PA Chin Family Research Proposal

Pages: 5 (1619 words)  ·  Style: Turabian  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

Pa Chin "Family"

Book Critique:

Chin, Pa. Family. Waveland Press, 1972.

Pa Chin's simply-titled Family is a complex portrayal of the political and social dynamics pre-Revolutionary China. The novel focuses on the intergenerational conflicts within the wealthy Kao family, which, despite its numerous servants and great affluence, is still torn apart by unhappiness. The novel is both allegorical and highly personal: the young are pitted against the old, and the three main protagonists, all brothers, represent different solutions to the problems of an ancient society striving to modernize. The eldest brother aims to strike a balance between Confucian tradition and his individualistic desires. The middle brother uses his personal life as a form of rebellion against conformist ideals and finds refuge in Western-style romance and individualism. And the youngest brother uses politics as his means of opposing both his grandfather and the oppressiveness of traditional society.

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For the Kaos, money and class conflicts cannot be separated from romance. When the eldest brother of the family falls in love with a less wealthy cousin Mei Ping, for example, she is immediately deemed unsuitable. Tragedy is the result, but unlike in a more conventional Western tale, the two never marry, or even enjoy a night together like Romeo and Juliet. Despite his passion, Chueh-hsin weak-willed and remains entirely under the control of his aging grandfather Yeh-Yeh. Although he bridles at the old man's authority, he eventually allows the lovely Mei Ping to be sent away to marry another man, while he marries a woman approved of by the family. This shows how individual emotion is subsumed to the demands of the old in traditional Chinese values. The old resist change and those Chinese young people who try to modernize in a moderate fashion fail and capitulate, like Chueh-hsin.

Research Proposal on PA Chin Family Assignment

Tragically, Mei Ping's husband dies young, and she is sent back to live with the family, where she is treated even worse than before, like the lowest of servants. The immorality of class conflicts is starkly illustrated in her fate and the attitudes of the rest of the Kao family, except for the three brothers who sympathize with her plight. But when it becomes clear that Chueh-hsin still loves her, Yeh-Yeh tries to send her away once again, this time selling her as a concubine. Instead of submitting to this dishonor, and more defiant and more moral than either Yeh-Yeh or the man who loves her, the girl commits suicide. Eventually, the eldest brother is left alone: Chueh-hsin's other wife Jui-Chueh dies in childbirth. (to Chin's credit, this 'other woman' is never portrayed as a bad woman, merely not the eldest son's first choice, and her own story is quietly tragic, as she is married to a man who does not love her, and her match in life is also selected by her elders).

Thus although Chueh-hsin's affections and instincts run contrary to Chinese traditions, he is unable to escape their grip, and his life if not his thoughts embody the 'compliant bow' philosophy of Confucianism and its filial piety and ancestor worship, even though Yeh-Yeh hardly seems worthy of such fidelity. Yeh-Yeh is not just domineering, but uncaring and cruel towards his children and the girl entrusted to his care. The life of the young Chueh-hsin is held hostage to the oppressive will and whim of his elders, and to Yeh-Yeh's obsession with false idols of money and status. In the first son's tale Pa Chin seems intent upon embodying the stultifying nature of convention in Confucian China, a China that still exists in the 20th century but must be eradicated.

Chueh-min and Chueh-hui, the younger brothers of the family, are more rebellious, having witnessed the sad example of their older brother. Their lives come to symbolize change and new ideas, and different ways of coping with modernity. At first they are united, but then their perspectives begin to divide. The two of them are educated at a Western-style school and they become increasingly radicalized and aware of the politics of the day. Unlike their older brother, they are able to gasp some intellectual air out of the hermetically sealed confines of the family. In fact, the novel begins with them performing Treasure Island, demonstrating their love of Western ideas and ideals. They even create a magazine called Dawn that is so radical it is eventually silenced by the government.

While the youngest brother is outraged by this action, the middle brother Chueh-min is less upset, as he slowly becomes disenchanted with political action as a means of expressing his discontent with his oppressive grandfather, and more interested in his personal life. Chueh-min nearly recapitulates his older brother's fate when he also falls in love with one of his cousins. On his grandfather's deathbed, Chueh-min gets the old man's blessing to marry the young woman Chin, and thus avoids living a life held hostage to others. However, the youngest brother Chueh-hui sees the middle brother's intense focus on personal life, as opposed to a political life to be itself a kind of defeat. What is needed is change, stresses the youngest, seismic societal change. Chueh-hui seems relatively uninterested in love and romance -- his main love is politics. His brother's struggles merely embody what is wrong with China, but marrying one's heart's desire will not solve the problems of the entire country, in his view.

Pa Chin's book seems to ultimately confirm the youngest radical's point-of-view as over and over again, the limits of traditional Chinese life are stressed, as well as the cruelties of an aristocratic system. The servants, who must live their lives catering to every whim of the family, are described as living lives that are miserable lies. They are denied any type of personal life, much less the luxury of worrying about who they are going to marry as they lie, weary at night able to take off their blank expressions, only for a few hours the brothers must wear masks as well, but the hardest and most impenetrable masks of all are those of the servants. They know they have no chance to better themselves and the next day will be like the next, and the one after that will be the same as well. The servants are treated like disposable commodities without souls by the family, yet the author always pauses to give them thoughts, feelings, and to offer an alternative perspective of events.

Chin, writing from Maoist China, may be seen as an anti-bourgeois, anti-aristocratic writer in his ideals, disdaining Confucian hierarchies of respect and deference for one's elders and social betters in the Maoist tradition. However, his deflationary attitudes towards old patriarchs with old ideas who make the young hostage to their outmoded ways of thinking could also be read as a subtle undercutting of Mao as well. The book, for all of its glimmering of hope, over and over again shows the failure of communication systems -- Yeh-Yeh refuses to listen to his grandsons, Dawn is shut down by the authorities, and the servants are not even allowed the luxury of honest dialogue with their masters. The hierarchies of Confucianism and tradition are so iron-clad that it renders family members ciphers to one another, and different classes are utterly impenetrable in their language when they attempt to communicate. Daily Chinese life is a continual masquerade.

The three brothers symbolize different ways of coping with Chinese tradition. The eldest tries to bow to Confucian morality, and loses his individual soul in the process. The middle brother seeks a personalized, romantic Western-style method of escape. The youngest takes refuge in politics, and rejects all tradition, even refusing to ride in a sedan-chair as a protest to the status of his family, which he sees as stolen. Instead of merely talking about change, he lives change, and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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