Shenke is a word often on people’s tongue, but most people hardly ever think what the word really means and often get confused by it. And more often than not, many people take things not profound for being profound or the other way round.
The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary explains the word Shenke as: one, get to the essence of matter or problem; two, deeply impressed. We can see from the above explanations that Shenke means “profoundness”, referring to two aspects: thinking and impression. It is not difficult to understand impression. Suppose someone sees the color red for the first time in his life, he will surely have a deep or profound impression. However, thinking is not so simple. One may not get to the essence of things by just seeing them, because what we see is often the superficial presentation, not the essence itself.
We often say Lu Xun’s essays were written in a profound way. Their profoundness lies in exposing the essence of China’s feudal society—men-eating. Perhaps some people may ask: How could a feudal society eat men? Nobody has ever seen that it had a bloody mouth. Such people hardly realize that the so-called “bloody mouth” did not have fiendish teeth in it but is rather something invisible: It implemented the will of feudalism, or the personal will of the emperor to fetter people’s thinking as well as their behavior while claiming that it was all for their own good, so that they would be willing slaves. Invisible fetters are often more terrible than fiendish teeth as they would deprive people of every right. Sometimes human beings are quite insensitive. Once getting used to a certain way of life, most people would not feel that anything has been taken away from them; those who have lived without freedom would not know the value of freedom; and those who had not been engaged in thinking for a long time would not know the meaning of thinking. Consequently, such people would not ask for freedom if freedom was not given them nor would they engage themselves in thinking if thinking was not allowed. Everything might seem alright to them as long as they were permitted to have their meals. Lu Xun discovered such insensitiveness. That is, as human beings, they were deprived of something inherently belonging to them by autocrats. There was no difference between such practice and men-eating. This tells us Lu Xun saw things many people did not.
Profoundness by no means refers to strange tales or absurd arguments. Shouting or hurling abuse is not a manifestation of profoundness, nor is hitting upon something before others or daring to speak out something when others are not. The fact that one has read more books than others, thus able to quote famous people, is not a reflection of profoundness either. None of these has anything to do with real profoundness, which exists in things themselves. Everything has its own rules. Anyone who tries to change such rules will be punished. And this is also true with human society. In the past sixty years we had for a time tried to transform people’s souls, only to have brought harms to ourselves. This is mainly because we didn’t have enough understanding of ourselves, or in a sense, had deemed ourselves as supermen rather than as normal persons. We shall come nearer to truth if we see things from their essence.
This world does not lack profoundness, just as it does not lack beautifulness. What is lacking is eyes capable of discovering profoundness and beautifulness. Take gravity for example. It has always existed but for a long time not recognized by common people. But Newton recognized it. We must say Newton was of profound learning. Bruno said that our Earth goes round the sun. This is a plain fact so he was also of profound learning. But his view was so profound that many people did not believe in his profoundness. His tragedy was caused by the fact that his profoundness went against the then worldly views. In this sense, profoundness is not something extremely mysterious or abstruse. On the contrary, it is plain and simple: first, there is the motivation of the existence of things; second, we must be able to account for such motivation precisely.