’ 中国人失掉自信力了吗? in response to a public debate on this question. At the time, Japan had invaded China and the country was under unelected Nationalist Party rule, with Communist-hating Chiang Kai-shek as China’s President. The debate revolved around whether the Chinese had lost their self-confidence in the face of Japan’s growing military aggression.

In this essay, Lu Xun wrote that the only people who struck him as self-confident were those who ‘worked doggedly in silence…risking their lives, who strove to save others and who braved death in pursuit of truth’. He observed: ‘It is only because they are trampled on, kept out of the news and made to vanish in darkness that most people don’t know about them.’ He concluded: ‘The writings of prominent academics and those who hold high office are insufficient to ascertain whether we possess or lack self-confidence. We must discover it for ourselves on the ground right beneath us.’