China and the Novel, Family by Pa Chin

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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...
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