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China And The Novel, Family By Pa Chin

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Autor:   •  December 5, 2010  •  2,540 Words (11 Pages)  •  2,077 Views

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On May 4th 1919, five thousand students in Beijing protested China's diplomatic failure at the Paris Peace Conference. This was only the beginning of a much larger development. Eventually growing to the New Culture Movement, China's socially hierarchical system of strict tradition was clearly under attack by this. Published more than ten years later, Pa Chin's novel, Family flawlessly encapsulates the atmosphere of that time through the use of character development and symbolism. Pa Chin's steady usage of ambivalence as the leading theme efficiently summarizes the division that Chinese society experienced in several ways.

There are many opposing forces in Family, all of which play a large part in defining the divisional conflict. The clash between tradition and modernization is the most prominent of these and is more interconnected among other aspects of the novel, and will therefore be discussed foremost. Through this, we will discover why the life lived by families like the Kaos is senseless and hopeless in light of impending changes. The Kaos are essentially a doomed family.

The Chinese hierarchical system has been the central scheme for society up until the May 4th movement, and family life in Pa Chin's novel is representative of this. Classical Confucian morals teach the total obedience and submission of people of lower social status to those of higher status, and of the younger generation to the older. And so, we see this separation within the household with Master Kao at the top, his sons and grandsons below him, and the servants at the bottom, who must do as anyone in the compound says. The Kao family is very well off and is provided with anything they may desire, from material luxuries to entertainment, as long as they are within the walls of the compound. Once one leaves however, this high degree of freedom is taken away. In a similar manner, money can be spent on whatever one wishes, but only if it is first permitted by the head of the house, Master Kao. If the family does anything which goes against this system, the family could be reduced to poverty. This reflects the strict family orientation and social order of China, in that in order to succeed or advance in society, one is bound to the traditional ways, or will otherwise be pushed away from the society, thus being reduced to poverty. Ironically though, Master Kao started his life poor, struggling for an education. He eventually worked his way to the top to provide everything his family needed by exercising his own individual initiative. Any resemblance of this is quickly forgotten once his family is established in the closed-off compound.

This closed-off setting of the compound is a metaphor for the same closed-off thinking of the older generation, which is limited to Confucian teachings and morals. All elders have the most prestigious aspirations for their children: to obtain an imperial position in the government, as Master Kao's eldest son did. However, to do this one must pass rigorous imperial examinations. Being educated enough to qualify for one of these positions means being an expert of particular ways of writing in the Confucian classics and morals, which, as previously stated, focus on submission and obedience. So, even education is reinforcing to the traditional hierarchy. This type of education, however, is not being forced on the third generation of the Kao family. Instead, the younger brothers Chueh-min and Chueh-hui are educated through western literature from the works of Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Zola. Master Kao hates this, showing the older generations persistence on the emphasis of traditional education versus the pursuit of modern education by the younger generation, indicative of social change during the period. Future and hope lay in the hands of the younger generation represented in Chueh-hui, Chueh-min, and Chin.

This responsibility of the third generation is tied into the larger scope of the author's intent of characterization, with each individual's position corresponding to those found in the New Culture Movement. Breaking down the younger group further, a significant difference is found among destinies in those of Chueh-min, Chueh-hui, and Chin. Chueh-min, at first glance, seems similar to Chueh-hui in that he feels almost as deeply as him about the revolutionary changes that society is on the verge of. The difference lies in his conviction. Chueh-min's passion for change pales in comparison to that of Chueh-hui. Chueh-min reads the same journals and magazines as his brother believing that change is a good thing, and he looks forward to when it may arrive, but he lacks the dedication to openly attack tradition and force the change upon himself. Therefore, Chueh-min symbolizes those that believe in the cause of the movement, but do no act. Chueh-hui, on the other hand, feels deeply about taking whatever steps necessary toward pulling the revolution his direction, and changing his life individually, symbolizing all true activists.

At the opposite end of this spectrum is the oldest brother, Chueh-hsin. His character is best represented through a conversation Lu Xun had with a colleague of his about an iron house. This house has no windows and is indestructible. Inside are many people sleeping, doomed to die. Now, imagine a cry from someone else outside the iron house. Chueh-hsin is one of these individuals who has heard the cry, woken up, and is now aware of his fate, doomed to face a more agonizing death.1 Chueh-hui discovers this about his older brother after an argument over Chueh-hsin's first love, Mei:

"As he stood gazing at his brother's agonized expression, he was struck by a frightening thought: It was a tragic truth that for people like Chueh-hsin there was not a shred of hope; they were beyond saving. Brightening new ideas to them, opening their eyes to the true aspects of the world only intensified their misery. It was like resurrecting a corpse and letting it view its own putrefying flesh." (Chin 1972)

This shows Chueh-hsin's doomed fate that, no matter what he does or feels, he is far too attached to the old ways of obedience to alter his own life for the better, which he himself is aware of. Chueh-hsin never disagreed with anyone his entire life, reflecting his unwillingness to change. This finally takes its ultimate toll on him near the end of the story, at the time of his wife, Jui-chueh's giving birth in the face of superstition versus rationality. The older members of the Kao family believe that a new birth in the family, shortly after the death of a related family member, will put a curse on the dead if the body is near the mother at the time of birth. This "curse of the blood-glow" forces Chueh-hsin to take his wife far outside the city to


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