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Institution of Family Analysis Essay

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Updated: Oct 3rd, 2021

The theme of family plays a crucial role in two Chinese novel, Rickshaw, by She Lao and the film Indochina by Wargnier Régis. These works depicts life troubles and hardship faced by many Chinese people at the beginning of the 20trh century. Both authors, Lao She and Wargnier Régis have no illusions about culture, and regard both native Chinese and imported culture, whether rural or urban, with cynism; to these authors the only redemption in life lies in individual goodness and kindness allied with common sense, which he saw little enough of in the slums of Beijing and the people with whom slum dwellers came into contact. Family is used as a metaphor of social transformation and changes occurred in society and influenced family itself and its members.

Using the character of Hsiang Tzu, She Lao depicts that family plays a crucial role in life of people, and if they have no chance to have close people and family they loose their identity and uniqueness. Given his experiences as an exile in Beijing, there were some elements of nostalgia and idealization of his origins, as well as a degree of defensiveness in his depiction of his native land, although he was as eager to leave his home, as were most of that generation. He has no sympathy for the barbaric custom of wealthy families buying a bride for the son who was still in his nappies, but he painted a picture that not only pointed up the absurdity of the situation but traced in human terms how such a relationship might flourish, how the ‘husband’ turned the ‘wife’ who looked after his every need into a surrogate mother and how strong bonds of affection might grow between them. She Lao desribes:

Born and reared in a village, he lost both his parents and the few pieces of family land as well. He came to the city when he was eighteen. Bringing with him a country boy’s muscles and forthrightness, he earned his keep by selling his strength in one day labor job after another (4).

Absence of family symbolizes lost identity and social troubles affected many of Chinese people during this period of time.

Similar to She Lao, Wargnier Régis depicts complicated relations between Camille and her step mother Eliane, French officer, Jean-Baptiste and a child of Camille. Camille came into the family and grew up into a woman. The film portrays old family traditions and their confrontations with new social changes. The ‘old home’ represents the tyranny of the old, the provinces represents degenerate China, not just of forced marriages and bad drains, but ignorance and poverty, violence and wars. Yet, they were not able to cut the umbilical cord quite so easily: the ties they had with their old home, the attachments they still felt with their families back home, as well as a sense of grievance for the ignorant and the poverty-stricken, all these factors combine to create the kind of frustration that they articulate through fiction. Exile from home can be a stimulating experience and a release from the inhibitions of normal customs and home responsibilities. In the context of migration from country to city, or from margin to centre, the individual might feel more his own individuality and become a rootless member of the materialistic and internationalized world with its break down of customs and traditional relationships, as well as release from conventions.

Both works show that changes in family reflect a cultural revolution and changes in society. Yet the fascination with city life, the busyness of people living in close proximity and the energy of so much activity, were also constantly detectable in many writers work. The very decadence and glitz of the Shanghai night scene attracted considerable attention, but it did not quite fit in with the agenda of many socially concerned writers. Noise and crowds in cities are bound at times to get on the nerves of creative people. There were, however, others who made no bones about their infatuation with the glitter and excitement of a city like Shanghai, The honesty of the country lad is his distinguishing feature, as though Lao She too subscribed to the pastoral ideals that country people were innately more virtuous. Xiangzi’s failure was ostensibly blamed by the author on the circumstances stacked against the poor, but he did not hide the facts in the narrative that for all his determination to stay honest and his skills of survival, Xiangzi was bone-headed, ignorant and unable to learn new ways, much as Lao She might have observed real country boys in the streets of Beijing. Xiangzi would not, or could not, adapt himself or learn a new skill to earn his living, he stubbornly relied on the unskilled, unpredictable and easily degraded job of rickshaw pulling. He closed his eyes to new inventions like the motorcar and trams now appearing on the streets of Beijing and the skills that were needed to operate them. Lao She showed himself well aware of the results of modernization and the advance of technology that was to leave the unskilled behind.

In both works family is used as a metaphor to social stability and positive relations, broken relations between family members reflected in revolutionary attitudes and rebellious nature of human behavior. Lao She was very uneasy at the social effects of the modernizing of China as observed in the streets of Beijing. New means of creating wealth as they appeared in the city only increased the gap between the rich and the poor. For generations the poor have been kept in such ignorance, with the result that only the very exceptional poor can take advantage of the complexities of the modernizing process, with little guidance from those above. Lao She suggests that the very effects, even beneficial ones, of modernization can turn the Chinese into strangers in their own land for a long time to come. Through the character of Camille, the film depicts hat nothing is sacred for a young generation. Camille does not have a traditional family deprived a chance to learn social behavior and moral values of her parents. The remorse and nostalgia Camille stood for has to be understood in the predicament of modern social relation against her their quest for identity. Both authors identify with the city and all it stood for in the modernization and revolutionary ideas and was part of a much larger ambition for themselves and their country. Neither Camille nor Hsiang Tzu steeped for generations in the tradition of Confucian learning and service to the state. Their ideals often held at least a modicum of the old adage. These characters had no roots in traditional Chinese culture, however much some of them rejected the heritage, at least in social terms. “Of course, Hsiang Tzu wasn’t bad, but to consider taking him as a combination son and son-in-law, that double blessing, well, that was different! A stinking rickshaw puller!” (She Lao 132).

At the beginning of the works, Hsiang Tzu and Camille perceive family as unimportant part of their life. Poverty in the environment of the city and village, in small self-supporting communities, was not a bar to happiness or even wisdom. Nevertheless, the fact that the families were poor or that they were primitive by city standards was not denied even though life might have been satisfactory enough to its benighted inhabitants. This idea had been central to the Confucian tradition, even though it was growing apparent to many, that the intellectuals and their methods were isolated from the very people whose interests they hoped to serve. The following passage can help to interpreter the whole idea of the family: “When a single man dies, he’s dead and that’s that. But get yourself this joy of a family with all those mouths, the old ones and the young ones, you still can’t close your eyes when you die! What do you say, am I right or not?” he asked Hsiang Tzu.” (She Lao 154). Both She Lao and Régis Wargnier are realistic and objective in their descriptions of life; but they depict that a city never took soul and emotions of their characters. Family is the backdrop; the stories tended to revolve exclusively around the relationship of the characters, usually people like themselves, the greater majority of works having a ‘love interest’. The focus was on the characters, and how they interacted. As time went on, and as the families became more absorbed into their way of life, they became the symbol where things happened that were of greater than personal import, especially political activism. The city tended to get a bad press with accusations of heartlessness, especially in the exploitation of the laboring classes.

In sum, for She Lao and Régis Wargnier, family is a core of cultural and social traditions, and change in family structure and relations lead to revolutionary ideas and thoughts within a society. At the beginning of their stories, Hsiang Tzu and Camille do not value family and their close people but life experience and troubles force them to accept importance of family and its tremendous role in life of people. For both of them, family becomes a core of their world and identity. Strong family is a metaphor for history reflecting strong power of social relations and stability in society.

Works Cited

She Lao, Rickshaw. University of Hawaii Press, 1979.

Wargnier, Régis. Indochina. Christal Films, DVD, 2008.

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