Chinese Position Paper

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Women writers of 1930s Chinese literature tackled issues on gender and family. Yuan Changying adapted her play over the famous Han dynasty folk ballad and love tragedy, Southeast Flies the Peacock. In the traditional ballad, the male protagonist, Zhong, was the son of the well off Jiao family’s widowed wife. He was matched with and married a common, but beautiful and talented lady named Lan. Although they loved each other, differences in status and family opposition forced the couple apart. There were many modern rewritings of this ancient ballad, and a few other May Fourth writers in Yuan’s era wrote adaptations that focused on Zhong and Lan’s romance. Readers of Yuan’s play may be curious as to why she chose to focus on Mother Jiao’s tragic story and her perspective as a widow and mother rather than focusing on the theme of romance. At first read, readers most likely viewed Mother Jiao as the remorseless villain. However, evidence in the play showed that Yuan focused on Mother Jiao’s viewpoint to expose the pain and suffering behind a woman due to her duties as a widowed mother in a traditional Chinese family structured over social norms. Mother Jiao’s traditional Chinese character stresses the prevailing social norms set up by society to remain loyal to one’s husband, love one’s son, and make sure family members are filial. Yuan also addressed the traditional Confucian saying that males are more valuable, especially when carrying on the family line. Although never clearly stated, it is implied that Mother Jiao favors her son and rather tend to his needs since “daughters are somewhat more docile” anyways (215). As it was her duty, Mother’s Jiao did nothing except devote herself entirely to her son, Zhong, after her husband died (215). Her other duty as a widow is to stay faithful to her husband even after his death. Women gained honor in old age by staying faithful until death, and this honor was represented by a white stone chastity memorial archway at the...