The Literary Legacy of Existential Psychology:
A Comparison of Lu Xun’s ‘Iron House’ and Rollo May’s ‘The Caged Man’
Presented by: Xuefu Wang, PhD
When: Saturday, Sept. 23rd @ 3pm – 4:30pm PDT
Where: Online through Zoom
Fee: $20 General/$10 Elders & Students
Presentation Host: Existential-Humanistic Institute
Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to wake a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?
Lu Xun’s metaphor of the Iron House has very rich implications in terms of reflecting on Chinese history, society, and the Chinese psyche, which all have a deep relevance to feudalism. By this metaphor, Lu Xun intends to bring forth the mental escapism deep-seated in the Chinese psyche or national character. The metaphor can take various forms. For instance, the feudal history can be the iron house which manipulates or brainwashes people with so-called virtues and moralities. It can also be the psychological or mental symptoms people experience when they try to evade reality. It can be the cultural backwardness that hypnotizes people. It can also be any of the forms wherein organizations, groups, circles, parties, religions or all kinds of “isms” turn into a pursuit of self-interest and self-service while exploiting others. Dr. Wang will provide an analysis of Lu Xun’s Iron House by contextualizing it within the Chinese culture from the perspective of Lu Xun’s Zhi Mian thinking as well as the Zhi Mian approach to psychotherapy.
In comparison to Lu Xun’s Iron House, Dr. Wang will also explore Rollo May’s “the caged man”, originating from the story May wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Himself. The story depicts an individual being randomly selected by a king and put in a cage, which very possibly reflects on the human condition of living in an uncertain world and his psychological responses to the powers that hold sway over him – either those of uncertainty or of human manipulation – in a symbolic way. The attitude of the individual with respect to encountering and responding to this manipulation of the king reminds us of the dangers of and the responsibility to protect humanity from being alienated by those in power. In a sense, it is a theme of human struggle to live as interconnected yet autonomous humans rather than being alienated by destructive and decomposing powers.
Both Lu Xun and Rollo May are existential thinkers as well as existential literacy figures. They both use metaphors to reflect on human existence. With Lu Xun’s reflection on the Chinese psyche or even the Chinese nation as a whole, he advocates for the destruction of the Iron House to set people free to live as individual humans with respect and dignity. Rollo May, in addressing the perspective of an individual being persecuted by an alienating power, touches on a related fundamental theme of humanity.
Our Presenter: Xuefu Wang, PhD
Dr. Xuefu Wang (China) is the founder and psychotherapist at Zhi Mian Institute for Psychotherapy, Nanjing. He has authored 13 books and numerous articles. In his extensive collaboration with existential psychologists across the world, especially in the US and UK, he has become a leading practitioner and promoter of existential psychology in China. He is an APA’s Charlotte and Karl Bühler Award recipient (2013).
Online through Zoom on September 23, 2023