Chinese Literature Essay Examples
2) Cai Yan, Zhuo Wenjun, Li QingzhaoReading the poems by these women writers, we get the feeling that their representations of themselves are quite negative. The poems are full of lamentations: about difficulties in life, about their separation from their love, their family or home, and about loneliness. These are not women from the bottom class of the society; rather, they all enjoy much prestige. Why can’t they just be more positive?
If one considers poems written by such Chinese poetesses as Cai Yan, Zhuo Wenjun, Li Qingzhao he or she may notice that their poems are full of lamentations. It cannot be said that these women belonged to the bottom class of the society. On the contrary, they enjoyed some prestige and status. Therefore, many people cannot understand why their poems are so sad. In fact all these women had one common thing that is hard luck. They had to undergo a lot of trials and difficulties before they could live a happy life.
Zhuo Wenjun was a rich widow who fell in love with talented but very poor poet named Sima Xiangru. She admired him so much that she decided to elope with him. However, this act was not accepted by her father who abandoned his daughter and said that he would never give her a cent. That is why she together with her beloved lived in extremely poor conditions till her father changed his mind and gave them his slaves and money. Soon afterwards they become rich and Sima Xiangru’s talent was noticed by Emperor Wu. That is the reason why her poem “White Hair Lament” does not depict a happy life. On the contrary it is dedicated to husband’s betrayal. The whole tone of the story sounds sad and even gloomy. In her poem, Wenjun raises the theme of inconsistent love as she claims, “Just hope to find a man who’ ll always love you / And will not leave you when your hair turns white” (Wenjun). It seems that with these words the narrator says that her love didn’t last forever and was gone already when her hair turned white, in other words, when she grew old. She feels abandoned and that is why the poem is usually interpreted as a lament.
The fate of Cai Yan is also not an easy one. She was widowed at early age, abandoned by barbarians during the war and ransomed only twelve years after only to become a widow again as her husband was condemned to death. Therefore, she put her war experience and her sufferings to the paper In one of her poems she thoroughly depicts the way Dong Zhuo attained the power. She stated, “They plundered the fields, surrounded the cities, / And whenever they went, conquered and destroyed” (Yan). She also mentioned that they abducted thousands of people and treated them as if they were slaves. The poem is written in rather negative mood as it describes terrible consequences of war. Cai Yan witnessed this war and suffered a lot during it,. that is why the whole poem sounds as a lament. At this rate, the poet asks, “How could I still have clung to life and fate?” (Yan). It is clear that she feels neglected; she saw terrible things and simply couldn’t forget it. In her second poem she laments: “How poor my fate, alas, to meet such dismal times” (Yan). It is possible to say that war had left its traces on her which in its turn affected her poems.
Speaking about Li Qingzhao, this woman also faced a lot of sufferings in her life. She witnessed the time when China broke apart into two parts with different rulers. Her husband who was working for the government died quite soon and her riches melted away because of theft and false accusations. All these events were embodied in many of her poems and gave them rather melancholic character. For example, in one of her poems (To the Melody of “Remembering the Flute-Player on Phoenix Terrace”) she laments loneliness and sadness saying that, “I’m so frightened of the bitter loneliness of separation! / There are so many things like this / that I would like to say but don’t” (Qingzhao). It is clear that these verses are full of melancholy and the show that the poet suffered from loneliness.
4)FootbindingAlright, now we know that foot binding is history, and we study history so that we can learn from it. But what does the history of foot binding teach us about China and about gender relations in general? More specifically, what is the connection between dancing and foot binding, as Dorothy Ko tries to show in her writing? In what ways does foot binding make women more attractive as per Wang Ping’s chapter?
The tradition of foot binding in China is known everywhere. Small and elegant foot is an example of femininity and beauty. However, the way this beauty is achieved evokes only fear. Wang Ping claims, “Bound feet become emblem of femininity and eroticism trough physical and linguistic violence” (Ping, p. 4). The author states that foot binding is associated with such words as eroticism, seduction and virtue. That is precisely why young girls are ready to suffer from pain so that they would look more attractively for their future husbands. Wang Ping supposes that the effect produced by foot binding is practically the same to that, when a woman wears high heel shoes. Her legs seem to be thinner, the body seems to be straighter and taller. The author tries to explain the Chinese belief that small and elegant foot is associated with beauty and attractiveness. She claims, “The illusion of overcoming gravity and flying up to the sky is what the tiny-footed ladies aimed to achieve” (Ping, p. 9). A tiny foot is viewed as celestial and provokes erotic desire as it turn’s women’s body into taboo. Tiny footed ladies believed that they had a great power over men. At this event the author explains, when a Chinese man sees lotus feet he is amazed by its fragile beauty but at the same time he cannot touch it unless he is not her husband. When something is prohibited it evokes even greater desire and tension. That is the kind of power that Chinese women have over the men. Moreover, Chinese people believed that, “A beautiful face may wrinkle, and a slander body may become fat and saggy, whereas a pair of lotus feet keep their charm as long as the woman lives” (Ping, p. 23). That is exactly why a tiny foot is associated with a true beauty.
Dorothy Ko in her book Every Step for Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet also dedicates her attention to this phenomenon as well and speaks about poets who devote their poems to goddesses with tiny feet. Moreover, the author adds that tradition of foot binding was common among dancers as well. It was believed that bound foot would enhance the dancer’s grace. For example, during the Tang dynasty the foot binding’s appeal constituted “the connection between the lotus, dancing, and sensuality” (Ko, p. 34).
It is possible to conclude that foot binding tradition was associated with grace. Tiny feet were favored among dancers and were praised by poets. Women crippled their feet in order to arouse men’s interest and sympathy. They believed that mainly lotus feet make them attractive, elegant and gorgeous.
5) Fox spirits OK, we love these stories of the foxes but we have a hard time relating these stories to reality. Yes, these are beautiful fantasies of beautiful fox ladies, but in what ways are these stories informative of Chinese society and women’s social position in that society?
The stories about beautiful fox ladies definitely fascinate the readers. However, these fantasy stories can be informative and tell us something about the social position of women in China. In this country for many years men were treated superior to women. And women were never equal to men; they were treated only as their maids.
A good example of such inequality may serve a story Jenshih, or the Fox Lady by Shen Ch-Ci. Tthe story starts with Cheng Liu who on his way met a beautiful lady Jenshih. He was so amazed by her beauty that he simply couldn’t pass by. It is possible to say that Jenshih mesmerized him and even when he learnt that her true nature was a nature of a fox he still wanted to be with her. On their second meeting the lady said, “I shall be willing to serve as your handmaid the rest of my life” (Shen, Chi-chi). Cheng Liu was happy to hear this phrase and in fact, it serves an example of woman’s subordinate role. Nevertheless, Jenshih kept her promise. She was faithful to Cheng Liu even when his rich friend Yin tried to seduce her. When he did so, she said to Yin that he already had everything and Cheng on the contrary had nothing except her. She asked Yin not to take her from Cheng. In fact, Jenshih was wise and intelligent women. She always knew what words she should say in this or that situation. Furthermore, she helped Cheng to double his possessions. But when he had to go on a mission he didn’t want to go there alone and asked Jenshih to join him. The woman warned Cheng that she couldn’t go as she was predicted that she could die there. However, the man didn’t want to listen to her and didn’t take her words seriously, which again shows inequality in their positions. This mistake caused him life of his beloved.
It is possible to say that the story serves an example of women’s unequal treatment. In a story, Cheng loved Jenshih and knew that she was wise and intelligent woman but he still treated her as his homemade and nothing more. This story serves an example that Chinese women used to be subordinate to men.
Ko, D. Every Step for Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet.(2001)
Shen, C.. Jenshih, or The Fox Lady. Trans. Wang, C. Traditional Chinese Tales. (1968)
Wang,P. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China. (2002)
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