Marriage and Courtship in Modern Essay

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[. . .] In this story, Mr. Fan is representative of all males in Asian countries, China in particular. The women are so determined to have any suitable person marry their daughters that they literally offer up one and then the other when the first one is not accepted by the man in question (Chang 123). Because he has the money and because he is an eligible male, then the community fall all over him and try to force him or coerce him into taking their daughters off of their hands. Knowing that being male gives him automatic power and having money even more so, Mr. Fan has become a product of the patriarchy, indulging and dwelling in on the ability to dominate.

Liusu does not actually seem to have any romantic feelings towards the man who she is being matched with; quite the contrary: she has very strong feelings for a young man in the village with whom she has experienced kisses and embraces and other forms of physical intimacy. However, he is unwilling to marry her because of her age and lack of social position. He does offer to rent her an apartment in a larger city so that he can visit her whenever he wishes to share more moments of physical gratification. This is unacceptable to her because she values herself more highly than as a mistress. For her, there is no connection between love and marriage. She has the choice of experiencing love with her sexual partner but not the sanctity of marriage. The other relationship that is offered to her is a marriage without any chance of love; the two are not completely separate. Marriage is a feat, and the better the match, the more successful the woman. Within this village, she again has no value except as a married woman; to marry the man that she loved would be considered a victory in her life but one that she does not really expect to be able to accomplish.

A very different male character from the ones presented in either Border Town or in Eileen Chang's other short stories or novellas is the character Zhenbao from the story "Red Rose, White Rose." Zhenbao is made out to be the epitome of a modern Chinese man. He is supposed to be enlightened about gender binaries and to accept and even embrace women who demand individuality and equality. Of Zhenbao, Chang writes:

Never had a son been more filial, more considerate, than Zhenbao was to his mother; never was a brother more thoughtful or helpful to his siblings. At work he was the most hard-working and devoted of colleagues; to his friends, the kindest, truest, and most generous of men. Zhenbao's life was a complete success. If he had believed in reincarnation -- he didn't -- he'd have hoped simply to pick up a new name, then come back and live the same life all over again (255-56).

Zhenbao is devoted to his mother and to his brothers and sisters, despite the fact that as the male of the family he would have been historically able to dominate them completely. During his life, Zhenbao did everything he could to help his fellow men and women; he is given the same kind of generous adjectives which were earlier applied to female characters indicating by extension that he will be subjected to the same negative gender binaries as were the female character before him.

At the beginning of "Red Rose, White Rose," the reader is told that Zhenbao is in a love triangle with two other women. The roses of the title refer to these two women, with the white rose symbolizing the chaste woman who society says is the better woman because of her lack of promiscuity, while the red rose symbolizes the more passionate woman. Because she enjoys physical activity and, it is indicated, sex, then the society automatically says that she is a less worthy match for the fine young man Zhenbao. The love or lust he feels for these two women is also symbolic because it represents the quandary each man is in when he chooses a mate; he knows that society wants him to marry the good girl. Chang writes, "Marry a red rose and eventually she'll be a mosquito-blood streak smeared on the wall, while the white one is 'moonlight in front of my bed.' Marry a white rose, and before long she'll be a grain of sticky rice that's gotten stuck to your clothes; the red one, by then, is a scarlet beauty mark over your heart" (255). Neither of these descriptions is particularly attractive. The promiscuous girl is compared to an insect which sucks blood out of the human body and injects venom while the virtuous girl is annoying and clingy. His cultural heritage has engrained in him that chastity is valuable and that the chaste, virginal woman is therefore a better woman. However, he feels basic human urges and wants to express them; in some cases he feels the absolute need to express them. Yet, society says that a woman who would give in to physical acts of love is lesser. Ultimately even the great Zhenbao falls victim to the patriarchal attitudes and convinced of his own superiority to the point where he does egregious harm to the white rose. Society reflects these same attitudes towards these women, granting them worth based upon their sexual activities.

In the three examples here described, Shen Congwen's Border Town and the Eileen Chang short stories "Love in a Fallen City" and "Red Rose, White Rose" show the gender dynamic between men and women in modern Chinese literature. By extension, this shows how the gender communication has changed but that it still reflects the attitudes of the more ancient Chinese customs and traditions. Even in the modern era where people believe themselves to be more enlightened about the faults of former gender norms, many cultures still reflect the ancient beliefs. The further back the history of the culture goes, the more engrained the gender normative have become which explains why in a country like China with a history that goes back millennia, the position of male and female has been so defined and thus more difficult to overcome. Male characters in these stories are still in positions of power and the females are all far weaker, despite the fact that they possess characteristics which should be valued. Women are individual, they are deserving of equal power with their male counterparts but this is not the case. Underlying all interactions between male and female in the literature described, is a subtle attempt to undermine women's power and reassert male domination.

Works Cited

Chang, Eileen, and Karen S. Kingsbury. Love in a Fallen City and Other Stories. London [etc.:

Penguin, 2007. Print.

Congwen,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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