Old Chuan and his wife, the proprietors of a small tea shop, save their money to buy a folk medicine cure for their son, Young Chuan, who is dying of tuberculosis. The story opens with Old Chuan leaving their shop and going to the home of the person selling the cure, a "roll of steamed bread, from which crimson drops were dripping to the ground." The crimson drops, we soon learn, are blood from a young man recently executed, apparently for revolutionary activities.

The cure does not work and the mother of Young Chuan meets the mother of the executed revolutionary in the cemetery. Here they both behold a mysterious wreath on the revolutionary's grave, a wreath that Lu Hsun, in his introduction to this collection (which he entitled A Call to Arms), describes as one of his "innuendoes" to "those fighters who are galloping on in loneliness, so that they do not lose heart." (p. 5)


Lu Hsun was a physician who was born in 1881 in Shaohsing, Chekiang, China and died, also of tuberculosis, like the child in "Medicine," in 1936. Considered one of China's greatest modern writers, Lu Hsun became a leader of the Chinese cultural revolution of the twentieth century. He was an opponent of feudalism and imperialism, both politically and in his short stories.

In 1930 he helped found the China League of Left Wing Writers, and introduced the use of vernacular Chinese in literature rather than the classical form of the language that had been favored for centuries. In addition, Lu Hsun translated the works of Western authors into Chinese. (Information from Contemporary Authors, The Gale Group.)

This is a masterful story, drenched in symbolism, from the blood of the mercenary to the crow at the end, which, like the sky-hawk at the end of Moby Dick, becomes an unwitting emblem of man's arrogation of nature. Lu Hsun has interwoven deftly and indissolubly the twin themes of the sick state, attempting to quash dissent, and the sick body. Both succumb to outdated remedies and only the tragic figures of the bereft mothers remain, as always, to pick up the pieces.

Since "Medicine" starts out with an elderly parental figure on a quest for a medicine for a sick child, it offers a rich comparison with A Worn Path by Eudora Welty (see this database).


Lu Hsun is a pseudonym for Chou Shu-Jen. The collection was translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang.

Primary Source

Selected Stories of Lu Hsun


Foreign Languages Press

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