Tradition and Modernity Within Spring Silkworms

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Tradition and Modernity within Spring Silkworms

Mao Dun, author of "Spring Silkworms", was a twentieth century Chinese novelist, critic, organizer, editor, and advocate for Chinese Communism. According to David Wang, Mao Dun was one of the most versatile Chinese literati among the May Fourth generation. Mao Dun was an advocate and practitioner of European naturalism. Motivated by history and politics, Mao Dun has introduced western literary ideas to China in his novels. As a left wing writer Mao Dun focuses on the peasant's point of view and relies on his depiction of reality to evoke change. A good example of this style of writing is the story "Spring Silkworms".

"Spring Silkworms" is about the trials and tribulations of an old farmer named Lao Tong Bao and his family during the silkworm raising season. The story raises the issue of the changes occurring to the Chinese agricultural traditions due to modern influences. It is a tale that "represents Mao Dun's historical dialectic that highlights the confrontation of modern machinery with provincial handicraftsmanship; of western know-how with native values; and of capitalist money with rural struggle for cultural and socioeconomic autonomy." (Wang xviii) In my paper I will highlight several confrontations between modernity and tradition. I will also analyze how modernity and tradition were portrayed in the story.

Before I delve into my analysis of modernity and tradition within "Spring Silkworms", I believe I should give a brief overview of my ideas on what constitutes modernity and tradition. It is my opinion that modernity generally is characterized as anything that has been involved with the process of modernization in the west. Probably the most distinguishing factor of modernity would be influences of western capitalism. Tradition on the other hand, I characterize as any old Chinese values, customs, or superstitions uninhibited by western ideology.

The first example of modernity clashing with tradition occurs when Old Tong Bao is sitting by the canal reminiscing about his childhood. As he is reminded of his past an oil burning river boat passes by to interrupt his train of thought. As this boat passes through the canal, Old Tong Bao can't help but be filled with anger. While this boat passes through it disturbs the peaceful canal waters and fills the clean air with its' smoke. The boat causes a peasant in his little craft to toss from side to side and up and down like a see saw. In this scene the boat takes the form of modernity because it is a form of modern machinery. In this case the peasant and Old Tong Bao take the role of tradition. The peasant in his little primitive craft is being disturbed and tossed around by the modern boat just as tradition is being upset and tossed around by modernized western ideology. Old Tong Bao also takes the role of tradition in this scene and has nothing but hatred towards the foreign devils because he believes that they are taking money away from the hard working Chinese people. He was raised to hate the foreign influence in China and he justifies his animosity when he explains how ever since the foreign devils introduce foreign goods into their market and foreign boats increased in the canal the price of what he sold continuously dropped and the price of what he needed continuously increased. He hates the oil burning boat because the boat not only is a form of modern machinery but it is a symbol of the foreign devils influence in China. Obviously this would anger Old Tong Bao.

In this story anything labeled foreign might as well be associated with modernity. Take for example how the foreign silkworms were the only type of silkworms that were selling for a decent price. Old Tong Bao had refused to raise foreign silkworms initially because traditions always called for the use of the local variety. In this scene we see a clash between Old Tong Bao and his son A Duo, his daughter in law, and A...
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