From ‘Dream of Red Chamber’ to Explore the Marriage System

Topics: Dream of the Red Chamber, Jia Baoyu, Marriage Pages: 5 (2132 words) Published: March 20, 2012
From ‘Dream of Red Chamber’ to explore the marriage system in imperial China ‘Dream of Red Chamber’, written by Cao Xueqin in the eighteenth century, is the first Chinese novel which used a love tragedy to convey the message of the miserable marriage life of the Chinese. It was a common practice for author to turn a love tragedy into a happy ending instead. For example: in ‘The palace of eternal youth’, despite troubles in the present life, the two main characters, Li Longji and Yang Yuhuan, were able to be with each other in their future lives after death, with the help of heavenly Emperor. Since ‘Dream of Red Chamber’ made such a breakthrough in Chinese literature, this paper will focus on how he love tragedy between Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai reflects the rigid marriage system in imperial China. Baoyu’s relationship with Daiyu is totally different to the one with Baochai. This difference lies in the fact that love is not the same as marriage. Marriages in imperial China were not the result of love. Love is the nature feeling that cannot be controlled by anyone whereas marriage, especially in imperial China, was nothing more than a ceremony. Marriage with no love can never bring goodness between the couples hence Baochai became a virtual widow after marrying Baoyu. Marriage was the most important thing that could have happened to everyone in imperial China. One of Mencius quotations: ‘When a son is born, what is desired for him is that he may have a wife; when a daughter is born, what is desired for her is that she may have a husband’ From this, it is clear that marriage is a must do item for all Chinese. Base on this view on marriage, if one did not get married due to no specific reasons, then one will be treated as an outcast by the society. The motive for getting married, especially women, is incredibly strong can also be related back to the Chinese’s ancestor worship. For every woman, it is vital for her to have a husband so that after death, she would have an ancestor tablet and be served by the next generation and so on. Having no one to serve after death could be seen as a shameful thing since she will be a ghost wandering freely. However, marriage did not only affect the husband and wife but their families and the society as well. Therefore, all marriages in imperial China were arranged by seniors of the family and not individuals. A common saying ‘A parent’s command and a matchmaker’s word’ can also reflect this. Also, arranged marriages were so common can also be explained by the fact that there was a lack of interactions between males and females. According to the ‘Liji’, girls and boys should sit in a separate tables from the age of seven, and females and males should avoiding touching each other even in receiving or giving a gift. Love can only occur when there are interactions between males and females, this is why in imperial China, it is typical to have marriages arranged otherwise no one would ever get married. As mentioned above, all marriages were arranged by seniors of the families. In choosing the right candidate to get married was base on three criteria which explains why Baochai was the bride and not Daiyu. Even though marriage was equally significant to both males and females, gender inequality was still prevalent after marriage. This is due to the fact that unlike men, social status of women was decided after marriage. Furthermore, all custom and ritual all demand the bride to be obedient and subservient to her in laws. Unless, the female’s family is with a high social status and without hire, normally, the male’s family would be the one to pick whom to marry. Therefore, in the following analysis on the three criteria for selecting the right candidate for marriage will be in the view of the male’s family. First and weighted the most among all three criteria is the matter of bearing offspring. Having offspring not because they are fond of children, but because offspring would be able...
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